Music: Reasons for Waiting (Reconsidered)

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

 Schadenfreude has never had any appeal to me. I’m convinced that taking “shameful joy” in another person’s failure is both pointless and petty, but there is one failure for which I will be forever thankful.   Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame gave up learning to play the guitar when he became convinced that he’d never play as well as Eric Clapton and I applaud that set-back for two reasons:

  • We’ve already got an Eric Clapton.
  • Without Anderson’s skill with the flute we’d never have had “Reasons for Waiting”.

1972

Room-mate Roulette is just one of the challenges a college freshman encounters, but it may be the most crucial. The stress involved in learning to mesh with a complete stranger can have a major effect on both your academic career not to mention your entire life so I’d assumed that careful thought and preparation went into room assignments…so please forgive me for being disturbed when I learned that the selection process was only slightly more sophisticated than a dart game.

Unfortunately I had to go throw the dart board twice. The first assignment worked out well : I drew an upperclassman whose part-time job and interest in the outdoors essentially gave me a private room. Unfortunately he dropped out mid-year and I had to go through the room assignment game a second time and ended up with Scott, a fellow freshman with a heavier footprint requiring  more accommodation and coordination, especially in the following areas:

  • Getting up in the morning
  • Turning in at night
  • House-cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Setting the thermostat
  • Female visitors
  • Post-fart courtesy

…and so on. Music was one of the hardest points to negotiate –  Scott favored hard rock (Grand Funk Railroad/Quicksilver Messenger Service/ Led Zeppelin)  while I preferred progressive rock and acoustic groups (Moody Blues/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/America) Playback volume was sticky issue until we agreed on a head-phone truce which unintentionally kept us from mixing our music  and appreciating what the other guy listened to.

It took the simple act of Scott turning over in bed one February morning to change all that. The sun was just peeking over the Alaska Range to the south and was bathing the morning sky with orange, magenta and purple while a train crawled along the track on the other side of the parking lot, building up speed for the day-long run to Anchorage, the exhaust from its diesels adding to the wisps of ice-fog that had come up from the Chena River. As I was taking this all in I was mug-in-hand, leaning on our chest-high window sill with my toes tucked under the heat register when somehow in the process of waking up Scott pulled the headset cord out of his stereo and the first notes of possibly the most beautiful song in rock music poured out into our little basement dorm room.

The soft acoustic introduction of  Jethro Tull’s Reasons For Waiting  leads into a flute solo so beautiful that my eyes welled up — then Ian Anderson started to sing in his slightly wavering tenor:

What a sight for my eyes
To see you in sleep.
Could it stop the sun rise
Hearing you weep?

 Writing under the pseudonym Stendhal, 19th Century French Novelist Marie-Henri Beyle observed that viewers can be overwhelmed by the sight of an art masterpiece and sent into a state of distress much like a panic attack. What I felt at this particular moment was probably a low-grade Stendhal incident: the music, the view, the warmth from the hot chocolate, being in love – I couldn’t catch my breath

Oh –  I  didn’t mention that I had recently fallen in love? My Best Friend and I had spent the first semester playing at being in love – making those first tentative moves: holding hands, sneaking a kiss, whispering endearments hardly understood, but it wasn’t until the separation at Christmas Break that the relationship really found its depth.

We were in capital “L” Love.

You’re not seen, you’re not heard
But I stand by my word.
Came a thousand miles
Just to catch you while you’re smiling.

Notes from the flute become frenzied and erratic but then acoustic guitar steps back in for just a moment to restore the orderly flow of musical notes.

What a day for laughter
And walking at night.
Me following after, your hand holding tight.
And the memory stays clear with the song that you hear.
If I can but make
The words awake the feeling
.

Again the flute become frenzied but just at the point of discomfort, the song explodes into a cascade of violins with Anderson’s flute weaving a thread of notes in an around the strings as they underlie the final verse

What a reason for waiting
And dreaming of dreams.
So here’s hoping you’ve faith in impossible schemes,
That are born in the sigh of the wind blowing by
While the dimming light brings the end to a night of loving.

I’d spent most of the previous evening curled up on the couch with my Best Friend watching television, but by the middle of Night Gallery she’d fallen asleep tucked up against the left side of my chest.  As the closing credits ran I looked over at her snuggled up against me and suddenly Stukas started to fly interdiction against my central pump. I’d never really looked at anyone sleeping much less a beautiful blonde and I just marveled at the soft, open look to her features.

