The More I Know, The Less I Understand

I’ve been using the Destination 89 tag in part to construct an after-the-fact diary of some of the things I think I remember from that year. While there are still additional music-only-related posts in the series to come in December, this one discusses the last two specific events I can recall from thirty years ago; both occurred Thanksgiving week.

1) On Tuesday, November 21, the Illini Bridge Club ran a game that was the first stage in the North American Collegiate Bridge Championship, sponsored by the American Contract Bridge League. The scores of the winning pairs in each direction would be combined and compared to those of the other competing schools in our region (one of six continent-wide); the top team from each region would be flown to the next ACBL national tournament, which was to be in Fort Worth, in March, for a friendly competition. Illinois had won the whole she-bang the previous spring. That team included my new friend Mark L, but they’d lost two members to graduation and were looking for suitable replacements. Mark L recruited Milind, a CS grad student and a very thoughtful player, to form a partnership. For some reason, he asked me that fall to work with Mike, a senior history major and the other returning member from the defending champs.

Mike was a strong player, and extremely patient with me (though he’d let me know when I made an error, sometimes in no uncertain terms, he was very good about moving on to the next hand). He taught me as much as he could in the few weeks we had to work out a system, and occasionally I’d even remember some of it. The biggest issue was that I was still too inexperienced to have some things come naturally.

Anyway, the plan was for Mark L and Milind to be the top pair sitting North-South, while Mike and I won East-West. We then hoped to parlay that by beating the best foursomes at the other schools in our region to go to the nationals. (The same hands were played on all participating campuses, with the possible outcomes for each hand translated ahead of time into points on a 0 to 100 scale. After finishing a hand, you consulted a table printed on a slip of paper to determine your score for that deal.) 

The game in the Illini Union turned out to be close all around. On the last hand of the night, the director had to come to our table to sort out questionable declarer play on my part and perhaps equally questionable defensive play by the opponent on my right. Her ruling ended up going in our favor, and that turned out to be the difference in both pairs winning. The first hurdle had been overcome.

I headed back to Kentucky the next morning for Thanksgiving with the folks. I was too impatient to wait until I got home to find out if we’d qualified for Fort Worth, so I used a pay phone about an hour down the road to call the ACBL offices in Memphis, where I learned that we had indeed won our region. I won’t keep you in suspense about how things went down in Texas: we came in fourth in the round-robin first round, earning a spot in the semi-finals, but got crushed there by eventual champion Harvard. 

2) The day after the big meal with the fam, I headed down to Louisville, where one of my good college friends was getting married (the first of two consecutive Turkey Day weekends I went to a wedding). It turned into a mini-reunion, of course, hanging with Transy friends, a few for the first time in a couple of years. It also marked the last time I would see some of them for a while, perhaps until my own wedding six-and-a-half years later, or even longer.

I’ve bypassed the opportunity to this point to bring up Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, one of the more notable LP releases of 89. I enjoyed the title song a fair amount, and thought “If Dirt Were Dollars” was pretty good. But the track I liked best—by far—was the third single, “Heart of the Matter.” Pretty sure that some review I read when the album first came out touted it as a real highlight, and I recall looking forward to hearing it. But did it get any play on Champaign radio in the fall of 89, when it wasn’t released as a single until right after 90 dawned? I’m going to assume so, if for no other reason than to shoehorn it into my retrospective. Nonetheless, the song does feel of a piece with seeing my classmates in Louisville.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness some lately; maybe it comes with the territory as one gets well into middle age and scrutinizes one’s screw-ups. It’s occurred to me that, for whatever reason—maybe a combination of cluelessness, carelessness, and dumb luck—to date I haven’t often had to consider forgiving someone else for something even moderately-sized. When I am on the receiving end of hurt, I tend to believe it’s been earned.  Henley’s song is about dealing with the aftermath of a failed romance, but could his claim be getting at a portion of the truth in the larger picture? Recognition that one has wronged another, working on becoming a better person, understanding where that other person is coming from—those are absolutely important, and they’re all areas where I decidedly continue to have room for growth. However, I’ve come to believe that striving toward self-forgiveness is also a piece of the puzzle, and I wonder: could that be the heart of the matter, at least sometimes? 

Eagles-related material is some of the scarcest on YouTube; I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s no clip of “Heart of the Matter” available for embedding. I did find a link to a performance that Henley gave on Austin City Limits four years ago—you can watch it here.

When You Look Through The Years…

Easter and Christmas dinners were always at my grandparents’ farmhouse. Those events comprise many of the fondest memories of my youth, even if Amy, Alan, and I, the three youngest of our generation, were forever consigned to the kids’ table come mealtime. The location and attendees for Thanksgiving gatherings, though, were much more variable. I’m guessing this was a function of obligations various relatives occasionally had to spend the day with the ‘other’ side of their families (the daughters of my mother’s older sister are eight to sixteen years older than I, and by that time were married and beginning to have children). 

