Music: Apocalypse by The Mahavishnu Orchestra

I didn’t actually see Star Wars (known later as A New Hope) until two months after it premiered when my battle-buddy Doug and I managed to escape FT Lewis for an afternoon and make our way into Tacoma for a non-government issue meal and a movie. I’d known about it, having suffered though the novelization the winter1 before and feasted on preproduction art published in Jim Steranko’s seminal trade journal Mediascene not long afterwards. We managed to get the last two seats, so I saw everything from the center of the third row where I was mesmerized by the stunning visuals and breakneck pacing.

…but as much as I enjoyed Mr. Lucas’s masterpiece, it wasn’t the most important piece of speculative fiction that I encountered that year. That honor fell to Larry Niven’s Known Space series as published by Ballentine Books. My Beautiful Saxon Princess and I spent a good part of our leisure time that first year of our marriage scrambling between bookstores in search of those books, which were readily identifiable by their superb Rick Sternbach covers. As for why I preferred the books: I prefer hard science fiction to the softer variety and (oddly enough for a soldier) “space battles” lose their appeal for me quickly as I am more intrigued with problem-solving and dealing with a harsh environment (totally believable for a kid raised in rural Alaska).

I’m not sure of the exact moment Apocalypse got paired up with the Niven books. We were “economically challenged” that first year so books were our main source of entertainment and I always had something on the turntable while we were reading. I’d inherited the record from my roommate2 the year before and being so new this particular record was played a lot…and as it played while I read the ethereal, other-worldly music seemed a perfect fit to the books in both scope and mood,

It still does. Whenever I dive back into Protector or Ringworld I cue this album up, albeit via streaming tor CD these days instead of vinyl.

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Notes

1. The only shaky point in our engagement was when I elected to stay in and read rather than take my betrothed to dinner on Valentines Day. I was totally oblivious as I had plenty of books for my Beautiful Saxon Princess to read while I finished the book.

2. Lonnie Magnusson a.k.a. the one non-family member that I had lived with the longest prior to marrying Lori (one year at Ricks College and another at BYU after serving our respective bicycle penances.)

1967/68 Fiddlin’ On (Under)The Roof

When quizzed about my initial interest in comics my autopilot response is “Detective Comics issue 327 featuring The Mystery of the Menacing Mask ”, the Batman story by Carmine Infantino and Gardener Fox that introduced “The New Look” and saved the title from cancellation. In reality, interest in mysterious avengers was kindled five years earlier with The Mask of Zorro, Disney’s 1958 black-and-white retelling of the Zorro (Spanish for the word “fox”), sword wielding crusader righting wrongs and fighting oppression in the Spanish California of the late 1700’s. I loved the mask, I loved the swordplay, I loved the horses – but what really intrigued me were the secret rooms and passages which served as an 18th century version of the Batcave. These areas were accessed through a hidden door in his chambers where the foppish Don Diego changed into his mask, cape, and black garb before descending a stair to the cave where he stabled his black stallion, Toronado, and riding off into the night.

For days afterward all I could think about were those secret rooms and passages. On the surface the allure was the basic “ooo-wee-ooh-ooo” factor that comes with every unusual element in a mystery, but there was also a hint of empowerment offered long before that term became trendy. There were so many times when navigating through a screamingly bi-polar household made clearing a minefield seem like a parlor game, which made the ability to move around unnoticed, or just hiding an option to explore in every one of the eight homes we occupied between my cinematic epiphany and our final move to Sterling – options that included locations such as:

  • The laundry chute in the rambling ranch house in Little Shasta Valley.
  • A tunnel dug in a lot next to our duplex on Garfield Street in Anchorage.
  • Stairs to the cellar in the hall closet of our Barbara Drive home in Spenard.

…but it wasn’t until our travels finally rolled to a stop in Sterling that I unexpectedly found a true, functional, secret passage. While our home with attached garage looked like it had been plucked from an Anchorage subdivision, it was in reality a small homesteader’s shack repeatedly modified; the changes hidden by clapboard siding nailed around the exterior. All those changes left odd spaces and loose boards that that offered ample opportunity for further modification, but it wasn’t until I moved into the attic loft Dad and I built in 1966 that I was able to take advantage of the situation.

My loft was essentially a wooden box sandwiched between the top of the original cabin(s) and the overall roof. For the first year or so I was too scared to explore the space around my room as I was convinced aliens would use it as a base for their conquest of the Last Frontier, but I eventually gained enough nerve to explore the rest of the attic. Whenever possible I was scrambling over the gritty surface texture of the original shingles, and testing my luck by carefully making my way from ceiling-joist to ceiling-joist, ever mindful that a mere one half inch of fragile sheetrock separated me from the rooms below.