Fast forward to the next morning: that memory from the night before combined with scenic beauty, the music –  h*ll even the mug of hot chocolate –  all combined to create one of the most heart-flutteringly joyful moments of my life,  an instant of gestalt wherein the beauty of the moment outshined the factors creating it. I wanted to break the channel-selector off my life  and stay in that moment forever. In my short eighteen years of life I had never felt anything like that particular four minutes and seven seconds.

…and forty-seven years later just thinking about that moment still makes me smile.

1970: Steak and Eggs

It is said that the hardest part of being a parent is that the test always comes before the lesson. The same can be said for that last year or so before you leave home – you’ve been taught personal boundaries in home, church and school but the strength of those lessons is not apparent until after something has pushed against them…hard.

It was midsummer of 1970 and I wasn’t having any luck shoe-horning a job into the time remaining until football practice was to begin. I was feeling very sorry for myself and contemplating a very penurious autumn when I heard  my friend Greg was working for a roofer  in Seward and more hands were needed for the crew. Two phone calls later I was on the payroll working for a leading member of our congregation in what had to be the perfect set-up:

  • $8.00/hour
  • Regular hours
  • Room and board at the company’s expense
  • …and I was to start the very next day

My parents were much less enthusiastic with Mom gritting her teeth over the lack of control she’d wield 70 miles away and Dad skeptical that I’d be able to keep up with the work. In the bullet-proof manner only a seventeen-year-old can affect I blew off their concerns and motored off to my new job, passing the time on the trip by mentally spending all the money I’d be making. It seemed the greatest set-up a young man could fall into until I got to Seward and Greg whispered “You are in for the hardest work of your life” just before I got the orientation spiel along with two other new hires.

We’d be working for Eddie Maxwell removing and replacing the roof of the Seward High School. While Eddie had extensive experience working for others this was his first job as an independent roofing contractor and had substantially underbid on the job, and had to make  some changes. We’d be working with a short crew, I’d be paid a much lower wage than promised, and our room and board would consist of sleeping on the floor of the library and eating baloney sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was another matter: Eddie made a big production about buying us anything we wanted for breakfast at a local diner as “the only way to get you bastards started in the morning” but he made an equally over-the-top announcement that the day anyone ordered steak-and-eggs would be their last day on the job.

Along with Greg and myself, the crew included two local men and Dan, a middle-aged cowboy who had come up to Alaska to work for the summer. One of the two locals was a competent laborer, but the second man didn’t last the first day. Dan was a bit of a mystery; he didn’t talk much but a broken nose hinted at a rough & tumble youth and when he did talk about  his younger days there were gaps in his narrative that had me wondering how those gaps lined up with train robberies made by the Hole-in-The-Wall gang. Misspent youth aside Dan was a definite asset to the crew with experience, an inclination to work hard and most important to me,  time to help me learn the trade and how to carry my part of the load.

…and there was quite a load to be carried. It was punishing labor as rigorous as anything athletics or military would demand of me at other times. The existing tar & gravel covering had been removed with a wheeled power saw, then new paper tacked down and covered with hot tar spread with fiberglass mops. In support of that basic task, debris had to be moved to a dump truck, then periodically taken to the landfill, rolls of tar-paper had to be carried up 30’ ladders, and hot tar shuttled in five-gallon buckets from the feed pipe to the area of application.

The tar was pumped to the roof top by way of a pipe connected to a trailer-mounted heating pot which had to be monitored and routinely fed with large chunks of solid tar. That trailer was the single item of roofing-specific equipment we had – while equipped with tack hammers and crowbars in those pre-OSHA days we had none of the “ladder-vators” or specialized safety equipment that roofers now use.

The work was hard and conditions spartan but most of the stress I started to feel wasn’t directly related to the job. While Eddie was a member of our church, the seventy miles to the  meetinghouse seemed to be enough to liberate him from maintaining expected behavior and standards. I’ve never met a man more imaginatively coarse, and as the youngest member of the crew I became his  primary target. It truly was amazing how he was able to liken every aspect of my life and behavior to some sort of aberrant sexual practice to include the way I walked, talked,  worked, and wrote a succession of unanswered letters to my Youth Conference crush Eileen. It was bothersome enough to prompt thoughts of quitting, but every time I came close to leaving I’d remember all that money and go back to work.

The only break I got were periodic runs to the landfill located several miles up a side valley; the trip through the forest along a rushing river providing a welcome sixty-minute respite from the intense labor, the smell of tar, and the blue language. I was teamed with Dan for those trips and our conversations became as much a break as the trip itself. He didn’t say much but what he did say was worth listening to – and it soon  became obvious that he also was less than pleased about Eddie’s comments.

