American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/26/86: Mike + the Mechanics, “All I Need Is a Miracle”

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during my last spring term at Transy, I made two treks through downtown Lexington over to the University of Kentucky. The reason: to pick up (and afterward take back) a friend for TU’s Wind Ensemble practices.

She’d been a student at Transy the previous year, playing a decently mean clarinet with our group as a freshman. A transfer to UK had happened over the summer of 85, but she and I had remained in touch. In the meantime, TU hired a new Ensemble director for the beginning of my senior year; it became clear immediately that he was going to aggressively build up the program. I don’t remember how it all came together now, but I wound up serving as the go-between in arranging for my friend to re-join the Ensemble, beginning in January. She didn’t have a car, so I volunteered to play shuttle driver.

By this time, you’re probably wondering, so I’ll go ahead and say it: yes, I was interested in dating my friend, and had been since not too long after we’d met. In brief, I never even got the chance to be turned down. During her year at TU, she had an on-again, off-again, on-again relationship with her high school boyfriend, who was at UK; by the time I was picking her up for Ensemble practices, she was beginning to see the man she’d eventually marry. Anyway, in early 86 I knew I was going to be leaving the state in August to go to grad school, so at that point it wasn’t worth getting all angsty or anything.

Late in the term, “All I Need Is a Miracle” came on the radio one time while I was on my way back to campus, following my second trip of the afternoon across town. Even though I was cool with things as they were, I’d be lying if I said that the song title didn’t made me think just a little about the situation (though the lyrics as a whole didn’t really apply). Easily my favorite from Mike + the Mechanics, it was at #25 at this moment in time, headed toward #5.

My friend found other means of transport and kept playing with the Transy group after I graduated. We kept in touch decently over the next decade or so; eventually her husband got promoted and they moved to the west coast. Over the last roughly twenty years, we’ve had only very sporadic communication.


(And now, a completely different thought regarding this song. After my parents moved in the fall of 83, they began going to a dentist named John Miracle. His office wasn’t far from their new home, and I used him myself throughout the last half of the 80s. It occurred to me more than once that had he ever wanted to start a media campaign, he could consider using the tag line, “All You Need Is John Miracle,” set to the tune of the M+tM song. I never managed to bring it up with his office staff, though…)

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/28/73: Anne Murray, “Danny’s Song”

One day in 79, perhaps/likely during the second quarter of the year (maybe even forty years ago today!), I was checking out Musicland in the Florence Mall and found something on offer that practically started me salivating: Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Yearbook. It was available for a mere $4.95; I can’t know now whether I purchased a copy immediately, but it couldn’t have been long before I was taking one home. For a good description of the contents and highlights, here’s My Favorite Decade’s take from almost five years ago. Something has changed about supply and demand since then: MFD noted at the time that one could purchase a used copy on Amazon for under $10, but in looking around last night, the best price I found was $900. That’s pretty shocking.

I liked reading the bios of each artist who’d made the chart between 11/77 and 10/78, but the most enjoyable thing for me was taking in the list of Top 40 appearances (including peak position of each song) at the end of each entry. I was pretty knowledgeable at that point about hits from the spring of 76 onward, but this was a big opportunity for me to learn about the past chart history of many of the bigger artists of the 70s, stuff I wouldn’t have had much chance to know until I received my first Joel Whitburn book more than a decade later (and in some cases, wouldn’t hear until the last seven years or so).

One such artist was Anne Murray. She was in the Yearbook because “You Needed Me” had started up the countdown toward #1 in August 78. I knew about “Snowbird,” but her three other songs that had made the Forty previously were either unfamiliar to me or just hadn’t made any impression. Yet they’d all done reasonably well, hitting in 73 and 74 and peaking between #7 and #12.

Okay, “unfamiliar” is maybe a stretch in one case. When WSAI played the snot out of Kenny Loggins’s new stuff in 77 upon the release of his solo debut album Celebrate Me Home, they also reached back and dug out a cut from his 71 album with Jim Messina, Sittin’ In. Can’t say I cared all that much for “Danny’s Song” upon first listen (I was pretty anti-Kenny back then), but I’ve come far along enough now to say it’s actually rather sweet.

