I am not sure when music put a hook in my lip, but I was quite young at the time, and it could have been any one of the following moments:
- When I received the Banana Splits theme song 45 (I feel like it came out of a cereal box, but I don’t remember–did you know Al Kooper, Barry White, and Gene Pitney contributed music to the show’s soundtrack?).
- When I first heard Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy”–my childhood best friend’s dad owned a jukebox stocking and repair shop, and when we’d visit, he’d always let me have a beat-to-hell record, and this was probably the first. I didn’t care about the forest-fire surface noise, and it was probably the first song I memorized. I don’t think I ever flipped it over….
- When my parents gave me my first album: Sgt. Pepper’s, of course (that would have been ’70 or ’71). I could not get enough of that one, then I subjected it to a long, long, long period of avoidance, which ended late last year when, after reading a couple Beatle books, I once again found myself infused with affection for it.
- When I first heard Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”–I think my mom had a crush on Glen, thus we had the albums (I tended to stare at Bobbie Gentry on the cover of one of those), thus we watched his show, and…man, I caught the vibe of this song. I think it was the first time I ever heard loneliness. 40 years later, when I read the story of its recording, I ended up playing it every day for about a month.
- When I first heard either The Spinners’ “Mighty Love” or Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” on the Carthage Municipal Pool jukebox: the former sounded like pure, unadulterated joy on wax and probably caused my junior and senior high romantic life to be torture, because that was what I expected having a girlfriend to feel and be like (whatta sap!); the latter seemed like I would need decades of research to fully understand, and with a title like that, I just had to play the “B” side instead of the “A.” (What a 45 that was!)
I mean, I can sort out the chronology, but I’m not sure which moment was the one that really struck me with the fever. Most definitely, one of those was the cause.
I bring all of this up because this morning I found myself recalling the moment that ensured the hook of music remained sunk, as it still is and will likely remain, unless I lose my mind, which these days is very much a possibility.
Most of my high school friends probably remember me as a music nut. I wrote reviews for the Carthage High School student newspaper; the first couple enthused about Boston’s Don’t Look Back and Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True. I skipped lunch frequently to spend my money at Ken’s Records, which was just a few blocks from the school and right next door to our favorite lunch joint, so friends often saw me “eating” there. My friend Todd Freeman and I regularly arrived to school early just to man the senior lounge stereo, its speakers wired out into the lobby, and philosophize, girl-watch, and heckle underclassmen–we had an East Coast thing going for some reason, so Springsteen and Billy Joel were our eight-tracks du jour. Even then a drooling Dylanophile, I successfully lobbied to make “Forever Young” the theme of a homecoming dance–o former classmates, please forgive that, for I was young and foolish and my dreck-detector was ill-calibrated! I sat patiently next to my home stereo, cassette tape on “REC” and “PAUSE,” waiting for KSYN in Joplin to play my favorite songs that hadn’t made “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40” yet; back then, kiddies, you had to have the bucks and hope the local shop (if your town even featured one) carried the 45 or album if you wanted a chance to hear it over and over and over again. Speaking of Dylan, I heard “Hurricane” on the radio exactly once on KSYN during my entire high school career, and I didn’t have a blank cassette ready. Once. Why didn’t I just go buy Desire at Ken’s?
A) I wasn’t made of money.
B) I wasn’t yet reading reviews every week, and thus I might not have known it was on Desire.
C) Ken’s might not have carried it, or might have been sold out–I didn’t hear “Hurricane” until way after Desire was released, anyway.
Back then, simple listening on demand did not come easy. We did, though, have KSYN’s late-night show that played new albums in their entirety (thank you, programmers, for Live Rust and for 2112, two seemingly vastly different albums that, come to think of it, have much in common).
Well, that was the good stuff. The frustrating stuff was, I was (and still am) a restless seeker after new sounds and knowledge, and I didn’t then know anyone, really, who was also down for the search. I’m pretty independent–I don’t tend to need much validation for my interests–but you have to admit few moments are more fun than discovering new sources of exaltation, amazement, and enlightenment in good company. Try as I might, I had zero luck enlisting anybody for deep dives into Armed Forces, Darkness on the Edge of Town, London Calling, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, The Essential Jimi Hendrix, Night Moves, Never Mind the Bollocks, or The Basement Tapes. I mentioned Live Rust earlier; elsewhere on this blog, I documented the pain and suffering inflicted upon me when I dared to foist its revelatory content on high school friends (and potential more-than-friends). One can see I wasn’t getting a ton of positive reinforcement, and since my seeking also extended to non-musical paths, the possibility that I might have jumped off the musical hook at some point in the near-future was…distinct.