My survey of the entire attic took about a week, and during those explorations I found my secret passage. A plywood panel at the junction of the house and garage yielded a space which was easy to hammer and pry-bar, allowing access to the area above the rafters in the garage – and while it was unfinished, the sheets of plywood and old double mattress stored up there provided me with (at last!) a secret hideaway. More importantly, I was now provided with an unobserved entry/exit way from my room through the attic(s) to a stack of discarded cable spools, crates and stepladders piled rafter-high in the garage. Unfortunately by the time I’d gotten everything set up there wasn’t much of a need for a secret exit. I still wasn’t completely comfortable with hitchhiking so any activity worthy of the consequences of a foiled sneak-out would have to be within walking distance, and there were only two of those: the annual spaghetti feed and the Halloween party held at Sterling Elementary, but by the time they came around it was too cold and dark to warrant the risk.

It was a quite a different situation the following spring. Life had finally become tolerable after surviving the beat-downs, family crises, and a wicked case of mononucleosis that plagued most of my freshman year, but I’d reached a weekend where it was all but impossible to cope with the boredom of a slow Saturday afternoon at the homestead. It was also one of the last “buddy” episodes involving my friend Wayne as we had both traveled far enough on our respective paths to have little in common. Where we had once shared interests in music, hobbies, and television, we now had just one connection, i.e. girls, as in Playboy Playmate pinups and the party jokes printed on the non-Playmate side, so it had been a bit of a surprise when he showed up early that afternoon, when his new thug-friends were otherwise occupied, so we spent an hour or two listening to music:

  • “The Mighty Quinn” by the Manfred Mann
  • “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
  • “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred and his Playboy Band

It was thoughts of the aforementioned pinups brought on by the name of that last vocal group that got us surreptitiously making our way out of the loft and into the attic proper where I kept my “library”. The climb up to my loft had become quite a challenge for mom, but she still made random visits and I didn’t want to risk discovery of any imagery of the female form, much less any of the less-than-fully-clothed variety. There was also the lurking menace of my three little sisters, Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather. With both Mom and Dad gone for the day their chief entertainment revolved about tormenting us, and the risk of one of them popping up through the hatch unannounced and spotting our contraband was as much a concern as a mom-visit, but the fortuitous appearance of a rather ragged cow moose in the front yard drew their attention away long enough for us to A) make a quick trip to my girlie-magazine stash in the attic and B) a equally quick move through the missing plywood panel and eventual access to the aforementioned secret hideaway above the rafters in the garage.

We had just started our formal debate on the merits of the curriculum vita of Nancy Harwood (Miss February) as opposed tp that of Gale Olson (Miss March) when the ear-piercing screams of Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather echoing like bloodhounds in pursuit of a fox broke out from the garage below us.

(Why were they screaming? There were always screaming. They would ring the downstairs landing to the loft access and keen for hours. It was like the albino zombies in The Omega Man chanting “I’m telling Mom” instead of “Neville! Ne-e-ville”.)

 The moose had left the front yard all too quickly, and upon returning to the ladder-in-a-closet entry to my attic loft they were all-too-briefly puzzled by our disappearance before fanning out to search the house and garage. Wayne and I did our best to remain hidden and silent but between the relentless searching of the three little girls and the finite interior space of our home, we were discovered within minutes.

I don’t know if it was the hypnotic effect of tthe sight of two brunette beauties au naturel, the soporific effect of the late spring sun heating up the space directly under the garage roof (or more likely) the mortal fear of my Mom’s Celtic wrath – at that point I stopped thinking rationally. Somehow I became convinced that our best course of action would be to dash back through the connected attics into my loft bedroom and then somehow convince my sisters – and by extension mom – that we’d never left my room, so after a brief side trip to stash the pinups I sped over the old rooftops, across the rafters, and through the back entrance to my loft with Wayne closely following behind me. Unfortunately, the requisite hop from rafter to rafter over sheetrock wasn’t quite as automatic with my friend, and as I hit the door a muffled crump caused me to spin around just in time to see sunlight erupt through the attic darkness around Wayne’s lower body.

He’d stepped through the sheetrock ceiling.

I scuttled downstairs to the dining area to meet with the never-to-be-forgotten sight of my friend dangling by his armpits between two rafters while his feet and legs bicycled in mid-air. I worked as quickly as possible to get him down and the worst of the debris cleaned up, but before I knew it almost an hour had passed, and even worse, mom’s station wagon was pulling into the driveway. In a colossal feat of legerdemain I managed to get Wayne out the door just as Mom was coming in, but the lady had a gift for noticing detail that would put and eagle (or Joe Friday) to shame and I I was sure she hadn’t missed a thing as she watched him walking briskly toward the highway and a thumbed-ride home.

I braced for the worst. My parents had only recently and reluctantly abandoned percussive discipline with me, but the poor grades I’d earned during the previous nine week grading period had already brought on severe restrictions of entertainment and social life, and I couldn’t think of how it could be made worse.  What really scared me though was Mom’s silence; after I took the bullet for Wayne and told her that it had been me who’d fallen through the roof, she just sent me to my loft and waited in the now-drafty dining area to confer with my dad when he came home. Listening to dad fix the ceiling was much like the unnerving swish/thud of the guillotine that French aristocracy had to endure while waiting for the world’s shortest haircut, but eventually it grew quiet and I was summoned to Mom and Dad’s bedroom for sentencing.