Anyway, I imagine it was sometime in early 81 that my sister bought Anne Murray’s Greatest Hits, which had been released a few months earlier. It was a straightforward compilation, just Murray’s by-then ten Top 40 hits arranged in chronological order. By this time, we were both regularly using Dad’s stereo in the basement, and I quickly got caught up on “Love Song,” the cover of “You Won’t See Me,” and her version of “Danny’s Song” while hanging out and doing homework down there. The steel guitar, string section, gently rollicking beat, and slicker production offer a bit of contrast to the acoustic guitar/piano/fiddle of Loggins and Messina’s work. I can see how Murray had a #7 hit with it (it’s on the way down, stopping off at #18 on this show).

Songs Casey Never Played, 4/17/82

What wasn’t Casey playing six-plus weeks out from my HS graduation? Here are a half-dozen songs on the 4/17/82 Hot 100 that fell short of AT40 glory:

#87. Shooting Star, “Hollywood”
One of the central songs on my soundtrack from the summer of 81 is the Kansas City band Shooting Star’s “Last Chance.” I was listening to WEBN, the AOR station in Cincy, a-plenty then, and it seems like they played it at quarter-past the hour every four hours throughout July and August. It’s somewhat ostentatious, but I still love it; it was one of my earlier purchases on iTunes.

For some reason I heard the title song of their followup album Hang on to Your Life more than the single “Hollywood” the following year, but “Hollywood” is much better, close to as good as “Last Chance.” It’s on its way down after peaking at #70. Props to the UnCola for playing it on his show about a month ago. It reminded me how much I like it.


#80. Police, “Secret Journey”
The secondary tracks from Ghost in the Machine were making their appearances on the radio by this time. WEBN was featuring the mighty fine “Invisible Sun,” while “Secret Journey” was released as a US single and made WLAP-FM’s automated playlist. I can see why “Secret Journey” didn’t climb higher than #46, but it’s got quite the striking intro.


#63. Gordon Lightfoot, “Baby Step Back”
Here’s Lightfoot’s last trip to the Hot 100. It’d been four years since he’d hit #33 with the awesome “The Circle Is Small,” but he still had one more go at the pop charts in him. Alas, “Baby Step Back” would fall ten spots shy of getting on AT40. It has a decent amount of another favorite, “Sundown,” in it. You know, it’s never the wrong day to play some Gordon.


#62. O’Bryan, “The Gigolo”
I strongly suspect “The Gigolo” got played at my senior prom. I do know for certain that, at the time, some of the folks at my high school were digging on this funky thing by 20-year-old O’Bryan Burnette II. He wound up with several hits, including a couple of Top 10s, on the R&B chart (one of which was “The Gigolo”), but he never cracked the crossover code to the pop scene. This got to #57 and was the only time he made the Hot 100.


#53. Sugar Hill Gang, “Apache”
In terms of funk & rap, “Apache” was much more my scene in 82 than “The Gigolo.” This second-most well-known song from the Sugar Hill Gang is all kinds of problematic in a variety of ways, yet hearing it still brings back fond memories of hanging out with a couple of high school friends.  During my first year in college, there was a guy somewhere in the dorm who liked to blast it on the weekends, too. This was its peak position.


#50. Glass Moon, “On a Carousel”
Another one that’s as high as it got, and another I learned about from WLAP-FM. This Hollies cover is now one of the few songs to be featured twice here on the blog (it was Song of the Day on the occasion of the August 2017 solar eclipse) but I only recently discovered an actual video for “On a Carousel.” Glass Moon was from Raleigh, NC, and one of the commenters on this clip seems to indicate that some of the footage was shot at a park there (and that the carousel still exists). The production screams early 80s, with obvious superimposition of images (including a scene where the lead singer is made to appear going round-and-round when he’s really just sitting on a jungle gym). Nonetheless, the fashion, the hair style, the people–the feel of the piece–all conjure up for me the sensation of being 18 again, about to strike out and change my world. So I’m sticking it here another time and letting those moments seep back in for a bit.