At the time, music and sports ran neck-and-neck for my attention, with sports leading by a nose. I played basketball, football, soccer, and baseball (very, very poorly and mercifully briefly in the last case); I also ran track, and swam competitively. I wrote almost all of the sports copy for the school paper, as well as covered junior varsity (and some varsity) sports for the local paper, and, most tellingly, when it came to a career, I just wanted to watch, record statistics for, and write about the NBA for a living. I headed off to college at the University of Arkansas with that intention, as well as the promise of a gig as the school’s baseball statistician. With me, I hauled about 19 records (why do I remember that number?) and a faux-leather case of 12 eight-tracks (Queen, Head East, Alice Cooper); if that tableau doesn’t indicate the potential for my musical passions becoming fleeting–or at the least stunted–I’m not sure what would (though I had bought a rubber stamp with my name on it and stamped all my records–that’s a tad strange and obsessive).
So, my parents had dropped me off at Reid Hall–I was clearly an early arrival–I’d gotten comfortable in my dorm room on the fourth floor, a nice breeze was blowing through my open window and door out into the hall…and I decided to just blast something annoying to test the waters and find out as soon as possible if I were indeed going to continue to seek new sounds alone (if, alas, at all). I remember feeling pessimistic about that process continuing. The obvious album for the task was The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. Though I didn’t have a fucking clue about most of what Mr. Rotten was raving about, though I had not yet listened to it with anyone, though it had essentially gotten me kicked out of Sunday school forever a couple years before (that’s another blog post), I thought Bollocks would be the perfect album to blast, mark my territory with, and measure the degree of alienation from my peers I was bound to suffer/cause. I didn’t know Whitman yet, but also, underneath all that bullshit, it was, probably, “Noiseless Patient Spider” time for me. I snapped the eight-track into its slot, turned the knob to seven, and sprawled out on my bed to await the results.
No sooner had those four opening seconds of marching boots led into Steve Jones’ first chord than a dude walked right into my room, pointed at my stereo, cocked his head slightly to one side, and asked (note the implied question!), “Ummm…The Sex Pistols?”
I sat up and said, “Yeah?”
The dude enthusiastically proclaimed, “Hello!” This was not a greeting–that five-letter word, as he used it, would have many meanings, depending on the context, over the course of our still-ongoing friendship. In this case, it was an affirmation.
The dude was from Little Rock. Turned out he was ensconced with his cousin Bruce in the dorm room next to mine. He was distinctly not angry with my selection or the stereo volume.
“I’m Kenny. You heard of The Ramones?” he asked.
“Well, some kids I never met spray-painted that name on the baseball stadium wall in my hometown, but no.” (Ken’s did not carry Ramones records as far as I knew, but I also hadn’t yet read about them.)
“We can fix that. Are these your records? Hello, eight-tracks!”
“Ooooooooooh. Elvis Costello!”
Soon, we were over in his room. Kenny introduced me to Bruce, slapped on a record, and I quickly realized The Ramones were a subject for serious further research.
His vaguely dangerous-seeming cousin was into Sabbath, whom I knew well, but also Funkadelic and Jerry Clower (HAW!) and Monty Python, whom I didn’t. And that wasn’t all. Without checking with us, Bruce took Leave Home off the turntable and replaced it with a yellow-covered album he’d snatched so quickly out of a nearby crate I couldn’t make out the other artistic details. Waggling his eyebrows and darting his eyes about manically, he lowered the needle into the record’s groove. Sounds from a deeply weird space slithered out of Kenny’s speakers, and Bruce launched into an almost threatening solo dance, at which point I took a step backwards:
If you haven’t already deduced it, this was the moment I hearkened back to this morning. I honestly think it not only re-set the musical hook in my lip, but also insured that music wouldn’t just be a hobby for me–that I’d ride that line like the shark in Jaws. Before long, I got bored with baseball stats and found myself rifling through the university bookstore’s handy cut-out bin for Kinks and Howlin’ Wolf records. I didn’t end up sitting at an NBA scorer’s table, but I did end up playing in three bands (absolutely unaccountably–I’d never imagined the possibility). My writing was diverted from a sports focus to a near-exclusive attention to records, whether I was knocking out an essay for a course (I became very adept at manipulating my professors’ assignments to allow for that subject), scribbling lyrics on the back of a Taco Bell sack before a gig, writing reviews for college newspapers and Xeroxed fanzines–or designing assignments for the English classes I ended up teaching for 35 years (and counting).