It all came to a head four days into the week when we were put straight to work without breakfast in order to make up for time when Eddie overslept. The late start came with the usual customary obscenities but as the day wore on his invective became even more harsh and unrelenting. I kept cool throughout the day but when Eddie’s comments branched into a new category of anatomically impossible acts something snapped.

I turned around with the mop full of hot tar and quietly told him “I’ve had enough”. Eddie laughed harshly and replied with an indistinct obscenity as he turned away to trim some tarpaper overhanging at the edge of the roof – and in the process his elevated attitude of jerk-osity tripped one of my mental circuit breakers. The rage boiled up inside me with the fervor only a seventeen-year-old can muster and  I grabbed one of the mops, dipped it in the hot tar and turned towards Eddy.

…but as I moved Dan caught my eye and quietly said “It’s not worth it”. Eddie was working at the edge of the roof with his back to me – given the poor safety standards there’d have been no suspicions had he gone over the side of the roof. For a moment I stood still with the mop up like a solider at port arms…It was deathly quiet, the only noise a kind of “ssst/ssst/ssst” as intermittent raindrops began to hit the fresh tar…then Dan spoke again – this time a little louder. “Eddie – we need to take another run to the landfill” and the two of us climbed down to a mostly empty truck and left.

This time the trip to the dump involved more than getting rid of old tarpaper. On the trip out Dan hinted at a similar incident in his own youth and I quietly wondered if some of those gaps in his background had involved incarceration of some sort. As I stood at the edge of the landfill I took an inventory.

  • While the money was less than expected I’d still make enough for my needs.
  • I’d proved I could “tough it out” with a difficult job.
  • I’d proved I didn’t need someone hovering over me to keep me on the straight and narrow.

…and I was also concerned about picking up some of Eddie’s “colorful metaphors” in my own internal dialog. I realized that Eddie was no different than any of the other bullies I’d encountered in life and wasn’t worth getting worked up over. It all felt liberating – I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d learned, but I knew I’d learned something and the rest of the day went surprising well. Eddie kept up his diatribe, but I just whistled and kept working – in fact I made a point of working harder than anyone else on the crew for the rest of that day. My indifference to his comments seemed to just make him madder and more obscene, and as afternoon eased into evening the obscenities were replaced with ominous comments about scaling back the crew to save money.

It didn’t bother me, and as hard as the library floor was I quickly went to sleep a smile on my face.

…and the next morning at the diner I ordered steak and eggs for breakfast.

 

 

 

1970: The Great Escape

1963

As much as I loved the sweeping epic motion pictures of the Fifties and Sixties I did not see “The Great Escape” when it first came out. Oh, I saw all the previews and was extremely interested in the subject matter but wasn’t able to actually see the movie because I was on the losing side of an ideological divide as vast as  Crown & Colonists or Union & Confederacy.

I was a Fourth Avenue theater kid and the “The Great Escape” was being shown at the Denali.

In those days before the Good Friday earthquake  there were just two movie theaters in Anchorage and they were located at the two ends of Fourth Avenue. Kids from the west side of town went to the Fourth Avenue theater while the kids from the east side went to the Denali….and never the twain did meet.

 1970

 “You’re welcome to finish out the year but I don’t see you accomplishing much other than developing good lab technique. Based on what you’ve done so far there’s no way you can get a passing grade.”

  I had to give Mrs. Denison credit; the executioner’s axe had cut quickly and cleanly, but as it swung three thoughts came to mind:

  • Shirley Denison and Mom were friends, so my folks probably knew about this already.
  • With the new English program1 I had a lot more options that I would have had the year before.
  • Given the axe-analogy I had to expand my leisure reading beyond John Carter of Mars and Conan the Barbarian.

The change to my class schedule was just as quick and clean; by the next day my newly-vacant third hour was filled with a brand-new journalism class to match my existing sixth hour debate class. I put up a token fuss about the move, but my protest was more of the “don’t throw me in that briar patch” variety. With a schedule made up of physical education (teacher’s aide!), history ( always a breeze!), geography (ditto), and two English classes I would have my first-ever “easy” semester.

…which would be finished off just as pleasantly by a sixth period motion picture class during the final nine week period.  Introduced as part of the new Literature & Communications curriculum, the Motion Pictures class had been the subject of some controversy until instructors demonstrated that the class entailed some academic rigor and was not just a “rocks for jocks” fluff course. We would start out with basic instruction on script-writing and cinematography, but the bulk of the class involved viewing/discussing two movies:

  • A Thousand Clowns: An Oscar-nominated MGM classic from 1965 starring Jason Robards as a nonconformist Madison Avenue drop-out forced to take conventional employment.
  • The Great Escape: The aforementioned United Artists epic concerning a mass POW escape in World War II Germany, also an Oscar nominee.