For a while, trips to my great-aunt’s house in Warsaw were part of our Turkey Day rotation. She was my father’s only family after his mother died in early 75. Eventually, though, playing host to a meal like that became too much of a burden; in later years she traveled with us, going wherever we did. A few times we took Aunt Birdie and my mother’s parents north to the outskirts of Dayton, OH, to spend the day with Mom’s younger sister and her family—after stuffing ourselves while catching up, we’d watch the end of the Lions game and the start of the Cowboys game before packing up to head home.  

And once—my perhaps-faulty memory is telling me it was 79, when I was 15 and a high-school sophomore—we gathered at the home of my cousin Becky. If I’m right about the year, there would have been a five-month-old in the house, the third member of the next generation on Mom’s side of the family. (That infant is now, of course, 40 years old and a father of four; he works in Cincinnati for a well-known non-profit.)

I believe the next time I was at Becky’s house on Thanksgiving was in 2013. The various branches of Mom’s family spent fewer holidays together following the passing of my grandmother in 2001, so it had been awhile since I’d been with my cousins on Thanksgiving. But that year my father was under hospice care, a little over a week away from dying. Becky lived a very few miles away from the hospice facility, and she kindly invited Mom and my family to join their gathering, six years ago today. It was a moment of grace and welcoming fellowship in an otherwise somber and not-very-fun time. I remain quite grateful for that.

Regardless of where I was for Thanksgiving of 79, I can say with certainty that Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” has always been linked with the day—I had to have heard it that morning. The third single from Breakfast in America was very much a favorite in the moment (I’ve steadfastly liked it somewhat less than “The Logical Song” but a fair amount more than “Goodbye Stranger” across the decades).  The sound of piano and mournful harmonica on both intro and ending still evokes the chill of a cloudy, late fall day.

That association was so strong that I thought about “Take the Long Way Home” through much of Thanksgiving Day in 80. I hoped, maybe even expected, to hear it, that it would become one more annual tradition. For at least one year, it was—the song came on over the portable radio I kept in my bedroom just before I called it a night.

Wishing all of you a joyous Thanksgiving; may your ways home be as short as you want them to be.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/28/81: Chilliwack, “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)”

One of the special things for me about the music of my high school and college years is how certain songs wound up getting linked to moments, important or otherwise. Sometimes those associations are incredibly specific; other times, things are a little broader or fuzzier—a tune may simply conjure up a season, an ambiance, a feeling, an emotion.

Another kind of connection occurs when two songs get fused together in my brain’s filing system. While this can happen because they both were played on the radio that one time I was doing thing X, today I’m thinking about a pair of tunes that had pretty similar chart runs on AT40 at the end of 81: “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone).”

The two songs debuted at #40 one week apart, the Go-Go’s going first on 10/24. Counting the frozen chart of 1/2/82, they spent eleven weeks together on the countdown, and except for 1/9, the last of those, they were always within three spots of each other (only once, on 11/7, was Chilliwack ahead). They both peaked the weeks of 12/12 and 12/19, OLAS at #20, and MG(GGG) at #22.

But it was more than that, because these two hung close to one another on my personal Top 50 for a long time, too. On 12/5, they both made big jumps, OLAS from #25 to #10, and MG(GGG) from #21 to #13. Starting on 1/9/82, they were 1-2 for three weeks, Chilliwack being on top for the first of those. From there, they both held on more than two months after they’d departed Casey-land, until 3/20. For all but one of those weeks, they were back-to-back. Frozen in time together, indeed.

The broader real-life picture is a little different, though. “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” had a reasonably standard ride up and down the Hot 100 for a song that spent eleven weeks on the Top 40 in this period: it hit the show in its sixth week, and hung around the lower 60 for only three more weeks on the way down. “Our Lips Are Sealed,” on the other hand, was much slower going about its business. It took nine weeks to climb to #40 (on top of three weeks Bubbling Under), and would linger for nine more weeks after finishing its thirteen appearances on AT40—a total of thirty-three weeks, counting Bubbling Under time. A true sleeper hit, bigger than might have seemed superficially. On the 1982 year-end countdown—really a November 81 to November 82 affair, I suppose—“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” was nowhere to be found, but “Our Lips Are Sealed” finished at #78.

You can hear OLAS just about any time you want these days, so I’m raising a glass now to the Canadian trio who were finally breaking through stateside after a few minor hits and more than a decade together. That street corner-like section toward the end, with its sweet harmonies flowing into the modulation, makes the song for me. For the record, it was #26 on this show, three positions behind OLAS.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/23/74: Prelude, “After the Gold Rush”

Here’s a song that’s in two pretty exclusive clubs.