The first item of business was that despite my protestations, Mom knew that Wayne had been the ceiling-busting culprit instead of me. She’d made that determination based on:

  • My little sisters’ testimony.
  • My well-known lack of sufficient upper-body strength needed to suspend myself in the rafters for forty-five minutes.
  • My (almost) clean trousers as opposed to Wayne’s denim jeans covered with white chalk from the sheetrock he’d stepped through…

I waited for the ax to fall…but it never did. With a slight smile she made the comment that while I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer I was loyal, and with the uptick in my GPA when report cards were issued the following week, even that first observation was moot. Thrilled with the stay of execution I continued to keep my grades up for the rest of the school year, but the improved GPA wasn’t the only change to stay in effect: the “percussive discipline” never came back, and from that point forward Mom started to deal with me as a person rather than a Neanderthal, taking time to talk with me rather than at me.

It was kind of nice, and for the first time in my life I stopped looking for an easy escape route whenever Mom started a conversation…

Music: On The Threshold of a Dream

( I have to warn you what follows is much longer than my usual posts about music…but then this album is one of the most important bodies of music in my life.)

(1) Moody Blues On The Threshold Of A Dream 01 In The Beginning – YouTube

Nothing beats a small town when it comes to rumor-mongering, and the folks running the local music store were being mongered more than usual. They were all members of, or friends with, a long-time Peninsula family, and at various points of time in the summer of 1970 I heard that at least one of them was:

  • Dealing drugs
  • Receiving stolen goods
  • Pregnant

…the last option being extremely doubtful seeing that the group running the store was overwhelmingly male, the only female on staff was a middle-aged aunt that started working in the place well after all the gossip started. I didn’t care – I was caught up making my break between two-a-day pre-season football practice sessions as leisurely as possible, and a post-burger stroll through the store seemed just the ticket.

I hadn’t shopped there since the preceding spring, and the only visible sign of distress was a noticeably large SALE box holding albums marked down to $1.00. Surprisingly enough, there were several top-sellers in the stack, but none of them posed any threat to the prospect of a second hamburger until a tree-branch with ears floating in the middle of a midnight blue square of cardboard caught my eye. Red letters in a modified Arnold Bocklin font skewered me with The Moody Blues and On The Threshold of a Dream – and while none of the songs on the back cover were familiar Moody Blues AM hits, such as Nights in White Satin or Ride My See-saw, all the titles hinted at being listenable, so I forked over a buck and walked out with the album later described by a little sister as “the record with the weird tree on the cover.”

The rain soaked us during the second afternoon practice, and washed out all thoughts of that new record, so it wasn’t until I painfully climbed up to my loft later that afternoon that I recalled the purchase. I was too sore to climb back down the ladder, but one of my sisters blessedly retrieved the record and cued it up on my stereo while I laid on the carpet and tried to mentally will the lactic acid out of my muscles. That mental effort almost blocked out the cosmic hum at the beginning of the first track leading into a restrained synthetic crescendo, but the subsequent ethereal catechism alternating the question/response of human to computer dashed all thoughts of passive listening:

I think

I think I am

Therefore I am I think

Then in the dystopian mood of speculative fiction popular at the time those tentative words are pushed aside by a mechanical voice identified elsewhere as the Voice of Establishment:

Of course you are my bright little star…

Human and computer trade words until both are abruptly supplanted by a third voice that contradicts the mechanical response with wise words ending in a phrase typical of the times:


…and keep on thinking free.

I sat there stunned. I had been expecting some pop kissy love song, but was instead blindsided by philosophical commentary that I would have expected from an episode of The Prisoner or an Arthur C. Clarke story, but before I could gather my thoughts I was musically slapped on my other cheek by the fanfare of guitars and drums of the second track, Lovely to See You. It was an irrepressibly upbeat tune that quickly dispelled any dystopian mood left by the poetry that opened the album, but just as my toe started tapping along with the beat, the song smoothly blended into the slower cadence of the more melancholy third track entitled Dear Diary, which sounded so different from the preceding selections that I flipped the record cover to see if I’d inadvertently purchased a greatest hits or K-tel collection.

The change was so abrupt that I stopped for a moment to extract background information from the stunning gatefold album cover and equally dynamic lyrics booklet. However I became almost immediate confused when the grid-like arrangement of individual portraits and figures in the group photo facing each other across the open interior didn’t match in number. Determined to solve the mystery, I read down the roster:

  • Justin Hayward: Guitar
  • John Lodge: Guitar
  • Ray Thomas: Flute
  • Graeme Edge: Percussion
  • Mike Pinder: Keyboards (organ & Mellotron®)
  • Tony Clarke: Engineer

Armed with this knowledge, I went back to connect each band member with the songs they wrote/performed, and in the process pieced together the fact that Tony Clarke wasn’t a member of the band, but instead was the guy that organized things and got the music recorded correctly. It was a job that I knew little about, but even with that lack it was obvious the wonderful sound quality and the superb manner in which the songs all worked together more than deserved acknowledgement. It was a complex task as each song was a reflection of its author’s personality, which explained the buzz-kill brought on by the somber Dear Diary as it followed the extremely upbeat Lovely to See You.