The class was possible only because of another recent change at KCHS – after eight years of unanticipated growth, an addition had been made to the building that included a cafeteria, a suite of business classrooms, and a little theater. Normally  partitioned off into three separate classrooms, the theater could be opened up into one large space for the motion picture class – or classes to be precise. Overwhelming demand meant that there were three sections scheduled for the one Motion Pictures class, which meant that in addition to regular classroom challenges the instructors had to:

  • Maintain order among a mob of 50+ students sitting in a dark room for fifty minutes at the end of a school day.
  • Keep students on task during a spring break-up  warmer and sunnier than usual, which should have posed no problems in a darkened classroom but fire laws required the rear exit doors to be open to a breathtaking view of the aforementioned glorious spring.
  • Complying with licensing and technical limitations which restricted students to viewing the films for less than half of the class period, including scenes from the previous day’s viewing repeated to maintain continuity.

Not to be out-done I had my own personal list of bullet-points to contend with:

  • I was concerned about my current girlfriend2. Our schedules were such that we  saw each other at most twice a day, which didn’t include Motion Pictures class. It might not have been quite so worrisome if there had been any depth developing in the relationship3.
  • I was quickly getting bored with the class. I’d been a movie buff since fourth grade making me better prepared than my peers. Repeated reviewing of very basic principles quickly became boring.
  • I was developing junior-osis. While it’s common knowledge that accumulated fatigue, boredom, and arrogance can lull fourth year students into an end-of-the-year malaise called senioritis,  junior-osis is a similar ailment that strikes at end of the third year of school as well. Year three involves minimal pressure – no letters to write, plenty of time left to clean up your GPA, and the closest you get to any sort of crunch point is the pre-SAT, which is just a warm-up for college placement tests the following autumn. It’s another example of a valuable lesson I learned later in the army: “Morale is lowest when the duty is easiest”.

…all of which conspired to rob me of any sense of urgency or dedication for that sixth and last hour of the school day. Snoozing in class was quickly ruled out by the clackety-clack and warbling sound track coming from the projector, and in 1970 I could draw in a darkened room about as well as I can now (I can’t). The semester was shaping up to be just one step up from Chinese water torture when fate smiled on me in the form of Mike Cole.

Mike was a service brat living on Wildwood Air Force Station, and in addition to the motion pictures class he was also in that first hour PE class. Our common service brat heritage and similar sense of humor made for an instant buddyship, and as he was equally bored with the motion pictures class we’d entertain ourselves by quietly chatting during the movies. It was during one of those conversations that he literally dropped a bomb shell: my former chemistry class had covered the required material a little early so Mrs. Denison was filling the final two weeks with for-real “BWAH-HA-HA” Mad Scientist projects that involved mixing chemicals, heating test-tubes and extracting the results with filter paper, said results subsequently given nonsense names like “flaming yekk” and “booming yakk”. It was obvious that the yekk and yakk were in fact  weak versions of flash paper and contact explosive, and at first the idea of supplying teenagers with such materials had me wondering if Shirley had been huffing some of the chemicals herself …but when I discovered the process required an eight-hour drying time, it didn’t seem quite as worrisome.

That all seemed to have no bearing as the class limped along the final week of school  – but then the perfect storm hit. We were on the last reel of the The Great Escape and collectively chewing the armrests while nervously watching  Steve McQueen’s attempts to jump a motor cycle over barbed wire when the power went out, halting the movie and extinguishing the aisle lights. The room was pitch dark and totally silent for several seconds, then there was a creak-CLUNK and a waft of fresh air when one of the instructors opened the exit doors.

Have you ever been on a horse that smells water after a long ride? They are uncontrollable – you may think you’re going to the house, but the horse is heading for the barn and the water trough whether you want to or not. That’s what was happening in that darkened room: students surged en masse towards the sun-lit exits like a 1950’s movie monster but hesitated momentarily at a brief flash of light and a low pop from the center of the student-blob.

Mike quietly dropped the “F-bomb”.

It turned out end-of-the-year indifference hadn’t existed in just the motion pictures class. Chemistry students had been a bit casual with measurements for the latest batch of yekk and yakk which halved the expected cure time, which in turn meant that today’s output was fully weaponized four hours early. The first few explosions had been purely by accident, but as I looked around, students were gently touching fingertips to the chemical-laden filter paper giving them a magic finger tip that either flashed or popped when touching a surface of any kind.