I’ve always been deeply impressed by the power and significance of chance, and one thing that stereo-cranking on the fourth floor of Reid Hall taught me is that you can best take advantage of chance’s bounty by putting yourself (or, rather, your self) out there. Kenny, Bruce: thanks for helping to save me from a fate worse than death–crunching sports numbers.
Of course we nerded out and blasted Prince as we entered the Minneapolis highway tangle! I do love me some Replacement, some Dü, and even some Suburbs (!), but in our vehicle there was never any question. We’d also damn near finished the Erdrich book, which unsurprisingly takes place mostly in Minneapolis, where she resides and runs a bookstore. We were too tapped out to visit it, plus we’d already bought at least 10 books while on the road.
We stayed at the Hewing Hotel. If we can afford them, we like to try interesting lodging, and the Hewing is that. Too much on the posh side of interesting, I’d say: severe valet charge, extra charge just to access the rooftop bar, hot tub, and spa (which guarantees the people up there won’t be that interesting), pet-friendly around the bar and dining area (we have five, but come on). When I scoffed as the concierge informed us of the rooftop charge, she folded and gave us free access (Camus: “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”), so we scoped it out. Here we are shortly after I’d had an absurd argument with a bartender about a sliding glass door:
Next morning, though, we zipped out to Paisley Park. I’d read plenty that might dissuade one from paying the $55 “general level” admission–wait, is it here or in England where one always knows one’s place?–but turns out it was a pretty enjoyable and emotional experience. Pics are not allowed–
and I don’t want to spoil your potential future trip, but you might not know it’s His burial site, it’s got a goodly amount of famous items you’d want to see, he lived there for at least the last couple of years (by the way, it’s as cool as Graceland in its way), and (though I’ve heard it didn’t start this way) the tour guides know their stuff–though don’t assume Prince would have wanted it this way. Exit through the gift shop you will: I picked up some Prince guitar picks for one of my favorite former students, Nicole purchased a loverly scarf, and, being a teacher, I had to have a Purple Rain coffee mug.
Then, it was off to Lake Minnetonka, where we were denied much-needed purification (16 days on the road) by a teenage lifeguard and a more public body of water than I’d imagined.
Finally, we tracked down the Purple Rain house, which Prince bought shortly before he passed. It needs a little work, but it, too, brought an emotional ripple as we recalled the partly-autobiographical scenes that were shot there:
After a nap, we wended our way to Salsa Ala Salsa, where we met some serious rock and roll friends (Billy, Darren, and Julie) for excellent margaritas, sangria, and tamales. I kid you not–we have rock and roll friends in every city!
Alas, we awakened the next morning realizing our final eight hours of driving were ahead of us. A few things about that last stretch:
Erdrich’s The Future Home of the Living God is pretty worthy. If you can imagine her already formidable talents under the sway of Atwood and confronting the darkness of Drumpf, that’s pretty much what it is. She has a bit of trouble shaking loose in the middle section, but I have to say it’s one of the best literary accounts of a pregnancy I’ve read (the book’s written in epistolary form to the narrator’s future kid). 4.3/5.
When in Des Moines, jump off the highway to Alohana Hawaiian Grill for some loco moco or spam musumi! Delicious!
I can’t say enough about the indefatigable research that the participants in Season Two of the In the Dark podcast put into the case of Curtis Flowers. Please check out the 11-episode story, especially if you think the justice system works….
If you’re driving from Minneapolis to Columbia, Missouri, you can trust your GPS, but the fastest route will not seem that way!