The acoustical whiplash continued with the quasi-country tune Send Me No Wine on the third track, which in turn seamlessly led into the electric introduction of To Share Our Love, a number that quickly had me wondering if I’d taken one too many hits to the helmet during practice earlier in the day. I could swear I was hearing two songs playing at the same time; a mid-range tune and an almost-falsetto parallel song with a slightly different but supporting message, but it turned out that was exactly what was going on when I checked the lyrics booklet. It was fascinating stuff, but the complexity came with an almost physical effect, which combined with the consequence of back-to-back practice sessions earlier in the day made me extremely tired. I considered just turning off the stereo and going to bed, but in my truest OCD manner I held on till that last track on the first side…and I was glad I did because So Deep within You was a perfect stopping point.  While the song itself was an entreaty for communication, Mike Pinder’s commanding tone made me think of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission clips at epic movies – it was a good time for a short break, which was perfect because I needed time for proper digestion of:

  • The cheese and mustard sandwich that I made in lieu of a supper that had gone cold.
  • The fundamental question haunting me, “What the hell am I listening to?

…after which I wasted no time getting back to the music that had me so enthralled. Until recently my album purchases had been limited to “Greatest Hits” compilations or Beatles albums, which given the chop-job Capital Records did to the original EMI playlists, weren’t that far removed from that first category. On the Threshold of a Dream was something completely different: none of the tracks fit the 2:45 AM radio hit format and each song sounded completely different from all the others, yet fit together to tell a story that the listener felt rather than read.

By this time serious fatigue had set in, causing me to start the “bob & nod”, so after placing the needle down on the “B” side of the album I crawled up on the bunk built into the sloping wall of my loft. I had meticulously read the lyric booklet, so it was obvious that the careful acoustic guitar chords and soft vocals that started Never Comes the Day marked it as a Justin Hayward tune. He was already my favorite out of the bunch, but I wasn’t prepared for the effect the song had on me as it built to a crescendo:

If only you knew what’s inside of me now

You wouldn’t want to know me somehow

I sat up so quickly that I damn near knocked myself cold on the low ceiling tover the bunk, so I laid back down and let the music wash over me. Taking to an entire album so quickly was a novel thing for me, but Never Comes the Day was hitting so close to home that it was almost uncomfortable. At seventeen I had reached a crossroads where self-fulfillment intersected with transpersonal commitment, leaving me frantic for a way to balance finding my direction in life with responsibilities for, and expectations of, those around me. Mr. Hayward was coming up with some pretty good ideas, and he making music that seemed like answers to me, words that were “stealth scripture” – necessary knowledge or truth from a Higher Power that would have been otherwise rejected by an audience had it been presented via traditional organized religion.

…then once again one song faded into the next, and I was listening to Lazy Day, another folksy Ray Thomas tune that seemingly extolled the delights of a lazy Sunday afternoon before introducing a parallel lyric line bemoaning the tedious sameness of workaday life. The tune was very similar in tone to his earlier song on the first side, and while I loved his work on the flute, I wasn’t sure if I’d want to spend much time Mr. Thomas in person. In those pre-Prozac® days I was just beginning to recognize depression’s effect on my life, and the downbeat nature of Ray Thomas’ work wasn’t helping…

I almost didn’t pick up on the soft singing and acoustic guitar work of the third track, Are You Sitting Comfortably, another Justin Hayward composition that washed away any angst the previous track may have brought on. I had just started learning about my Celtic heritage and the idea of a historically correct King Arthur, so the lyrics about Camelot, Guinevere, and Merlin the Magician combined with Ray Thomas’ haunting flute was particularly meaningful to me. It was all very happy-making, but as the track ended on a high flute note seamlessly blended into Mellotron music I fell again into a Moody Blues blindside attack:

 When the white eagle of the north is flying overhead

 And the browns, greens and golds of autumn lie in the gutter dead

I don’t know if it was Graeme Edge’s rich baritone voice, the faint Mellotron keening in the background, or the powerful lines of the poetry itself: I sat up a bit too quickly and bumped my head a second time in response to poetry that could have been tailored for me personally. The album was rife with multiple levels of symbolism, but these spoken words combined dream imagery with the cycle of both an individual day and the entire year, which in turn brought to mind the changing of the seasons, and my favorite time of the year — fall.

I hadn’t felt that way before moving north. California’s climate is temperate to an extreme, and autumn had just been something on a calendar involving new crayons, new television shows, and Halloween. The idiosyncrasies of the South Central Alaskan climate are such that fall starts in early September with the countryside exploding into yellow, gold, orange, and the occasional splash of red, and it’s the only time of year with reasonable weather set against a backdrop of equal parts of day and night. Starting school meant regular days for a while, but there was always the specter of winter and the menace of long nights lurking just over the horizon.