As a mature young man of seventeen  I took the proper course of action and acted in a responsible manner –  I reached down to Mike’s chemistry book and loaded up both sets of fingers with yekk and yakk, then started finger-popping everyone around me.  After initially resisting the impulse Mike reacted in kind and we were having a great time until we noticed three instructors methodically moving toward us through the darkened student mass, checking for the yekk and yakk. We figured we had time for just one more round but as we both reached down to “reload” there was a blinding flash of light that left me temporarily daze /visually impaired and within grabbing range of at least two of the instructors.

I would still be serving detention KCHS to this day if the end-of-class bell hadn’t gone off at that moment, followed seconds later by the power coming back on. Between the blinding glare of restored classroom lighting and the collective surge toward the exits I was forgotten by the patrolling instructors and eventually made my way out to the bus. The trip home was uneventful other than slight bewilderment when I spied Mike wearing a polka-dot shirt as his bus pulled past mine and out to the highway.

The next day was Friday and the end of both the school week and the academic year, a half-day with time for little other than signing yearbooks and settling out financial obligations. In my case, that meant paying Mike ten bucks for my share of the damages inflicted during the motion picture melee:

  • The polka dot shirt Mike was wearing on the bus home was in fact the same light blue garment he’d worn during the day – what I had mistaken for dots were little burnt marks left from me tapping him with the yekk.
  • That last big flash? In our scuffling Mike ended up dropping his chemistry text book from about knee height, which wouldn’t have been a problem had he not stashed three additional sheets of yakk, inside the front cover, which together contained enough potential energy to blow the cover off the book as it hit the ground.

With my debts paid I blithely went on to a wonderful summer filled with Boy’s State, Youth Conference, a summer job in Seward and football,  and when I came back in the fall it was to a kinder, gentler chemistry class – a special section Mrs. Denison had formed for math-impaired students like me.

The lab component was different too. No more flaming yekk or booming yakk.


 

Notes:­­­­­­­­­­­

  1. In the fall of 1969 English classes were radically changed for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that students were free to put together their own program.
  2. Bachelorette #1 from: 1971: “…then Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls…”
  3. The unsettled nature of my relationship with Bachelorette #1 didn’t stay that way for long and I soon learned why she’d been evasive whenever I’d talked about dating over summer vacation. In a note delivered by her half-sister she explained that she’d be working on a set-net fishing site during most of the summer break and didn’t think she’d be able to get back up the bluff at the end of a day and get cleaned up in time for a date. There is definitely an air of finality when you get brushed off by someone  who has to “wash her hair”  for three months.

 

1963: He’s A Cool, Cool Cowboy

I’ve kind of drifted into listening to recordings of old radio programs at night before going to sleep so it seemed natural to tap this post for this week’s Re-Run Saturday.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

One of my most prized possessions is the cabinet to an eighty-year old RCA Victor radio …and you did read that sentence correctly; it’s not the actual radio but the wooden box that used to hold a working device. It’s a beautiful example of Art Deco styling made of warm colored wood with dark Bakelite (cellulose-based plastic) trim and a large cloth speaker panel located in the center. Just below the speaker is a glass frequency gauge that would glow softly when the radio was on – and for the entire two years we lived in Anchorage it was on a lot.  I listened to that radio every night without fail.

I miss AM radio – not the jungle of evangelists, sports talk and conservative ranting we have now but that magic ethereal net of music and words that held us all together years ago.  It might seem that I…

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1965: (Not Really The) Submarine Races

Re-run Saturday. One significant omission in the original blog-post was the Edmund Scientific Catalog that Robert Eschleman added to our technical library. Periscope designs became much more ambitious after reading about the ba-jillion different lenses and optical devices listed in that publication.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

From its calm exterior you’d never guess that Sterling Elementary School was once a hotbed of naval architecture. During the mid-1960s the seventh and eighth grade classroom buzzed with the production of home-built submarine concepts, occupying all the spare time of a team of crack naval designers consisting of David Deitrick, Wayne McNutt, Dillon Kimple and Robert Eschleman. (There may have been more participants, but those four were the core members of the effort.) There are unfortunately no documents or drawings remaining from those countless boy-hours but I can personally attest to the several tree’s worth of  paper we went through during the project.

What started us going? It could have been any number of things. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was in its second year of broadcast and as Star Trek would not start airing until the next fall our attention was firmly focused on inner instead…

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1963 Turnagain Terror Trail

This week’s entry in the run-it-again sweepstakes!