3/24/79, 4/16/77, and 4/17/82 Charts

Time to shake off the dust from my chart binders and see what’s in there that’s been rebroadcast over the last month.  First up, something grease-stained from 79:



This is the chart from which I lifted a pic of the Streisand extra back in January–the first time I can recall hearing “Stoney End.”

In Artists’ Names Follies: A Continuing Series, I get too cute with Chuck Brown’s band, can’t figure out Giorgio’s surname, treat the singers of “He’s the Greatest Dancer” as if they were named like the Brothers Johnson, and haven’t yet sussed there was a second ‘s’ in Nigel’s last name. Writing “Colby” at this point in time is ridiculous; and Susie?


Next is 77:


I was known to try to imitate the Kiss logo from time to time.

Spring 77 was one of the periods with a series of songs never made available digitally, thwarting my efforts to have a complete e-collection of the Top 40 hits from June 76-May 86. The biggest offender was “Disco Lucy,” which was on AT40 for 7 weeks; it overlapped with Ambrosia’s “Magical Mystery Tour” earlier in April and Stallion’s “Old Fashioned Boy (You’re the One),” which debuted on the following show.


Meaningless trivia alert! This one is an oddity among my spring 77 charts: it’s the only one from April or May on white paper. All the others are green or yellow.

Before we get to 82, here’s what I found intriguing then:


Huey and Co. are in their fourth week of five at the top. I meant it when I said that LeRoux was a favorite at the time! That ranking for Rod is a tad embarrassing. Vangelis (!), Rick, and Tommy have future #1 songs. “We Got the Beat” only reached #11–it’s turned out to be one of my less favorite songs on Beauty and the Beat. I’ve got Prism and the Cars making noise they didn’t IRL (“Since You’re Gone” reached #7). Biggest regret now is having “Find Another Fool” never cracking my top 25 (fer gawdsakes, putting “Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk” ahead of it is borderline-criminal).

As for the real thing, it’s pretty basic:



Spring 82 was another stretch with a few vinyl-only (or almost impossible to get digitally at a reasonable price) tunes. The biggest hoser was “The Beatles Movie Medley,” but I couldn’t track that Meco thing down, either. (I mentioned on Twitter recently: what is up with the clap-beat in “Pop Goes to the Movies?” Hard to fathom him going down the Stars On/Hooked On route.)

One interesting tidbit I saw noted on the AT40 Fun and Games message board within the last couple of weeks: Both these 77 and 82 shows feature a debuting medley that includes Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright).”




American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/23/88: Brenda Russell featuring Joe Esposito, “Piano in the Dark”

It’s a holiday, and 88 is among the harder years from the Classic Casey AT40 era for me to find music/stuff to write about. So, let’s just roll out the most tasteful song on this week’s show. “Piano in the Dark” was at #29, and made it to #6.

Brenda Russell had a #30 hit, “So Good So Right,” toward the end of 79 (it’s also a wonderful number). You likely know the voice of Joe Esposito—he was a member of Brooklyn Dreams and sang with Donna Summer on “Heaven Knows.” We heard some about this earlier in the year, on the 2/17/79 rebroadcast. Casey had misidentified Summer’s singing partner as then-boyfriend/future husband Bruce Sudano; Esposito’s parents wrote into the show to correct the record!

Don’t let the brevity of the post fool you: this is a great tune.



American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/20/74: Maria Muldaur, “Midnight at the Oasis”

During the throes of my deep obsession with AT40 in the late 70s, I could spout (useless) trivia about songs, artists, peak positions, chart runs, etc. etc. to the point of boring and annoying those around me. Much/most of it came via Casey himself, but I imagine I was responsible for noticing an odd fact or two as well.  Perhaps in that spirit, here are a few mostly pointless pieces of information about stuff on the 4/20/74 show.

Song with longest Top 40 run: “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone, 18 weeks

Song with shortest Top 40 run: “Star Baby,” Guess Who, 1 week

Artist with greatest # of Top 40 hits as of chart date: James Brown, “The Payback (Part 1).” This was his 41st.