Then as softly as a sundown the backing Mellotron merged into a subtle introspective melody entitled Have You Heard?

Now you know that you are real

Show your friends that you and me

Belong to the same world…

By now the blended transitions are expected and the music eases into the beginning of The Voyage before slowly transforming into something like the soundtrack to a movie, musically taking you through a magic door. A hauntingly slow minor key melody is joined by a flute, then jumps into a rumble, conjuring dream images of running through dark forests, narrowly escaping barely seen dangers, but then the rumbling becomes less intense as piano notes move up and down the scale, the intensity slowly increasing to a more forceful, more frenetic level, before dropping off to a reprise of Have You Heard and returning full circle to the cosmic whistle with which the album began.

I was stunned. I had never heard anything like it – ever. While it was true that I had previously enjoyed both Rubber Soul and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, neither Beatles masterpiece so thoroughly embraced the idea of the concept album as the album I had just heard – or reached its level of meaning. The music had touched me on several levels, becoming important enough to warrant going through two vinyl copies, two cassette copies, a compact disc, and a download, giving me ready access to its stealth scripture throughout my life.

Quite a bargain for just a dollar, eh?

A Rick That Doesn’t Need to Be Rolled.

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that I’ve worked at a wide range of jobs in my life. Teacher, solider and artist are at the top of my list, but I’ve also worked as

  • Carpenter
  • Landscaper
  • oil field roustabout
  • technical writer
  • staffing agency manager
  • grocery store clerk
  • …and field investigator for a major financial institution

One occupation not found on this list is music journalist. I was gone from home by the time dedicated music journals such as Rolling Stone and Creem hit the market and it seemed like time, distance and just life in general conspired to keep me out of that part of the literary world. However the love I have for music and the appreciation I have for its beneficial effect in my life insured it would be a recurring topic in this blog.

(If you use  the term “music” in the search block for this page you’ll find a dozen articles about favorite songs and the effect they had on me. I am by no means a capital-A “Authority” on the topic, but I do offer some unique insights despite my lack of a technical vocabulary)

That shortfall is being addressed by a purely random scroll through YouTube last week that turned up an interesting fellow by the name of Rick Beato. Beato’s resume is as varied as mine but centers around music – he’s an accomplished session musician, studio engineer , songwriter record producer and university professor who has become a YouTube personality putting out videos in several music-related categories.  My favorite is a series entitled “What Make This Song Great” in which he analyses a song and identifies the theory and  principles involved in its construction in much the same way that I would analyze a work of art during a critique by referencing the elements of art and principles of design.

I’ve just started working through his videos and golly-Bob-howdy is this guy good – so good that he deserves a decent look/see from everyone! He does a great job of citing and explaining fairly complex musical theory in a readily comprehensible manner. If nothing else listening to him made it possible for me to explain why I love the keyboard opening to Baba O-Reilley in better terms than “ ‘s totally bitchin’ man!”

At this point he’s quite well known and with a hundred followers to each one of mine it would seem that I’ve got things backwards…however I think what he does is that important and someone to whom you should definitely “lend your ear”. In addition to his videos he has training courses and manuals that teach the musical theory he talks about.

You can find him at http://www.rickbeato.com

Music: Abandoned Luncheonette

This fits in nicely with the courtship stories from 1976-77 that I am in the process of reblogging…

David R. Deitrick, Designer

Consider the following terms:

  • algorithm
  • dichotomy
  • paradigm
  • ubiquitous

I don’t think I heard any one of these words prior to 1987 – and I didn’t learn the correct definition of any of them until long after that date. You see, unless the context absolutely demands the use of a “ten-dollar term” I prefer using less-ornamental language, which is why I think we did well enough with the alternate phrases like:

  • steps in solving a problem
  • contrast between two things
  • a model or pattern

…but I make an exception to the rule when using ubiquitous instead of “found everywhere”  as in “the music of Darryl Hall and John Oates was ubiquitous in the Seventies and Eighties!” because it was the absolute truth at the time that their work and faces were found everywhere. They were on the covers of magazines at newsstands. I couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing “

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Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

Paper, pencils and dice were the only accessories used in the first roleplaying games I experienced many years ago, so it was a big deal when 25mm miniatures arrived to aid in visualizing game events. Scarcity and a wide range in quality made us loath to retire characters when called to do during play, and one friend dealt with the situation by renaming and reusing his favorite figure. His prize 25mm figure started out as “Beowulf” only to become “Beowulf Junior” after one particularly lethal gaming session only go be reincarnated as “Son of Beowulf Junior” and eventually “Friend of The Son of Beowulf Junior” shortly before I graduated and moved away from that area and gaming.