David R. Deitrick, Designer

BikeInTree

Though my days of active hiking and biking over trails are behind me, I still find that I enjoy vicarious trail-bashing – looking over trails on a map and reading accounts of routes covered on foot or on bike by active sloggers. When my collection of topographic maps gets a little stale I turn to any one of the countless mountain biking websites containing various lists of superlatives such as “most scenic bike trail”,  “longest bike trail” and my favorite – “most dangerous bike trail” all of which are much easier to navigate via lap-top than in the saddle. As I surf the ‘net more and more it looks like Colorado’s Barr trail has a lock on the bike-specific dangerous paths. It climbs 7500 feet over 13 miles of widely diverse terrain and riders are warned to prepare for more than one weather state during their sojourn. The view –…

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Music: Valentine’s Day

 

Yesterday, in many ways, you’ve looked into my eyes

Seems so strange for all the many years together

Sitting by the window, couldn’t move you if I tried

I’ve been standing on the outside here forever

Blood Sweat and Tears 4 arrived late in the summer of 1971 – a going-away gift for my impending departure for the University of Alaska. At the time I was living at the ranch alone and working as many hours possible before joining my family on a vacation in the lower 48. Cooking my own meals and getting myself up and to work on time  also seemed to be a good transition to leaving home …but to be honest it was lonely and a little scary living by myself.

Candles lit an empty room when you and I last talked

And the bed made warm by lonely lovers

I have seen a thousand highways, walked a hundred roads

But for you I know there’ll be many others

I was also having second thoughts about leaving. There were some unresolved  relationship questions brewing the angst only an eighteen-year-old can know and I had finally shed my “transplanted Californian” identity for that of a Peninsula boy content to live his life between Turnagain Arm and Katchemak Bay. For as much as I wanted to get on with my life I was feeling hesitant.

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

Blood Sweat and Tears’ fourth album was a move back to their landmark eponymous second album with more original tunes and fewer covers. It generated two Top 40 hits1 but my favorite song on the album didn’t show up until track two on the B side: Valentine’s Day by lead guitarist Steve Katz. Katz was to the band what Peanut M&M’s are to trail-mix:  When you’re several miles out and sick of sesame seeds that peanut M&M can make the heavens open and choirs sing. It was the same with Katz’s work: He didn’t sing very often, but when he did he was great.

Darkened halls and hotel walls will keep me in disguise

While your brown eyes look for what you have forsaken

Better times are far behind me, I can’t quite forgive

Cause for all that you have given, you have taken

At the time I knew little about Mr. Katz other than what I could glean from the record jackets or the rare BS&T articles that showed up in the national press. Adolescent logic being what it is I decided that anyone whose music so effectively punched my buttons had to register at least 9.7 on the Richter scale of cool so I did my best to emulate his look with tinted glasses, harness boots and my too-long-for-Dad’s-taste hair parted in the middle.

Saddened by a country tune, I cried myself to sleep

Looking for my footsteps softly leaving

I have seen a thousand highways, walked a hundred roads

But for you I give you freedom to believe in

In the soldier-part of my life one of my assignments involved imagery interpretation – gleaning information from aerial photographs. I was totally lost looking for tall, skinny upright objects like power poles or missiles until I figured out that you don’t look for the teeny-tiny top of the object – you look for the shadow cast to one side that points like an arrow to your target.  The lyrics in Valentine’s Day function in the same manner:  the oblique descriptions of surroundings, veiled references to past events and understated emotion all point unerringly towards a disintegrating relationship – without being patently obvious.

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

Even lyric-less the break is possibly the most evocative part of the song. Chuck Winfield establishes a melody on the trumpet… but then Lew Soloff joins in with an additional solo on the piccolo trumpet that both parallels and departs from the basic sound.  To my heart they map the dichotomy between the actual path of life and the path life could have taken – the almosts and could-have-been, which were exactly what was on my mind in that late summer of 1971.

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

…and with that “wind blowing” reference we’re back to that archetype young David hitchhiker with sun on his face, the wind to his back and the whole world on his mind. 2

  • Aching to be with someone
  • Knowing the road to his future won’t let him
  • Foregoing immediate gratification for the good of another

Heavy thoughts for an eighteen-year-old but all very valid concerns. That’s why Valentine’s Day is a rarity among my favorites in that it is linked with more than one time in my life when I was in the same situation. That identical challenge of foregoing my personal interests for the sake of someone vulnerable came about both the following winter and again in the winter of 1976 –  both those times I derived comfort from this Steven Katz bit of brilliance.

…so when my Beautiful Saxon Princess sees me space out listening to Valentine’s Day and she asks l what year the song has taken me to,  I simply answer: “Which one?”