Artist with greatest # of Top 40 hits over whole career: Elton John, “Bennie and the Jets.” Depending on how you count duets, he had around 60 appearances. (Adding: I’m counting McCartney’s Wings/solo work as separate from that with the Beatles.)

One hit-wonders:
Marvin Hamlisch, “The Entertainer”
Mocedades, “Eres Tu”
Sami Jo, “Tell Me a Lie”
Mike Oldfield, “Tubular Bells”
Terry Jacks, “Seasons in the Sun”
Sister Janet Mead, “The Lord’s Prayer”
MFSB w/ The Three Degrees, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”

Artists who hit the Top 40 exactly twice:
Billy Paul, “Thanks for Saving My Life”^
Bloodstone, “Outside Woman”^
Albert Hammond, “I’m a Train”^
Maria Muldaur, “Midnight at the Oasis”
Marvin Gaye/Diana Ross, “My Mistake (Was to Love You)”^*
Carly Simon/James Taylor, “Mockingbird”*
Redbone, “Come and Get Your Love”^
Blue Swede, “Hooked on a Feeling”

^ This was the second of their two.
* I guess?


Two things I’ve started giving a little attention in recent years of chart study are acts’ first and final weeks of appearing on AT40. The former is known in real time, of course, but the latter becomes apparent only in retrospect. This isn’t especially compelling info when it comes to one-hit wonders, but that’s all we’ve got this time.

Artist spending their first week ever on the show: Marvin Hamlisch

Artist spending their last week ever on the show: None, but Mocedades had just one more week to go.

Artist with more than two hits making their last trip to the Top 40: Bobby Womack, on for the fourth and final time, with “Lookin’ for a Love”


Songs at their peak position:
“Star Baby”  (#39)
“Touch a Hand Make a Friend,” Staple Singers (#23)
“Come and Get Your Love” (#5)
“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) (#1)


And in the more boutique (read: arbitrary) realm:

Artists enjoying their sixth Top 40 hit:
Helen Reddy, “Keep on Singing”
Charlie Rich, “A Very Special Love Song”
Grand Funk, “The Loco-Motion”

I suppose you could make a case that acts with more than five hits made the big time, though in Rich’s case, his first two had occurred in 60 and 65.

Songs that spent exactly eleven weeks on the show:
“Oh Very Young,” Cat Stevens
“Help Me,” Joni Mitchell
“Eres Tu”
“Lookin’ for a Love”
“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song,” Jim Croce
“The Lord’s Prayer”
“Oh My My,” Ringo Starr

My unresearched intuition is that eleven weeks is a decent proxy for whether or not a song had a good shot to make the year-end Top 100 countdown.  This show has quite a number of songs on it with staying power: nineteen others hung around longer than these seven did.


Out of all this, I’m plucking “Midnight at the Oasis,” the #28 song, for playing today. I was just 10, but I’m sure I spotted it as one long extended metaphor (even if I didn’t know what a metaphor was at the time). I’ll file this eventual #6 hit away as a guilty pleasure, both then and now.


Chart information courtesy of two of Joel Whitburn’s books: The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 4thedition, and Top Pop Singles 1955-2002.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/18/82: LeRoux, “Nobody Said It Was Easy”

This past Saturday evening my son went to his senior prom.

Five days prior, you could have knocked me over with a feather if you’d told me that would wind up happening. He didn’t go last year, isn’t doing anything remotely resembling dating anyone right now, and had showed zero inclination toward making plans to attend this go-round.

But on Tuesday morning a week ago, Martha had this text exchange with Ben:


After a couple days’ consideration (and learning that upward of twenty people had voted for him), Ben decided to take the plunge and buy his ticket. Ballots for prom court at his high school are essentially write-in; sounds like a fair number of folks usually vote for themselves, leading to a many-way tie at the bottom with a single tally. To have a shot of success, one needs to organize a campaign, and Ben’s classmates somehow settled on him as a rallying cry for the geekier males (it was not a prank).

Time was obviously too short to rent a tux, so Ben made do with khakis, sport jacket and tie (to be honest, he wouldn’t have wanted a tux anyway). He met up with six friends late Saturday afternoon at the Japanese gardens just outside the city limits for pictures (Martha serving as semi-official photographer). Next was dinner at one of the brass-and-fern places in town, and then on to the party. Afterward, he spent the night at a friend’s with a few fellow seniors—I think he even got a little sleep.