I’m in a similar situation as we start to ramp up for the second book. The existence of other books with titles that play off the Midnight Sun / Midnight Son pun prompts me to rule out a simple “Midnight Son 2” title for the second book in the series but for now that will be the working title for the second volume in the series which will cover high school from 1968 to 1971. I had originally planned the Kickstarter for that book to happen next month (May 2020) but the uncertainty brought on by the Covid 19/Corona Virus pandemic is requiring an extra measure of flexibility in planning, but I did want to give you all a heads-up, hence this post today.

While Midnight Son 2 covers a short time span it will actually be a longer book, reflecting the added complexity in life brought on as we approach adulthood. Some of that added length will also come about by the inclusion of section headings for each individual year, bringing into context the increased influence of current events in my life – especially during the turbulent times of the late 1960s/70s. What follows is the intro for the first section:

1968

 I turned off the television and just sat for a couple of minutes, my mind still spinning from rapid-fire dialog and chaotic change in scenes. I had just witnessed a fifteen-year-old boy’s dream come true – 58 minutes of social and political satire interspersed with counter-culture graffiti and sexual innuendo. It was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and while I initially hated it for replacing the Man from UNCLE it was a perfect introduction to the 1960s, or rather that period from 1968 to 1972 which had all the social characteristics of “The Summer of Love” that comes to mind when most people think of the “The Sixties”. It seemed like we were all witnessing the birth of a new exciting world, but all the same it was an unnerving time to be a teenager.

  •  The TET offensive simultaneously terrified and angered an American public already unhappy with the lack of progress and increasing body count of the Vietnam war in general.
  • Every newscast had a segment on riots somewhere in the Lower 48. Whether sparked by unrest over the Vietnam War or the glacial progress of civil rights, riots seemed to be happening everywhere with collective turbulence culminating in the organized chaos of the 1968 Democratic Convention.
  • Hints of a thaw between the East and the West disappeared when Warsaw Pact tanks rumbled over the Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia.
  • It seemed like everyone was getting shot. For a while I’d lived with the assumption that President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was enough to shock some collective sense into the nation but then Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down in April followed by Robert F. Kennedy two months later.

 On the other hand:

  •  Manned Apollo missions commenced with Apollo’s circumnavigation of the moon making a nice Christmas present.
  • …we were all very pleased but a little confused when the Beatles released the White Album at Christmas time.

 For me 1968 started out in much the same way as previous years – trying to stay warm while waiting six months for first-run movies to finally hit the local theaters. Our governor Wally Hickel was drafted by President Richard Nixon to serve as Secretary of the Interior and Ted Stevens was appointed to the Senate after Bob Bartlett died during heart surgery. The first mall in Anchorage opened up at the intersection of the Seward Highway and Northern Lights Boulevard, a third television station (KHAR channel 13) began broadcasting and a two inch column at the bottom of the front page of the Daily News casually announced that maybe – just maybe – there was oil to be tapped on the North Slope.

I’d spent most of the school year just surviving and the summer of 1968 looked to be a pleasant change of pace. I had grown an inch or two in height while losing an inch or two from my waistline and gaining some coordination in the process. One of the biggest changes involved what I listened to each day – during the summer I bought a very basic record player and while the sound quality was marginally better than a Kenner Close-N-Play it allowed me to explore music beyond the scope of the 2:45 standards coming over my AM clock-radio. From this point on songs became “time-stamped” to what was going on in life.

…and to reflect THAT very fundamental change in my life each chapter in this volume will be annotated with the song or album that was my favorite at the time, which will again bring some added insight to what was going on during that period.

Late Night Lament Revisited

(With apologies to Moody Blues percussionist/poet Graeme Edge for stealing his title – it was just too perfect for this post. This was composed a few nights back when I woke up in searing pain at 2:23am – I will try to edit it down to something understandable)

While experts say that late night use of personal electronics interferes with sleep, I’ve found that they can be either a blessing or a curse. I’ve kept track of the efficacy of painkillers over the years and found that they fail 12% of the time, which means that I face a one-out-of-a-dozen chance of waking up in pain that is not eased, making that particular night seem much, much longer than the few hours it actually covers. It’s that point that I’m glad to have a smart phone or tablet handy to provide some distraction.

Most of the time it involves listening, as in :

  • Listening to old radio programs; classics like Dragnet or 21st
  • Listening to LT Theo Kojak bellow “CROCKER” while working a homicide case.
  • Listening to Gordon Lightfoot or the Moody Blues take me to simpler, less stressful times or a more spiritual place.

Most of humanity has no concept of living in chronic pain and I have to laugh at those who suggest that I wean myself off my meds and just pray more. It’s hard to understand a life that entails living in the present and just wanting to escape the pain for a few minutes. You think it’s tough enduring the commuter coyote sitting next to you on the train? The one with earbuds in and singing along with their iPod for the entire trip? Try coping with level 6 or 7 pain in your back, hips and knees for hours on end.