1) At least a couple of times in recent years, I’ve heard on the weekly rebroadcasts Casey read a listener question about a cappella songs that hit the Top 40. Each time, he said there’d been two, and played a small bit of both: Judy Collins’s “Amazing Grace,” which hit #15 in February of 71, and Prelude’s “After the Gold Rush,” sitting here at #24 and ready to peak two spots higher the following week. A sorta thorough tour through my copy of Pete Battistini’s American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1980s) turned up at least three occasions this question was addressed: 5/30/81, 10/27/84, and 7/26/86 (the 81 show played earlier this year). I confess that I’ve not attempted to track post-summer-of-86 instrument-free hits.

2) “After the Gold Rush” is, of course, a remake of the title track of Neil Young’s classic 1970 album. That got me wondering how many times Young covers made AT40. Again, I didn’t research it heavily, but the only other one I could think of/readily discover was the excellent “Lotta Love,” from early 79, by Nicolette Larson. It’s certainly possible I’m missing something, though—please feel free to let me know.

(Two enjoyable covers of other tracks from After the Gold Rush graced tapes I made in the early 90s: Anne Richmond Boston’s version of “When You Dance I Can Really Love,” and St. Etienne’s club take on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”)

Forgotten Albums: Marti Jones, Match Game

I first encountered Marti Jones toward the end of 88, when her third album Used Guitars popped up at Record Service. I’d guess a Rolling Stone blurb or review pushed me over the edge to purchase it. It’s a nice record, but it’s her second release, 86’s Match Game, getting the microscope today.

I scooped up my copy of Match Game from a cut-out bin in 90 or 91, one time when Greg and I were out dumpster diving. It’s got 12 tracks; as with all her other disks, production, along with plenty of guitar and background vocal work, is being handled by eventual husband Don Dixon. It’s become the album of hers I’ve played most often and like the best.

At this stage, Jones was almost strictly a singer, as opposed to singer/songwriter. She’d increasingly contribute her own material on subsequent albums, but here, we’re pretty much relying on Marti and Don to choose tunes that suit her lovely, almost-smoky alto (she has co-writing credit on just one track). It’s been great fun checking out original and/or alternative takes of the songs on Match Game. Jones and Dixon usually don’t give us radically different arrangements, but they’re invariably tastefully done. I’m excited to share my discoveries with you today–let’s get it rolling.

The lead-off track was written by Reed Nielsen, of one-hit wonder Nielsen/Pearson band fame. When I first heard Marti sing “We’re Doing Alright,” soon after I bought the disk, it felt familiar. Turns out there were at least two other versions recorded around the same time as hers, by Van Stephenson and Kenny Rogers, but I don’t know I would have heard them in 86-87 (the Stephenson was a non-charting single, so who knows). By the way, Darlene Love is doing backup here (well-known musical folk making appearances turns out to be a recurring theme).

Next up it’s a little something from Dwight Twilley. As best as I can tell, Twilley didn’t record “Chance of a Lifetime” himself until his 2004 release 47 Moons. This is one of six tracks on the album that has Mitch Easter contributing on guitars.

This might be the best piece on the whole disk. “Just a Memory” was written by Elvis Costello–it was originally the B-side to a UK single from Get Happy!! And look who’s contributing in addition to Jones and Dixon: Marshall and Robert Crenshaw, T-Bone Burnett, Paul Carrack, and Anne Richmond Boston. Absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of Crenshaw, here’s a cover of the lead single from Field Day. While I can’t say it’s an improvement, Jones does “Whenever You’re On My Mind” justice.

Jones and Dixon really knew how to dig around and root out quality songs. “It’s Too Late” is a cover from the well-regarded 79 eponymous comeback LP by Britain’s The Searchers. Wasn’t familiar with it ’til now, but I just went and placed an order for the CD that couples it with another album they recorded for Sire the following year. We’ve got the Crenshaws again here, and Richard Barone of The Bongos provides some backup vox. One of my faves on the disk.

Jones ends with what initially feels like an odd choice: “Soul Love,” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. She really smooths out Bowie’s edgy vocals, though, and makes it her own.

Alas, Jones never did break through. She’s done just a little recording since the mid-90s, and has mainly focused on her painting.

One last note: I skipped over a favorite track from Match Game today, one that appeared on a mix tape I made in 91. Expect a write-up of that cassette in the not-terribly-distant future.

(This post first went up just before intended, so if you’re an email follower, you received a not-quite-finished version. Apologies.)

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/12/83: Peter Schilling, “Major Tom (Coming Home)”

Things weren’t changing…
The classes I took the fall of my sophomore year of college bore on the surface a strong resemblance to those of the previous year: calculus, programming (I wrote about my experience with punch cards last year), science (physics instead of chemistry), and something in the humanities building to satisfy a distribution requirement—cultural anthropology. 