I’ve generally avoided posting current pictures of the boy on here thus far. Maybe as he gets older, I’ll relax a little on that front (he’s no longer a minor, after all), but for now I’ve decided to err on the side of overprotectiveness. So, instead of pix from Ben’s big night out, you’re getting a somewhat fuzzy Polaroid photo from my senior prom, which probably happened a couple of weeks or so before this past weekend’s 82 countdown rebroadcast.


Several of the guys in my close circle of friends (including yours truly, of course) were unattached as prom approached. One day at lunch maybe three weeks before, all of a sudden most of us found dates. I went with Melanie, a sophomore. On the far right is Tony, who took my neighbor Rebecca. Dwayne lived on the next road over from mine; he and Karen were dating. We were all in the band (which is why we would have been together in the school cafeteria—band was always during lunch hour).

The picture was taken in my front yard, likely by my mother. My folks were chaperones that year (my sister, a junior, was also going). The theme was Make the Magic Last, a nod toward the Quincy Jones/James Ingram hit “Just Once” from the previous fall.

That’s a navy tux I’m sporting, by the way—maybe someday I’ll show you the powder blue number I’d rented the year before.

I don’t associate LeRoux’s one Top 40 hit, “Nobody Said It Was Easy,” with my prom, but it was very much a favorite at the time. It’s at its peak of #18 on this show. That spring the local AOR station was playing another one of theirs, “Addicted,” pretty frequently. The two songs sound nothing alike; I’m only now realizing that the hit wasn’t sung by their usual lead vocalist.

Oh, I guess you’re wondering about the outcome of the voting? Ben didn’t get enough support to come out on top, but he was one of four male attendees to the Prince and King. I’m pleased enough for him—nothing like this happened to either of his parents (though Martha was her sorority’s nominee for Homecoming Queen her senior year in college).  That’s not what really matters to me, though—I’m just happy his friends found a way to get him to go.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 4/16/77: Boz Scaggs, “Lido Shuffle”

The first LP I ever bought was a joint effort with my sister. It was April 76, and Amy and I were all about the Captain and Tennille. “Love Will Keep Us Together” probably had been my fave song of 75, and I was now digging on “Lonely Night (Angel Face).” So one day we gave up a big chunk of our savings at Sid’s Elsmere Drugs for a copy of Song of Joy. I haven’t listened to it in years—Amy wound up with it, I assume—and only a couple of the songs beyond the singles would ring a bell today.

It’d be well over a year before there were any albums added to my collection—the money that wasn’t going for baseball cards was being spent on 45s. The next three to come on board were all simply amazing, though. I received A New World Record for Christmas in 77, but sometime in the late fall I’d splurged and bought two others on my own: Year of the Cat and Silk Degrees (I think The Stranger was next; I really can’t complain about getting maximum bang for my buck back then.)

I may do a turn with those ELO, Al Stewart, and Billy Joel albums someday, but today I’m going to take a shot at ranking the tracks on the one from Boz, a la Jim Bartlett’s Re-Listening Project.

Silk Degrees was Scaggs’s 7th solo album, his fourth on Columbia. Collaborating with David Paich, who plays keyboards and wrote or co-wrote six of the ten songs on offer, looks now to be the key decision that helped push Boz over the top. The vocals are stellar, and there’s incredible session work from everyone, including Paich’s future Toto bandmates David Hungate (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums). It boggles my mind that Porcaro was just 21 when this was recorded.

The album cover is iconic now, but the photo on the inside sleeve has always had me wondering: why is there a red carpet leading out to a palm tree?

Let it all begin…

10. “Harbor Lights.” I’m not in the least opposed to Boz doing a ballad (see #5), but I’ve never really felt the love for “Harbor Lights.” That pepped-up jazzy section at the end is a bit of a cipher, too.

