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

Music: Ghost of A Chance (Rush)

 

Teaching at Lincoln Memorial University was a good news/bad news type of situation. On one hand the school’s expectations weren’t too high, I had a tremendous amount of freedom in the way I handled my class and there were  a few fairly competent students. On the other hand the pay was terrible, the administration gave scant support and most of the art majors avoided my class because I actually expected them to work.

I just told myself I was fortunate to be teaching somewhere.

Capping it all was the miserable commute: while the school was located only 50 miles to the northeast there were several ridges and valleys to transit, and I spent as much time going up and down as I did moving forward. My schedule also had me returning to town in the middle of the evening rush hour which made the last 5 miles as tedious as the preceding 45.

It was a wet, sloppy evening in early November, I was tired and cold, and it was a strain to see through the rain and slow-moving traffic. Struggling to stay awake and alert, I turned on the radio and tuned into the local classic rock station – which like every classic rock station ever had a playlist shorter than a five-year old’s attention span.

I was surprised – instead of hearing the inevitable “Freebird” or “Stairway to Heaven” a young man was talking about Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, a topic which caught my attention in the same way dog whistle rattled a collie. I’d discovered Jung in graduate school, became intrigued with this work, and worked at integrating some of his concepts into my thesis project but just as I was piecing together what was being said, the speaker stopped, and the song he had been so long in introducing started to play.

Electric guitars shot out a very basic but compelling tune which repeated  like a car alarm, accentuating the tension and stress of the surrounding traffic. Negotiating this nerve-wracking commute had my pulse pounding so hard I could hear it in my inner ear and when a vocalist suddenly started to sing it took me a moment to hear past the thub-thub-thub.

Like a million little doorways
All the choices we made
All the stages we passed through
All the roles we played

 There was no mistaking that voice: Geddy Lee, which meant I was listening to the Canadian rock trio Rush, most appropriate for my situation as I didn’t have the soundtrack for Mad Max in my CD player. Lee continued to sing, his voice getting more forceful and strident:

Somehow we find each other
Through all that masquerade
Somehow we found each other
Somehow we have stayed

 Voice and instrument continued to build to a point of frenzy, then suddenly it was like cresting a mountain or going into free-fall:

In a state of grace

Languid guitar chords lead into a restful interlude devoid of the song’s previous intensity::

I don’t believe in destiny
Or the guiding hand of fate
I don’t believe in forever
Or love as a mystical state

 The cardiac pounding in my ear eased off as I relaxed a bit

But I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last
And make it last

Guitar chords echoed and a feeling of calm continued to envelope me, but then the chaos abruptly renewed with strident vocals and crashing guitar chords once more

Like a million little crossroads
Through the back streets of youth
Each time we turn a new corner
A tiny moment of truth

The quiet, calm returned:

In a state of grace

I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last

This time when the pattern broke  the lead guitar began an improvisational guitar solo that caused my heart to sing as well.  It  also helped me  tune out the lurching/honking/swerving and I was startled to find myself on the last leg from the freeway to my home, free of the tension and chaos of rush hour as the song returned from the solo to the calm of the dreamy interludes:

I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
I believe there’s a ghost of a chance
We can find someone to love
And make it last

…which transitioned into a measure or two of a slightly mournful, slightly wistful echoing guitars. I pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine and sat listening to the tick-tick-tick of the cooling engine. Rush was not a particular favorite group of mine; while I had respect for their talent and dedication, their music and their message usually did not resonate with me … but I had no doubt that at this point Ghost of A Chance was stealth scripture – truth given in an unexpected manner that would have otherwise been ignored, and at this very low point in my life it contained a very important message for me.