Oh, let the wind blow, strike me to my knees

I’m forever getting sad and lonely

Oh, let the sun glow, shine upon the trees

You’ll forever be my one and only

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1)    “Go Down Gamblin’” and “Lisa Listen to Me”

2)    See Music: Fire and Rain

1966: Billy and the Bear

Some people have a “Throw-back Thursday”; I have “Run-it-again Saturday”

David R. Deitrick, Designer

It is the nature of most frontiers to have boom-or-bust economies. Alaska is no different than any other frontier, but in some ways that boom-or bust mentality has permeated throughout the whole population in both mind and heart. It brings to mind a bumper sticker I saw on a car in the late 80s when the state was still reeling from a devastating downturn caused by OPEC’s reduction of the price of oil: “Lord, please give us another boom. I promise not to p*ss this one away too.”  I kind of doubt the driver followed through on that oath; as I said that all –or-nothing mindset is totally ingrained in the Alaskan psyche. Private industry investment, purchasing new vehicles, individuals’ spending money –there was rarely any in between. One night you’re sleeping on satin sheets and the next night you’re sacking out on steam grates.

With the Boy Scouts…

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Music: Fire And Rain

Fire and Rain is a song written by James Taylor1 that tells the story of both his reaction to a close friend’s suicide and his own struggles with fame and addiction. It’s a beautiful song in both form and message, so it should be no surprise it’s been covered quite often by performers like Andy Williams, John Denver, Roger Whittaker and Cher. What might be surprising is that one of the earliest versions was recorded by the jazz/rock fusion band Blood, Sweat and Tears.

In the summer of 1970 BS&T was at the height of fame, but their album Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 took a terrible beating by critics for what turned out to be political reasons.2 I didn’t give a rip – I bought the record as soon as I could, which happened to be the same weekend I’d finally got a decent stereo record player – paid for with money I’d earned risking life and limb on pre-OSHA roofing job 75 miles away in Seward. I was so stoked that it took me at most fifteen minutes to get the stereo set up in my attic loft .

Blood. Sweat and Tears 3 was going to be the first record played on it.

I had loved the previous album and the anticipation had me so fumble-fingered that it took me three attempts to get the disc on the spindle. When I finally got the record cued up I sat back with my eyes closed anticipating musical genius, but forty-five seconds into Hi-Dee-Ho I sat back up with a “What the hell?. I kept listening, mollified by the second track which was an excellent (as expected) Steve Katz tune called The Battle but after enduring Lucretia MacEvil and Lucretia’s Reprise I was seconds away from using the disc for skeet shooting.

In my agitation I almost missed the opening notes to Fire & Rain ( instead of a distinct stop/start, Lucretia’s Reprise slowly morphed into the following track) but as I heard David Clayton-Thomas’s uncharacterically soft opening vocals I became intrigued and started putting the shot-shells back in the box.

Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone.

Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you.

I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song,

I just can’t remember who to send it to.

Rather than his usual brash, bluesy sound Clayton-Thomas’ voice is calm and thoughtful through the first verse. The accompanying piano is also subdued, as you’d expect when dealing with the shock of losing someone close, especially a young person who took a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus, you’ve got to help me make a stand.

You’ve just got to see me through another day.

My body’s aching and my time is at hand and I won’t make it any other way.

At the beginning of the second verse the soft piano and languid guitar is replaced by a brass fanfare. It’s confusing; while the lyrics resemble a prayer, the combined effect of lyrics, vocal inflection and instruments do not come across as supplication.  I have often been taken to task over my non-traditional mode of prayer, so I can understand that rather insistent tone to the message, but there is also a humanistic hint of the individual steps in the grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining and so on.

Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun.

Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around.

Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come.

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

Here my thinking becomes less verbal and much more emotional and I find it difficult to separate myself from the vocalist. Coping with death is never easy and with so many recent deaths among my circle the question of mortality becomes overwhelming. The mental images of the sun and the wind conjure up a personal Jungian archetype that allows me to escape:

… the eighteen-year old David hitchhiking.

It’s a familiar and comfortable vision:

  • The welcome ache in my legs from walking
  • The wind in my too-long-for-Dad’s-taste hair.
  • The warm sunlight taking the edge off the cold wind
  • The excitement from the uncertainty – the hint of danger.
  • The freedom & endless possibilities – I could end up in Seattle! New York! Ninilchik!

In those pre-Walkman days long walks gave me plenty of opportunity to think and at that pivotal time in my life I would contemplate life just as much as I’d contemplate how I liked Debbie’s brown satin vest & miniskirt outfit. That’s why I still love this song now – not because of the outfit, but because it prompts contemplation.

As the song begins to fade the music changes:

Thought I’d see you one more time again.