Finally, thanks for reading and I encourage you to road trip with your loved ones to see your loved ones. Load up the mp3 player to save on data, download some podcasts and audiobooks, gas up the tank, and head for the hills–I have to say that after 5,000-plus miles and sixteen days, I got a little choked up when I turned to meet my driver’s eyes. In particular, consider the Northwest–the beauty of the landscape seems to roll out infinitely.
Been too busy to blog–good thing on vacation, eh?–and when in the car (35 hours of driving last three days) we’ve been audiobooking, podcasting, and rocking out! When I have had time? I’m telling you, the Internet ain’t made it to the upper left quadrant, people. So–a quick recap. This is s’posed to be a music blog, so it’ll have, um, hints of that.
Victoria, British Columbia
I had never planted my feet on foreign soil, so I was just thrilled to be in the most British Canadian city. Music played very little part. I visited the Fan Tan Alley shop Turntable, where the proprietor seemed stuck in the Sixties but I did find the above record. Didn’t buy it–$50, and the sleeve was about cashed–but it’s a good ‘un. I also trekked up Fort Street to Ditch’s and snagged a previously rare Sam Rivers ECM and a neat Dick Hyman Fats Waller tribute which he played into a Bosendorfer machine (for what that’s worth). The night before we left, I was forced to witness the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing live (on TV only, thankfully) at a pub where the Old Fashioneds were too good for me to get up and leave (Bartholomew’s).
Butchart Gardens, a beautiful botanical display. (See previous entry.)
My first real dish of Ramen.
Russell’s, a used bookstore so overwhelming I couldn’t buy anything.
A primer on an interesting facet of the Canadian health system.
We hiked all over its spread–I’d estimate 12-15 miles–notably about five clicks out to its east breakers:
We walked through the Empress Hotel a couple times, but they didn’t have low tea.
We weaved through Fisherman’s Wharf.
I really got used to seagulls outside my bedroom window.
…and before jumping back on the Clipper back to Seattle, we had time to pop into the Odean Theater for a screening of Sorry To Bother You, which, as much as I love Boots Riley, graded out to about a B/B+–it needed a little more juice, I thought.
Return to Seattle
Again, music didn’t figure much into our brief return visit to Seattle (I played country music classics during our time in the highly-recommended Mediterranean Inn), but being with our Seattle friends is rock and roll! They operate spontaneously and delightfully. Our dear long-time friend Frank–he and I used to write collaborative punk 45 assessments for The Banks and Bibles Revue–led us on a marvelous foot tour of downtown Seattle.
The Echo Statue:
Seagull feeding (I tell ya, I love them birds):
Smith Tower, bottom…
And finally a Lyft out to Ha! in Fremont to reunite with the whole gang, toast everything good, and go listen to garage 45s at some old vintage lounge. It was hard to leave.
We blasted Hendrix again all the way out of Washington, and after being diverted from I-90 by a brush fire, we found ourselves at Wild Horses National Monument with a wonderful vista.
Bozeman was not scintillating, but we arrived in time to find decent food–locally-raised bison, anyone?–and great cocktails at Ted’s Lounge, which also is the only restaurant I’ve ever visited that has played The Gilded Palace of Sin on their sound system. I must say, though, that the mountainous beauty of this part of the country makes an 11-hour drive pretty damned pleasant. New audiobook: Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God.
On our next leg, through Wyoming and into South Dakota, we visited Little Big Horn, where apparently we’re still trying to see Custer as a hero, or at the very least worth memorializing, but far more riveting was Devil’s Tower. We’d been blasting Nirvana (I find their music’s aged very well and is indisputably great–just like Jimi’s), and we’ve been shooting a 20-second highway video every 100 miles, so I had a corny inspiration:
Wall, South Dakota, and The Beauteous Badlands
We’d been to The Badlands before, and they are a must. If you go, stay at Frontier Cabins and request a meadow view. It was too dark upon our arrival and too foggy upon our departure for me to snap a good pic, but here’s an interior.
We got up early to drive through the park on our way to Minneapolis. We blasted punk rock (Minutemen, Roky, Minor Threat), were stunned again by the views, and dropped some cash for a stack of books to express our love for the National Parks Service (Black Elk Speaks, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas). Here’s a selfie with my beautiful one.
