SotD: Joni Mitchell, “Morning Morgantown”

My cousin Sandi celebrates a milestone birthday today—hope you have a great one, cuz!

Even though she’s lived in MA virtually all of her life, we’ve long been friends. Her mother (my mom’s first cousin) grew up in Kentucky and spent her teen years living with my grandparents; Sandi and her brother Jack came with their parents to visit Gran and Papaw a little more than occasionally while I was growing up.  I’ve managed to get up to the Boston area several times over the years to see them as well, most recently just one month ago.

In 90, I qualified to go to Boston for a bridge tournament, so I flew up a few days early for a visit.  One night Sandi and I went to see the Red Sox play at Fenway, and witnessed the only game in major league history in which two triple plays have been turned.  We also went and saw Janis Ian play a coffeehouse in western MA (though that may have occurred when I was there five years earlier?)—I recall it being a really good show.

Music has always been a huge part of Sandi’s life. She’s done some recording (I mentioned her contribution to Respond back in the spring). She sang “Bist du bei mir” beautifully at Martha’s and my wedding.  She has been a voice teacher at various points over the years, and a few years ago she helped found a transgender chorus.  Sandi has a big heart and focuses a good deal of her energy on lending aid and giving a voice to those who often have trouble being heard.  She rocks!

Joni Mitchell was one of the primary influences on my cousin’s music from the very beginning. Sandi recorded “A Case of You” for one of her solo albums, and did a version of “Help Me” not too long ago, when she was part of ESP, a vocal trio. When I spent several days with her family in August of 85, she introduced me to Ladies of the Canyon, a mighty fine album. I bought it for myself about a year later, soon after I moved to Illinois. In honor of Sandi’s special day, here’s the opening track, one of its many excellent songs.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/28/86: Models, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”

Some periods of time are more a blur than others.  For me, big portions of the summer of 86 flew by without too many details sticking. Lugged the contents of my dorm room back to Florence? Worked at the Transy computer camp as a counselor for the third time in four years? Did some temp work back home afterward? Made one last weekend visit to see James toward the end of July before moving to Champaign-Urbana? Check, check, check, and check. But overall, specifics are few and far between, with one big exception.

I’d done the computer camp in the summers of 83 and 84; Dr. Miller knew that grad school was where I’d be come August, so he knew I was likely to be available. He asked if I’d take on a sort of head counselor role. The other male counselor was Todd, who was from my high school and the brother of my classmate Karla. I think the job lasted four weeks, but I’ll be darned if I can remember much of what went on.

Having finally finished my time living in Clay-Davis Hall, I signed up with a temp agency upon my return home. I got a job with, well, I forget who. A shipping company? A manufacturer? What I do remember is that my primary directive was to double-check inventory sheets against what was on the palettes being loaded onto trailers. My recollection is that the company had been having issues with things getting on the wrong trucks. I had a partner who started about the same time I did, though we didn’t interact all that much. I’ll be darned if I can remember how many weeks I was there—couldn’t have been more than three, four tops.

I do know something very particular about that foray back to Lexington to see James, however. He was spending the summer doing some programming for Transy’s IT department, living on campus in the brand new Rosenthal housing complex. On Saturday, we drove down to Burgin to visit with his parents—could others of my college friends have joined us? One of the rituals of such trips was going by the original 18th century site of my alma mater (yes, TU traces its history back to 1780, before Kentucky was even a state), which isn’t too far from his folks’ place. Alongside it now are railroad tracks; we walked to the bridge that goes over them, and looking down I saw something moving. It was a scrawny puppy.

Heaven only knows what led me to pick my way down the hill to the tracks, but next thing you know I’m back up on the bridge, pup in hand. We took it back to Lexington and housed it in Rosenthal the rest of the weekend. I guess I went out and bought some food for it. James and I did our thing around town on Sunday: record shopping, hanging with friends? All I know is that when we got back to the room, we quickly came to the realization that this beast wasn’t housebroken (duh)!

On Monday morning, before I headed back home, the puppy and I took a trip out to the Humane Society. I cried pretty hard after dropping it off to who-knows-what fate. In my dreams it found a loving home and a happy life, but I understand it may not have survived even another month. I’ll be darned if I know whether I did it any favors by interjecting myself into its life; I can only hope I did.

Maybe I bought the 45 for “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” on that visit with James. I don’t remember now how I was introduced to the song; I’d guess radio since the video doesn’t seem familiar. “Gotta keep my body tight” is a pretty dumb lyric, but I really, really like the driving beat and the horns. It made it onto one of my mixtapes by the fall.

This was the only time the Models, from Australia, hit the US charts. They’re at #38, down one from their peak. The lead singer, James Freud, committed suicide in late 2010; he’d battled alcohol addiction for many years and had written two memoirs that chronicled his struggles. Not that it necessarily has too much to do with anything, but I have to say that Freud looks pretty intense in this clip—I may have caught just one hint of a smile, almost two minutes in.