There’s just a few things coming my way this time around, now.

Thought I’d see you, thought I’d see you, fire and rain, now.

The brass section repeats the fanfare while the guitar work becomes more improvisational as maracas softly keep time to the music. The combined sounds invoke a bittersweet/wistful mood. Touches like this are what make me prefer this version of the song – the arrangement is flawless, and the music contributes as much to the narrative as the lyrics.

….and those maracas? If you really listen they sound like the tread of a young man’s boots as he walks along the highway.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. It was a double-barreled hit for Mr. Taylor, released in early 1970 as both a Top 40 single and as a track on his Sweet Baby James album…though I didn’t find any of this out until I was in college a year-and-a-half later

 

  1. Canadian David Clayton-Thomas was having difficulty obtaining a visa to stay in the country and continue recording/performing with the band. His application was “expedited” on the condition that the band would participate in a state-sponsored goodwill tour behind the Iron Curtain.

Music: Reassuring Voices

Consider the topic of tastes and most people think sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The Japanese add one more category called umami which literally translates as “delicious” but is often interpreted to mean savory. I’ve always thought of umami more as of a mellow happy almost-after taste, the kind of flavor that comes with a piece of provolone cheese on an onion bagel, preferably washed down with hot (dark) cocoa the way it was served in Milan, Italy.

There is a group of vocalists that for me sound the way umami tastes – mellow, happy and unobtrusive.  I call them the Reassuring Voices: Musicians/vocalists with a pure tenor that can be aural Xanax for me. I’m not sure why but the sound of their voices just seems …well, reassuring. When I listen to them I am wrapped with the feeling that even if my life currently feels like a train wreck in slow motion everything is going to work out/everything is going to be OK.

The musicians attached to these wonderful vocals are

 

James Taylor: Unlike others on this list, Taylor’s work has been influential to me over most of my adult life and not just one phase. In particular his work has been the background music for three very pivotal times in my life:

  • Mud Slide Slim – University of Alaska
  • In the Pocket – Fall of 1976 when I was courting my beautiful Saxon Princess, Lori
  • Never Die Young – 1987-89 when my young family and I were “house-sitters” at my parent’s home in Sterling, Alaska

 

 

Paul McCartney: Choosing both Rubber Soul and Ram as favorites can be expected but I get mixed response when I tell people I love the soundtrack to Give My Regards to Broad Street.  It was the background music for that time in my career when I realized I was going to survive as an illustrator and that our next address wouldn’t be “221B I-15 Underpass” It was like having a childhood friend say “Hey, you’re going to make it mate!”

 

 

Sting: If “reassuring voices” are like provolone on an onion bagel, Sting has some Dijon mustard added on the top – just a tad bit edgier. The Dream of the Blue Turtle, Nothing Like the Sun and to a lesser extent Soul Cages and Ten Summoner’s Tales were the soundtrack to the “Elvis Years” of 1985 to 1991 when my cover illustrations appeared in gaming & hobby shops all over the world and I was so busy I had to farm out work to friends. It was also when I first started considering my mortality; I still looked good, but I could no longer do sixty pushups in 2:00 or run two miles in 14:15.

Lance Nelson: You can stop scratching your head because no, you probably haven’t heard of him. Lance is a consummate musician and (as John Lennon said of Paul McCartney) “a truly inspired bass player”.  He’s also one of my best friends. He set his musical aspirations aside for a season to pursue a distinguished career as an assistant attorney general for the state of Alaska, but he’s resumed his music and I expect wonderful results.

I date my appreciation for his soothing tenor to a specific event in the late winter of 1972 while I was at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks). It was not a good time for me – one of the rare unhappy periods during my time at UA, mainly because of the following:

  • I was flunking Algebra II and World History.
  • I’d been propositioned by my history teacher – my “attentions” for a passing grade.
  • The other residents in my dorm floor thought I was a narc.

My Best Friend and I spent one evening listening to Lance and his girlfriend play through a selection of songs and when they got to Teach Your Children I just lost it. His high tenor melody against her alto harmony was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard and feeling of elemental peace draped over me like a quilt on a cold night.

All these voices are just as reassuring to me now. That issue of mortality that troubled me in the late 80s figures even more prominently now – and I must wonder if I have a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact. On days that I can’t walk very well, or it seems like I am chained to a nebulizer, popping “In the Pocket” into my CD player brings a lot of comfort.

…and for the record, I wasn’t a narc, I just didn’t smoke weed.  I also did not take up on my history teacher’s proposition; I thanked him for the compliment, told him I was dead butch and took the F.