9. “What Can I Say.” The opening track and third single released; it made #42 as 76 turned into 77. It’s fine, but there are two, maybe three others I’d have considered as a single ahead of it. It feels like I’m a little out on a limb here, ranking this so low.

8. “Jump Street.” True confession: I’m not a rock critic, though I seem to play one occasionally in this space. I’m not a lifelong Scaggs fan who knows a bunch of his catalog; I’m just a guy who enjoyed many of the singles and album cuts I heard on the radio when I was in my teens and was lucky enough to buy Silk Degrees at a formative time. So I can’t tell you anything about how the blues or R&B or Steve Miller impacted Boz’s work over the years. The blues-rocker “Jump Street” was not one of my favorites back in the day, but it’s growing on me now, especially when I get the chance to shout “Look out, fool!”

7. “Love Me Tomorrow.” Here’s where we get to the songs I really liked from the beginning. Porcaro’s work stands out on this slinky tune about a love affair at its end.

6. “It’s Over.” The first single, and not an unreasonable choice at all for that honor. Was #38 on the first chart I wrote down, 6/5/76. Not surprisingly, 12-year-old me didn’t get Boz’s last name right from listening to Casey that evening.


Sometime later I corrected it, clearly, but it looks like maybe I wrote down ‘Gangs’ originally.

What strikes me about the song now is its relatively unconventional vocal opening: the first four lines are sung only by the backup singers (okay, it’s Boz, with Maxine Green). It’s a very solid piece.

5. “We’re All Alone.” My Joel Whitburn book informs me that this was the B-side to both “What Can I Say” and “Lido Shuffle.” (“Harbor Lights” was the flip to the first two singles.) Because I’d purchased the 45 for “Lido” when it was a hit, I was already quite familiar with “We’re All Alone” by the time Rita Coolidge hit the Top 10 with her (inferior) cover in the fall. I was a total doofus at school dances, but if I hadn’t been, it would have been a tough choice between this and “Look What You’ve Done to Me” for best Boz slow-dance song (not that either ever got played at any dance I attended, anyway).

4. “What Do You Want the Girl to Do.” At first I thought there was a clear order to these ten songs, but as I got closer to publishing, further reflection led to revisions—only the top 3 and last one have stayed in their original spots (I wound up swapping this with “We’re All Alone”).

Silk Degrees was the third album in a row Boz included at least one Allen Toussaint song. Even when I was 13 and 14, this track stood out. The line, “Can’t you see you’re breaking the child in two,” has been known to pop into my head at random moments over the years.

3. “Lowdown.” I’m not sure I can add anything new about “Lowdown.” I do know I haven’t gotten tired of hearing it yet. Deserved to be his biggest hit; it’s probably single-handedly responsible for Silk Degrees getting its Grammy nominations. Still, it’s a touch surprising this is the only time Scaggs made the Top 10.

2. “Georgia.” Story of a man separated, for crimes unspecified, from his love. Is it a kind of “Indiana Wants Me” situation? Is Georgia underage? I don’t know, but despite any potential skeeviness, I would have loved to find out how it would have fared as a single. The chorus is fantastic, but even that’s transcended by the last thirty seconds on the way to fade-out. I still hear it surprisingly often over the PA at grocery and department stores (this happens with #4 as well, though less frequently).

1. “Lido Shuffle.” My homeroom teacher in 7th grade was Mr. Gayle, who also taught English. Seats were assigned alphabetically column-wise in a snake-like fashion (front to back one column, then back to front the next), starting at the door. I wound up in the front seat in the 4th column, right in front of Mr. Gayle’s desk. As the school year proceeded, he and I shared more and more often our opinions on the popular hits of the day. I lobbied for “The Things We Do for Love,” but he hated it (I’m sure things went the other direction on other songs, too). We both agreed on the epic-ness of “Lido Shuffle,” however.

There are any number of tunes vying for the title of “greatest song ever to peak at #11 on the Hot 100,” but I’d nominate “Lido Shuffle” for consideration, at least in the 70s division (it’s #17 on this show). Driving beat and a fun sing-along chorus—thankfully, the building Moog solo at the end has managed to avoid sounding dated. Back in the day I ranked this as my second favorite song of 77 (behind “Year of the Cat”); I’d be hard-pressed to place anything above it still, though “Go Your Own Way” has been gaining ground over the years.