I enjoyed those last two classes. Dr. Moulder, the physics prof, wasn’t a newly-minted PhD, but he was in his first year at Transy. I found him to be both effective and entertaining in his approach to the material (“the particle”—pause—“has no free will!”).  His exams really helped me hone my real-time problem-solving skills. One distinctive thing was that he would list the day’s topics on the board before we began—I tried adopting this approach for myself when I began life as a teaching assistant at Illinois, but it wound up not fitting on me like it did him. 

The anthropology course was a contrast in many ways. Dr. Richards was a veteran TU faculty member who centered her class around discussion of readings. We were required to study an indigenous culture on our own and write a lengthy paper about them; I chose the Maori of New Zealand. (This past summer I went through artifacts from college days, culling a decent percentage of what I’d held on to—no real reason to keep those old spiral notebooks any more, right?  I did take enough time to browse through my notebooks before pitching and discovered far fewer notes for anthropology than any other class—some days it was just a sentence or two. One wonders how I prepared for tests.)

Things were changing…
I’m sure I was still writing for the Rambler, but apparently I didn’t keep any issues from the fall of 83. I do recall a bit of turmoil surrounding the paper and its editor around then—82/83 Ramblers were Volume LXX, but the 83/84 edition was reset back to Volume 1. Don’t ask me why.

My friend Kevin was appointed manager of WTLX beginning that fall, and he asked me to be program director—as I’ve said before, all that really meant is I set the schedule and let folks play whatever they wanted. There was a big incoming class of new students, and a number of them were interested in getting a slot, so our hours of operation were much longer than the previous spring.

Finishing touches were being made on Transy’s new campus center—the dedication was mere weeks away.

Things had changed…
Right after Amy graduated in May, my parents began readying our house in Walton for sale. In the meantime, they found a new place ten miles north, in Florence. Those transactions were finalized in the teens of September. I don’t recall helping to pack up my stuff, but surely I wasn’t so wrapped up in my own world…? The room that became mine initially had black-and-white shag carpet—I’m grateful replacing that was one of their first projects. 

Trips home that fall gave me by first extended exposures to MTV. The folks stayed at the new place just shy of twenty years, when they downsized to a townhouse.

My grandfather’s health had slowly declined during my freshman year. Things got worse over the summer—I accompanied him on one of his treatments for bladder cancer—and by the time I returned to college, he was really laboring and showing signs of confusion. He went to the hospital in early October, and passed away on the 11th. His funeral early the following week was well-attended. It was fitting that the procession to the cemetery travelled from Erlanger to Florence on Houston Road, named after his cousin, with whom he shared a last name.

Things were about to change
I’d been in a dating relationship for over a year. It would end soon after we returned in January.

Maybe one of the videos I saw at our new house was Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home).” It’s debuting here at #32, and would rocket up to #14 during a nine-week run.  I bought the 45, and must admit I figured it was a sure-fire top 10 hit (I also thought the same of “In a Big Country,” another new song on this countdown). Another confession: I probably liked it better than “Space Oddity” at the time, a position I eventually recanted.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/17/79: Kermit the Frog, “Rainbow Connection”

This week I’ve seen several places around the Web noting that this past Sunday was the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street’s television debut. I was attending a half-day kindergarten at Lancaster Presbyterian Church in late 69; I don’t know how long it took for me to begin watching Sesame Street, but I’ll bet my mother tuned it in for my sister and me before too many months passed by. While I was more of a fan of The Electric Company, thinking back I remember plenty of scenes and plenty of characters, both Muppet and human:

–Bert’s constant exasperation with Ernie (one Christmas, Amy and I got Ernie and Burt puppets—true to our relative natures, the Bert was mine);
–a skit that incorporated the Association’s “Windy” (though contrary to the lyrics, I thought it was ‘Wendy’  back then);
–the change in actors who played Gordon;
–dear, dear Grover, the Muppet I liked best (a favorite book from those years was The Monster at the End of This Book);
–Amy’s year-end play in kindergarten, in the spring of 71, was a collection of Sesame Street skits and songs—she took part in singing “I Love Trash.”

I was just starting 7th grade when The Muppet Show made its debut in the fall of 76, and it became regular viewing during the junior high and early high school years. Though I’d always liked Kermit, those weekly visits to the Muppet Theatre solidified his stature in my eyes. 

When The Muppet Movie came out in 79, I was 15, and perhaps I thought I was just a little too cool then to go see it at the theater. I wasn’t unhappy when “Rainbow Connection” debuted on AT40 that October, though; it’s a beautiful song, written and sung from the heart. We’re hearing it at #26 on this show, one spot away from its peak.