Tomorrow morning I would get up bright and early and face another week head on:

  • submitting job applications to colleges sure to ignore me
  • canvassing art directors who routinely told me I was too old
  • worshipping in a congregation that cornered the market on cliques
  • teaching students who regarded study as a process akin to hustling free t-shirts at a concert

….but right now as I walked in the door…

You know I read somewhere that the onion is a distant relative to the opium poppy. Maybe that’s why I felt calm and happy as I walked into the house,  maybe I was getting a contact high as Lori was browning onions in preparation for making soup, but I knew there was more to the warmth I felt. I drew it all in as I shelved my teaching binder and hung up my coat: music was softly playing on the stereo and my sons had their yearbook open, scoping out the young ladies while conducting a post-game wrap-up of the Oldest Game Ever. Wrapped in the warmth of my family I felt the very essence of joy.

It may be that life was getting the best of me, that the academic and creative arenas in which I fought daily were more than a forty-year man could handle, but as long as I had this wonderful home and family as a place of refuge I had a chance, albeit a ghost of a chance.


___________________________________________________________________________

“Ghost of Chance” Songwriters: Neil Peart / Geddy Lee / Alex Lifeson

 

 

Lonely Nights….

Good morning mister sunshine, you brighten up my day
Come sit beside me in your way
I see you every morning, outside the restaurants
The music plays so nonchalant

Lonely days, lonely nights.
Where would I be without my woman?

It was several years before the Brothers Gibb switched to size small jockeys and started shrieking “Ah-ah-ah-ah stayin’ alive” that I first heard their earlier song Lonely Nights. It was the middle of an Alaskan winter, I was a senior in high school in between girlfriends and feeling lonely as only a seventeen-year-old can know…and I had no idea that there would come a day where I daily dealt with an even deeper state of alone-ness.

Please excuse the pun but I am not alone in this matter. The 11 January issue of THE WEEK magazine contains an article that hit very close to home for me, an article entitled:  “An Epidemic of Loneliness”. It cites multiple studies from around the world that all conclude that a LOT of us are lonely and it doesn’t do us one bit of good.

Connections have been found between loneliness and:

  • Mental issues like insomnia, depression and
  • Physical issues like increased risk for heart attack and weakened immune system
  • Social issues like increased political polarization.

There are plenty of reasons for this increased state of isolation to include the breakdown of the family unit, the often-transient nature of work and the emotional pitfalls found in social media. I’ve seen it in my own life – thirty years ago in addition to my family and local friends I had a circle of about twenty people I would routinely correspond with but now contact from anyone other than my Beautiful Saxon Princess and one or two friends is very sporadic.

I’m not going to snivel about how lonely I get slaving away in my studio, but I would like to suggest that you take a moment each day and think about those friends and relatives that might be shut-in or otherwise isolated. We live in perilous times and while so many of the terrors that lurk in our lives seem insurmountable (taking away my old aerosol cans won’t make a bit of difference to the ozone layer) this a problem that individually we can actually do something about.

It brings to mind a story I heard of  a man who’d walk along the beach at low tide to pick up stranded starfish and throw them back in the water. He was told “ You’re just wasting your time – there are thousands of stranded critters! Do you really think you’re making any difference?”  to which the man replied (after replacing yet another starfish):

 “I made a difference to that one!”

OK – so my inner hippie is showing, but please, please pick up the phone, tap at your keyboard or write a letter to that invalid uncle, your old room-mate who’s now a single mom, your high school buddy who’s now a widower – anyone that you know who’s fighting to get through each day alone.

Music: Wichita Lineman (Revisited)

 

 

There’s always “the one”, the friend that was either too hip or too nerdy, too edgy or too zealous to fit in with the rest of your friends and or family. You know the one:

  • Their name elicits snickers when mentioned.
  • They are allowed in the house only if an exit strategy is already in place with your folks.
  • Any positive traits seem to be known only to you.

If songs were people Wichita Lineman would be “that” friend.

Maybe it’s because it was too popular too many years ago and when it was popular our parents liked the song just as much as we did. We also have to consider the lobster-in-the-pot syndrome as well –  Americans tend to drag down a star just as quickly as a lobster escaping a pot of boiling water gets pulled back by his companions – and that song made a whole bundle of money.  Unfortunately what it boils down to for Wichita Lineman is that over the years the song has become the poster child for the comically un-hip; ironically touted as aural kitsch, which can be evidenced by its use as Uber-nerd Matthew’s rock anthem on NBC’s wickedly funny ‘90s sitcom NewsRadio.