It’s even more difficult because of the years I defined myself by the miles I could walk, the mountains I could climb and the adventures I would find on my way. Now my adventures consist of laughing along with the cast of NewsRadio or listening to Days of Future Past in the middle of the night while I watch the moonlight and shadows make a new landscape and pray that blessed sleep will soon come and let me roam in spirit over those new forests and oceans.

Sunday Will Never Be The Same

Spanky and Our Gang was just an inch-and-a=half too successful to be considered a one-hit-wonder but their presence in American culture was cut all too short when lead guitarist Malcom Hale died unexpectedly in the fall of 1968. With tunes like “Lazy Day” and “I’d Like to Get To Know You” the “sunshine pop” band’s positive message provided a welcome respite during those times when social upheaval dominated the news media, but  I will always remember them best for what was arguably their signature tune “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”.

…which is probably why I’ve been playing it a lot lately.

Sundays are definitely not the same for me at this stage of my life, when making sure that my I-Phone is plugged in and charging has a higher priority than making sure my shoes are shined and trousers ironed for work tomorrow morning – or simply being able to make it from my bed to my papa chair prompts the same sense of accomplishment that completing a 5K did when I was younger. That same physical limitation has also transformed church attendance from being almost a habit into to an eagerly anticipated/much appreciated opportunity for spiritual transfusion on those rare days when we can get there.

…but then again some things are not so different. It’s distressing to see heated demonstrations devolve into street violence, but at least the anti-fa and alt-right aren’t bombing each other like the Weather Underground was in the habit of doing fifty years ago.

Life has stayed the same inside the walls of our home as well. Even though my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I are battling our respective autoimmune issues our feelings toward each other are just as warm – no, even warmer as they have always been and we have children and grandchildren around us that share those same feelings, all of which make our home a haven from the craziness

Sunday may not be the same – it’s harder in some ways but in it’s better in the ways that matter.

 

1971: Your Move

It’s a story that’s been handied down through my mother’s family for generations – two Cornish coal-miners filing a lawsuit against the public works administration for building the sidewalks too close to their butts. It’s tempting to dismiss the tale as urban legend but when you consider how the family physique combines a long torso with stubby legs it’s easy to believe the legend as fact. It also explains why running – especially long distance running – was always such a challenge for me as I have to cover twice as much distance as my longer-limbed buddies.

It was a condition that would be the bane of my entire running life but even though I’ve never been much of a long-distance runner I never stopped trying to do better and by the time I was seventeen I could turn a decent time for a mile run. It was enough to get me through football season and as a teacher’s aide for physical education class when I was counting laps for my students more often than running them myself, but the situation jumped up and bit me in my own low-slung Cornish miner’s butt when a lapse of judgement saw me signing up for a 200 level physical fitness class during my first semester at the University of Alaska.

The class first met on one of those grey drizzly days common to Alaska but the classroom was comfortable enough and before long I was joking with my classmates and looking forward to fifteen weeks of casual activity. Then our instructor walked in and reality scratched the tone arm across the 33 1/3 LP record of my life. His name was Coach Svenningson and he was built like the Bizarro version of me:

  • His legs were as abnormally long as mine were short.
  • Where I was stocky he was rail-thin.
  • Where I was endomorphic his body fat percentage easily went into negative.

At least he didn’t have that frustrated drill instructor mindset found in some coaches and was soft-spoken and occasionally smiling as he passed out copies of the syllabus and highlighted some of the fitness activities we’d be doing. At first we’d be doing a lot of stretching and warm-up work and the last part of the term would involve a lot of handball but most of the semester would involve running.

It was definitely not what I wanted to hear.

Up until this time I had been somewhat of a dilettante when it came to athletics – or anything for that matter. Whether it was drawing, football, judo or shooting I was good for at best two months before I’d get distracted into something more interesting, which worked in quite nicely with the nine-week grading periods that broke up the school year but college was a whole new animal and I’d have to stick with this class for twice as long as usual.

Fortunately this particular set of concerns fell by the wayside as all my studies commenced in earnest and for the first few weeks the physical fitness class was just one academic blur among others as we sedately worked our way thorough Coach’s preparatory program of calisthenics and stretching.

…and then there came D-Day, or rather R-Day: the dreaded day we were to start running, which wasn’t all that dreadful because it entailed some easy laps around the gym (which I could handle) followed with laps around the Beluga1 annex which I assumed that I could learn to handle…but looking forward I could see that when we started running outside any measure of “handling” on my part was theoretical at best.

Given the university’s geographical location less than two degrees south of the Arctic Circle running outside meant dealing with conditions cooler, wetter and a bit less sunny that I was used to for autumn. I was granted a very minor respite when we were given a choice of several trails to run but the shortest was two and half miles long so I’d have to more than double my heretofore best effort. In the hyperlogical mindset of an eighteen-year old male all I could was cling to hope that the support and traction provided by my brand new blue Puma® running shoes would carry me through the course.

…then we were given a sketch map of the course and I knew I was screwed. The run would start at the Beluga but then almost immediately went straight up the slope that separated the upper and lower campuses before crossing Yukon Road and making a loop over a rolling forest track2.