SotD: Melissa Etheridge, “Similar Features”

My mother turned 59 on Wednesday, April 12, 1989. I gave her a call that evening, but not from my apartment: I suppose I had been doing some work in my office on campus, so I hoofed it next door to the Illini Union, where I used a pay phone in its basement (I guess I wasn’t able to use my calling card from the phone in the office). We didn’t talk all that long that night, but Mom told me she’d had a good day—both she and Dad were doing fine.

The weekly Math Colloquium at Illinois was always on Thursday afternoons. Usually folks gathered a little before the talk in the commons area on the second floor of Altgeld Hall for cookies and coffee; we’d then migrate to the big lecture room across the hall to hear our guest lecturer. The details are long lost to me now, but the speaker on 4/13/89 must have been at least a moderately big name in the math world. That evening there was a reception for the speaker at the hosting professor’s house. Even though I didn’t often go to such events often, I made an exception this time. Mostly I stood on the periphery of things (as is my wont), but I do remember engaging in a couple of conversations.

One was with a grad student from the institution of the Colloquium speaker (perhaps it was her advisor who’d given the talk?). The other was with Bruce Reznick, a ten-year member of the math faculty who was just about to receive his promotion to Professor. He’d taught the abstract algebra course I’d taken my first semester there, almost three years earlier. I’d really enjoyed the class, in part due to the growth in mathematical maturity I experienced, but also because Bruce was friendly and kind and liable to crack a joke at virtually any moment (he came by that honestly—his father had been a comedy writer for Hope, Paar, Carson, among others). I hadn’t taken a class from him since, yet there he was, making time to chat for a bit with an aimless third-year grad student.

And aimless I was. It hadn’t become any clearer to me since passing most of my exams in January how I was going to proceed on to the dissertation phase. I was continuing to read papers with a faculty member in algebraic number theory, but wasn’t getting close to determining a problem I might want to tackle. A suspicion was growing stronger inside that I wouldn’t be following my current path much longer. Where to turn, though?

Suddenly, right there at the reception, something clicked: what about Bruce? His areas of study were wide-ranging enough so as to defy easy classification, but I thought there was sufficient overlap with subjects that interested me. He had just one grad student at that time, and she was just about to finish up, so he should have room to take me on if we both thought it would work. Plus, it was clear he would be supportive. I headed home that evening resolved to talk with him soon about his work in more detail and to ask for papers I could read that might give me the beginnings of an idea for a dissertation problem. I didn’t know how things would turn out, but for the first time in a while I felt hopeful.

Baseball season was just ten days old, so it’s a solid guess that John and I watched highlights on SportsCenter after I got back to the apartment. I was worried, though—my throat felt a little scratchy, a sign that I might be coming down with something. As a precaution, I took some cold medicine just before going to bed, something that would make me drowsy. I had to teach in the morning, but I expected its effects would wear off in plenty of time.

I’m certain that pill was why I didn’t hear our phone ring at around 2am.

My first thought when I arrived at his hospital room, thirty years ago this morning, was that I’d never seen anyone quite with that color before—an ashen gray.

It was about six hours later, and I was at the ICU in St. Luke West, about two miles from my parents’ house. I walked from the door of the room to his bedside and sat down. His left hand was resting by his side, over the covers. I picked it up—it was colder than any hand I’d held. His eyes opened and slowly turned toward me; there may have been a weak smile.

“I came anyway, Dad.”

John, of course, had answered the phone and roused me. Mom was reasonably calm as she delivered the headlines: Amy had taken Dad to the ER; it was likely to have been a heart attack; he had given her instructions to tell me not to drive back to KY right then. We talked for just a few minutes. Maybe my head wasn’t clear from the medicine, but as the call ended I was planning on going back to bed so that I could teach reasonably coherently in the morning before heading out for home. John set me straight with an “Are you crazy?” look and assured me my class would be covered. I rang Mom back and told her I’d be on my way soon.