It most definitely was not viewed so dismissively when it was released in late1968 as yet another hit song penned by Jimmy Webb. Wichita Lineman stayed on the top 100 for 15 weeks and as of Glen Campbell’s1 passing in 2017 it had sold over 350,000 downloads. Back in the day it was covered by a staggering number of A-list recording artists from a wide range of genres, and was praised by British music journalist Stuart Maconie as “the greatest pop song ever composed”.

…but that’s not why I love it.

For most of my youth I lived in areas where the wind blew.

All. The. Time.

With marginal tree cover there wasn’t much to keep the wind from coming off the Siskiyou Mountains and roaring past our home in Little Shasta Valley2. Likewise with Sterling Alaska: our ranch was situated right in the middle of the scrubs, snags and saplings trying to recover some of the 300,000+ acres leveled by the Skilak Lake Fire of 1947.

In both locales the wind blew past the homes, outbuildings, and through the winding lengths of power lines, phone line antennae, and guy wires that surrounded all those buildings, creating a haunting melody that changed as the wind altered its direction and speed. Despite the lack of a Walkman or even a transistor radio we never lacked for a haunting musical soundtrack to outdoor activities be it work or play.

By the use of high-pitched violins and strategically-placed changes in key, the instrumental background to Wichita Lineman comes closer to the sound and feeling of wind in the wire than any other piece of music I’ve ever heard. While the lyrics specifically refer to power company maintenance workers the message applies to anyone who has spent time around power or telephone lines running through a desolate windswept area; people who know that those lines aren’t just making noise – they’re voices talking – or better yet – singing to you.

It brings to mind Henry Farney’s masterpiece from 1904 Song of the Talking Wire.

Song of the Talking Wire

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve found myself standing in this gentleman’s moccasins. This image and Wichita Lineman come  the closest to capturing the essence of solitude on a windy winter night  – especially as I would walk in between hitched rides and listen to the wind and the wire sing. It gave me a sense of connection with something larger than myself – something cosmic.

….which makes this closing clip all that much more cool…in more ways than one.

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/science-environment-46490149/listen-to-the-wind-whistle-on-mars

It’s a very faint, very subtle sound and even with augmentation it’s hard to pick out, but what you are listening to is  a recording of the wind as recorded by the British seismometer package carried on Nasa’s InSight lander as it  detected the vibrations from Martian air rushing over the probe’s solar panels.

At least that’s what the BBC say it is.

To me it’s the sound of the wind in the wire as I’m walking from the highway to the ranch along Scout Lake Loop road.


 

Notes:

  1. It was only when Glen Campbell passed away in August of 2017 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s that the snarky comments began to slow down. It was then that Mr. Campbell, and by extension his work, started receiving the objective appraisal he so richly deserved. Consider for a moment the following list of achievements:
  • Twenty-nine Top 10 hit songs
  • Twelve gold albums
  • Four platinum albums
  • One double album
  • Multiple Grammy awards
  • A hit CBS TV series in the late ‘60s

Most noteworthy was his status as a charter member of the legendary group of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. The Monkees weren’t the only pop musicians that “didn’t play their own instruments”. Top 40 headliners from the Beach Boys on down would rely on the Wrecking Crew to provide instrumental back-up to their vocals when cutting a record.

2. located in the actively-volcanic high desert of northern-almost Oregon California.

Music: White Car

 

Despite my fondness for the genre I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the British progressive rock group Yes. I immediately took to their first single ”Your Move” but the AM radio version I first heard at the University in the fall of 1971 did not accurately reflect the band’s basic sound. The raucous addendum “I’ve Seen All Good People” tacked on to the tail end of the album track was missing from the radio version, so I was immediately taken with vocal harmonies and a pleasant, maybe even pretty, acoustic accompaniment topped off with a majestic but not overpowering organ in the last couple of measures.

Hmmm. Kind of like Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, I thought.