Even though we were still inside I shivered. I was going to be engaged in my least favorite form of exercise while

  • Covering twice as far as my best distance
  • Negotiating one big slope followed by several smaller ones
  • Wet, sloppy weather that could turn into snow at anytime

I decided that no running shoe (no matter how cool the logo) would get me through that distance so immediately after class I went to the administration building to drop the class, but as I was picking up a drop card I ran into a friend from high school who was in the process of dropping out of all his classes and going home. It startled me – he’d been a stellar student athlete all through high school and was the last person I’d expect to quit, but as I looked at him filling out forms I had an epiphany: no matter how hard my classes were or how homesick I became there was no way I was going to spend four more years taking the easy path in life.

…which is why – despite all my doubts – I tore up the drop card and showed up at the next physical fitness class and lined up at the start point of the 2 ½ mile trail.

I started up the hill, thinking that if I could get through wind sprints in football practice I could make it up the hill, a thought my body stoutly rejected as I barfed at the top of the slope. As I crossed the road my legs wobbling and feeling more like Jell-O than flesh and bone and for a moment I considered hiding in the trees until I could fall with the pack on the return trip down the slope but all I could think of was my former classmate dropping of school so I kept going, albeit at a brisk walk rather than a run.

It was more of a barely-controlled forward fall than a brisk walk and I found myself wheeze-singing3 a song I’d heard just before I left for class that morning: “Your Move” by the British progressive rock bank Yes:

Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life.
Make the white queen run so fast she hasn’t got time to make you a wife.
‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and its news is captured
For the queen to use.

 Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.


My run during the next class wasn’t much better, though I did manage to avoid throwing up and during my third time around the trail I was able to manage a slow jog for part of the course. As I’d go through the lyrics my mind would fill in the bass drum that slowly marked time along with the flawlessly blended harmony.

Don’t surround yourself with yourself,
Move on back two squares,
Send an Instant Karma to me,
and Initial it with loving care

Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.

After the third or fourth circuit around the trail I began to think about the message of the song – the game of chess as an allusion to a romantic relationship, something that was extremely interesting to me now that the Petite Blonde at church was becoming my Best Friend

‘Cause it’s time, it’s time in time with your time and its news is captured
For the queen to use.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.
Diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit diddit didda.

Before long I was jogging for the entire course and then one day I found myself running for the entire two and half miles….and once I was able to painlessly4 run the trail I found myself appreciating the golden explosion that is autumn in Alaska:

  • the brilliant golden fall colors
  • the sounds of birds calling to each other
  • the slightly sour smell of unpicked cranberries after a frost

…and then it came time to switch to other fitness activities and while I thoroughly enjoyed learning to play handball I felt a vague sense of loss. Running remained my least favorite form of exercise but I’d finally been able to figure out why cross-country running was so popular among some of my friends in high school…and mulling the lyrics to Your Move helped me figure out the direction a budding romance was headed

Most importantly it was the first time I took on a very difficult/almost insurmountable task and stuck with it all the way through to a successful completion, and while my future still held instances of me “getting out while the getting was good” I’ve been able to look back at the two-and-a-half mile trail and draw strength in hard times. As a later mentor would say I’d taken the first step into adulthood by making myself do something difficult even though I didn’t want to.

 


 

Notes:

  1. The Beluga was a large white inflatable building nicknamed for the white whales that inhabited Alaskan waters and was situated just to the west of the Patty athletic complex. It housed the university’s hockey rink but during the off-season it provided shelter for tennis and jogging during inclement weather.
  2. An area now taken up by the Reichardt building, Troth Yedda Park and assorted student housing cabins.
  3. “Wheeze-singing” entails quietly singing through the gasps and wheezes of the belabored breathing brought on by heavy exercise. It was a sort of a Zen exercise I developed to focus my attention away from the pain and discomfort of running in high school long before portable stereos had been invented.
  4. …well, less painfully maybe.

 

 

This is an extended version – the one I listened/sang to lacked the more electric & energetic section that starts up after the fade-out.

 

Two And A Haldf Mile Trail (2)

The  closest I could get to finding a picture of the 2 1/2 mile trail at the time I was running on it. While this is definitely a photo taken in Alaska the trees look a little tall for Fairbanks. It was a share of a share of a share on Facebook so I don’t have a proper credit but please contact me if you know the photographer

 

 

Life is Eternal / Like A River

 

My Beautiful Saxon Princess lost her mother early yesterday morning. Lori was particularly close to her mom and while I want to say that Velma has gone on to happier place there is still that inner Cro-Magnon that wants to howl at the separation of death. I think I am also coming to grips with losing my own mom two years ago – I wasn’t able to attend the funeral so there was no closure. I do remember how hard it was to emotionally process the loss of both Mom and Dad so I am doing my best to provide emotional support.

These two songs helped me a lot and I am hoping they will do the same for my BSP…or for anyone else coping with loss for that matter