On the way to our next stop, I had an Indian Taco (made with fry bread) at Al’s Oasis. I thought you should know. We continued listening to the infuriating podcast In the Dark (infuriating due to the miscarriage of justice it explores–Mississippi, goddam!!!), Erdrich’s fascinating if flawed new novel, and, of course, blasted Prince all the way into Minneapolis, where we’ve never been.
Minneapolis (just dropped in)
Today: Paisley Park, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, and dinner and drinks with friends.
13th: Reluctantly left Portland for Mt. Rainier State Park. Thrilling, and for the traveler we do recommend an annual parks pass!
Ain’t no quick way from that park to Seattle, so we jammed Local Boy Jimi all the way in, and it was a balm. I included this neat item in the playlist–you have to lean forward a bit:
Seattle: so many great things to do, but for us the greatest thing is boon companions. Jill (who offered us a bed): smart, hilarious, endlessly boisterous, and a heart as big as an ocean; Rex, our fellow Missourian who was also visiting: ace poem picker, situation-parser, spokesman for the public; Beth, my best friend since we were 18 at the University of Arkansas: a perfectly dangerous big-sister type with a subversive sense of humor and a heart as big as the ocean Jill’s heart is as big as; and Angela and Frank, whose amazing kiddo Cecilia is our kinda-godkid: joined in unholy matrimony, in amazing parenting, and staying young as their relationship grows older (no sin, no easy road). We all know each other well, to some extent accidentally, and when we converge the laughter peals, the suggestions alarm, the drink overtops the sandbars, pizza is the only necessary fuel, and the music ain’t no didgeridoo solo! Here’s a pic from shortly after our arrival:
Deep into the night, we plotted and planned, punched free selections into Jill’s ’70s-dominated jukebox (in her living room!), and tried to solve the world’s problems.
Yeah, that was just the 13th.
14th: Road trip! A 12-hour one! It’s easy when Jill’s got her van rocking out to classic garage rock!
Out to Deception Pass (it’s historic, but that name doesn’t bode well) for hiking, low-tide discoveries, arguments about didgeridoos (Nicole: “Didgeridon’t–unless you’re an aboriginal musician!”), facing up to fear of heights on the bridge over Dire Straits (yeah–it’s real), and miscommunicating over our splintered wanderings.
On the way back to Seattle, we waited hours at The Shrimp Shack for Dungenness Crab Burgers that were worth it, visited Ebey’s Beach and resurrected the didgeridoo theme thanks to Rex’s discovery (see video below), and got harassed by The Vanloads of Christian Athletes while waiting for the ferry. Arriving back at Jill’s, we honky-tonked into the night though I was out on my feet.
15th: You’d think we’d have to recover, but we were down at Pike’s Place Market with Frank and Angela, eating the best macaroons ever created at Le Panier, hoofing it over to meet the rest of the bunch at the Museum of Pop Culture–
–brunch Bloodies and great Hendrix and Nirvana exhibits–plus a fun “scream recording” in the horror exhibit that Nicole, Beth, and I tried), railing it to Chinatown for Dragonfest, King Noodle, and orgasmic origami, hopping in Jill’s van again for a foray to Hendrix’s grave–
–and to one of the best dive bars I’ve ever bellied up to, Darrell’s:
Along the way, Rex, Nicole, Beth, Jill and I envisioned a Seattle “underground history tourism” service that would have made Larry Flynt blanch. Dry eyes were not to be found. Much thanks to Darrell’s jukebox for this:
We continued some beer-drankin’ at Jill’s after, but the dawn would beckon Nicole and me at 5 the next morning…
16th: We took the Victoria Clipper over to Victoria BC–my first-ever trip outside the U.S.
We immediately took a bus out to Butchart Gardens and beheld much flowery glory–sorry, not too rock and roll, but it was indeed glorious.
I’m sipping a Molson’s in our room at the Victoria Regent, knowing what it sounds like when gulls cry. Tomorrow: a music injection from Turntable or Ditch’s? Or a lit re-up from Munro’s Books? We shall see. Off to Ferris’ Upstairs Seafood and Oysters…