I didn’t stay at the hospital all that long—after all, he was in the ICU. The initial reports were encouraging enough. Dad was very weak but stable, there didn’t seem to serious damage to heart muscle, and the worst appeared to be over for the time being. I got a little breakfast at home and took a short nap before heading off to Warsaw, about thirty miles away, with Amy to break the news to our 87-year-old Aunt Birdie. On the way there, Sis filled me in on some details.

It was unusual for Amy to be spending the night in Florence—by this time she was working and taking classes in Richmond, ninety minutes south on I-75. Yet by sheer fortune there she was, sleeping on the couch in the living room (likely she’d been reading after turning the TV off) when Dad came stumbling down the hall, sweating beyond profusely. He’d reported not feeling right pretty much all day Thursday, but things were now an order of magnitude or two worse. Amy didn’t take the time to put in her contacts before driving Dad to St. Luke; it’s fortunate that she didn’t have far to go (I can imagine Dad would have resisted calling an ambulance—might be a coin toss as to whether he got the care he so needed as quickly as possible this way).

It took me a few minutes to get fully awake and throw some clothes, etc. in a bag. I’ll bet I had to get gas and grab some caffeine before I hit the road, too. It was a clear night and I pretty much had I-74 all to myself. There was no trouble in staying alert, though—it was as if I hadn’t taken anything for the feared cold, which never came.

Despite being a preacher’s kid for the first eleven years of my life, I’ve never really been one to pray. At this point in time, I was about four years in to an extended hiatus from going to church, as well. Even though I was in a pre-cellphone-era information vacuum and plenty worried, I didn’t offer up any words of supplication as I sped down the road.

The sun started coming up as I rolled across the bridge over the Ohio River into KY. As I pulled off the interstate, I allowed myself to wonder how different life would be going forward.

Aunt Birdie had taken the news as well as could be expected, and after a while, Amy and I headed back. The rest of the weekend is mostly a blur now, but we soon learned very good news. Dad’s problem had arisen due to a small blockage, but another vein had fully taken over the role of the defective one.  No stent, no bypass surgery, no anything required—he just needed to take better care of himself. I felt comfortable enough with the state of things to go back to IL on Sunday evening, though I returned home regularly for a few weeks.

Dad had been a bit overweight for his frame prior to the attack—not anymore after he got released. Almost as soon as he arrived home, he tried to get out and walk. Toward the beginning it was hard to go more than a couple hundred yards, but over time, he built up to a few miles each day. After he returned to work, he’d do laps inside the vault of the bank between customers. I joined him when I was home, and sometimes on our jaunts around the neighborhood he’d tell me a little about his personal history, before marriage and kids.

Dad faithfully walked for years and never had another problem with his heart. He fell just months shy of living an additional quarter-century.

It hasn’t escaped my notice that I’m now only about 30 months away from being the age Dad was at the time of the attack. I’m quite possibly in worse shape than he was then. Discipline and exercise are needed.

It’s funny the things you remember at stressful times. I must not have grabbed any cassettes to take with me before I hurtled through IN in the middle of the night, so I wound up flipping stations on the radio for four-plus hours. As I got close to home, I realized there was just one song I’d heard twice on the trip.

I’d bought Melissa Etheridge on vinyl sometime in the fall of 88 but had listened to it just a few times. The fine opening track, “Similar Features,” was easily the song that I enjoyed the most. I noticed when it was released as a single with accompanying video in the spring of 89; it had crawled onto the Hot 100 at #94 (as high as it would get) just a week earlier.

I never think of this song without being taken back to that star-filled night ride when I truly didn’t know what the future held, and vice versa.


(And yes, Bruce became my dissertation advisor.)

Mom: College and Career

Last year on this date, I combed through pictures my mother had saved to present some of her life in the 40s, up through the time she graduated from high school in 48. This April 12, I’m continuing where I left off.

Mom pledged Delta Zeta her first year at the University of Kentucky, though she never activated. This photo is unlabeled, but Mom (third from the left in the back row) looks awfully young here–I’m guessing these are the DZs of 48-49.



She did attend quite a few sorority/fraternity formal affairs her first two years at UK:


Continue reading “Mom: College and Career”