Then Marty and Jeff  down the hall played The Yes Album in its entirety and I became a fan of the band on their own merits and not because I though they sounded like someone else…but since I really, really liked the harmony and uncomplicated nature of “Your Song”  I mentally filed it in a place separate from Fragile, Closer to the Edge and other subsequent Yes Albums.

Time passed, and music evolved:

  • The Moody Blues broke up then reunited into a shadow of themselves.
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer alternately mugged our ears/broke our hearts  with Love Beach.
  • Along with more than 200 million other Americans I survived the Great Disco Epidemic by the narrowest of margins.

With all these changes I found my tastes in music evolving to modern jazz artists like Tom Scott and Tim Weisberg while my progressive rock albums gathered dust on the shelf. I also found that my life was changing as I went from student to missionary to student to soldier  – until one night when I was sitting in our quarters at FT Richardson with KRKN1 playing on the radio  while I was spit-shining boots.

…so while I’m fumbling with matches, a can of Kiwi shoe polish, and an old diaper, an album began to play on the radio. I missed the introduction  – and as KRKN was an album-oriented rock station there was no deejay patter in between tracks  –  it  took almost all of that first track to figure out that maybe, just maybe I was listening to a new Yes album.

Then the track ended, there were several seconds of between-track silence and then the second track started to play, and I was transfixed.

  • Kettle drums lead with synthesizers-posing as strings, creating a melody that toggles between classical music and a motion picture soundtrack.
  • A mandolin plays a syncopated accompaniment in the background.
  • A very martial-sounding roll on the snare drum and a kettle-drum repeat winds up the segment.
  • The whole thing starts over again and repeats three more times.

…and then the vocals start but I will warn you: if you listen too closely they screw everything up. The first few times I listened to “White Car” I really keyed into its quasi-soundtrack feeling and let the vocals work as pure instinctive sound – another instrument in the band. The combined effect of  indistinct voice and music painted a magic mental picture of walking along the docks of a port in some alternate reality steampunk city and taking in the sights:

  • Ships featuring both sails and steam-powered paddle-wheels
  • Nautilus-like submarines with bulbous glowing eye-ports
  • Rigid-frame airships; zeppelins winching cargo up and down from the surface
  • Singer Gary Neuman2 driving around in a Stingray convertible

SKKRRIITCCHHHH!

Nothing can drag the tone-arm across the Great Record Album of Life like this non-sequitur.

I see a man in a white car
Move like a ghost on the skyline
Take all your dreams
And you throw them away
Man in a white car.

 ….namely Mr. Neuman’s white Stingray, which is the official subject of this composition.

 However this short (1:21) song worked such powerful magic for me that I trained myself back into listening with “vocals as instruments” ears  and I’ve kept “White Car” in every format and playlist I’ve had since that night in 1980. It provides a wonderful eighty-one second side-trip to a nicer world and has done wonders for the anxiety that so readily besets me.

My only complaint since then is minor and has to do with the song’s placement in the playing order of the album Drama. It brings to mind a spin-the-bottle game I was drafted into when I was much younger. I say drafted, but I went quite willingly when I found that the game already included a beautiful brunette I was very interested in.

…but when I sat down in the circle I discovered that the young lady in question was flanked by…by…I’m sorry – there’s just no tactful way to describe the two young ladies sitting to each side of my  raven-tressed Faye Dunaway wannabe. Their appearance in contrast to her beauty  was as jarring as having “Man in a White Car” situated between the equally jarring and discordant  “Machine Messiah” and “Does It Really Happen?

.. but that contrast might just be what makes “White Car” so beautiful. Sometimes a sharp contrast goes a long way in bringing out both physical and musical beauty.


Notes:

  1. KRKN (104.3 FM,) was an AOR (album-oriented rock) FM station in Anchorage Alaska from 1980 to 1986 when it changed to an oldies format. Through a process that totally mystifies me the KRKN call letters are now assigned to a country music station in Iowa.
  2. Yes, that Gary Neuman of “Cars” – the 1980 New Wave techno hit that will now be running through your mind and driving you crazy for the rest of the week.