American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/30/88: Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

If it’s a 1988 countdown, the pickings I might want to write up tend to be a mite slim. I will say the landscape here in late January looks better than it will in April: “Hazy Shade of Winter” is a pretty hot track, and I’m fine with “Need You Tonight,””Cherry Bomb,” and “Pump Up the Volume.” There’s also a surprisingly good run between #16 and #12; four of the five are well above average, including “Crazy,” “Don’t Shed a Tear,” and “Tunnel of Love” back-to-back-to-back. Capping this part of the show is one of my faves from this period, sitting at #12, the future #2 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

It was a big comeback out of almost nowhere for 60s British star Dusty Springfield. Her steady stream of success started with folk trio The Springfields, and blossomed further on both sides of the pond after she went solo at the end of 1963. Nine Top 10 songs in the UK, three here. Fabulous songs like “I Only Want to Be with You,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” and “Son of a Preacher Man.” But the hit machine abruptly turned off when the 70s arrived; her final solo U.S. Top 40 appearance, “A Brand New Me,” was off the chart by the end of January 1970.

I know popularity can slip away quickly, and possibly without good reason, but that almost eighteen-year gap until PSB came calling got me wondering: what had happened with Dusty in the interim? It wasn’t a pretty picture, based on the few articles I’ve read. She’d been boxed in for a long time by the cultural norms of the day regarding her sexual orientation. These were years of rampant alcohol and substance abuse, too. While I can’t know whether there was cause and effect in play, the combination of an unhappy childhood and not feeling free to be her true self makes me suspicious. It’d be nice if we could someday learn not to be so awful to people about some things.

Neil Tennant’s invitation to sing on “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” turned to be a bit of a life preserver for Springfield. She wound back on the British charts with a few hits soon after, including a couple that went Top 20. Alas, breast cancer staked its claim in the mid 90s, and she died very shortly before her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

We don’t get to see all that much of Dusty in the video that put her back in mind, but toward the end we do catch a few frames where she gets to bust a move or two. I think I can even see some of the joy and playfulness she had performing “Stay Awhile” on American Bandstand in May 1964:

I’m thinking I may be taking a trip to hear Dusty in Memphis very soon…

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/27/73: Timmy Thomas, “Why Can’t We Live Together”

I don’t recall hearing “Why Can’t We Live Together” back at the beginning of 1973 (I can say the same for the other two very fine songs on this show that peaked at #3: “Oh Babe, What Would You Say” and “Last Song”)–I guess I was still just a little too young to be paying regular and active attention to the radio. In fact, it came to my attention only after I started tuning in to AT40 rebroadcasts, first on the 1/20/73 show played seven years ago. I confess I didn’t listen carefully enough at first to recognize the song is about the desire for peace and racial harmony. No, I just heard the title and my brain went elsewhere: as a child more of the late 70s, the last two words meant something entirely different to me.

I bought Barry Manilow Live sometime in the summer of 1977 (which means I’ve been forgetting to include it when recounting the first LPs in my collection). I’ll freely admit I liked a bunch of his 70s hits, and Live delivered many of them in one package. Of course, I got to hear other tunes, too, including “Jump Shout Boogie Medley” and eventual single “Daybreak.” Another one that was new (to me) had a prime location on the double album, song two on side one: “Why Don’t We Live Together.” Very much a song of the times, this one is an invitation to cohabitation. A rough summary: I don’t know exactly what we’ve got here, I think it could be good, but if I’m wrong, “at least we’ll know we tried.” I guess the narrator gets credit for not being starry-eyed?

One of the messages I picked up from watching TV in the 70s was that cohabitation was: a) becoming much more of a thing, yet b) still reasonably stigmatized. (I can imagine my mother tut-tutting it.) But I wanted to see how accurate these impressions were, particularly the first. An internet search on “history of living together 1970s” led me to an academic paper written in 2005 that I found pretty interesting: The Rise of Cohabitation in the United States: New Historical Estimates, by three researchers (at least two of whom are historians) from the Minnesota Population Center, located at the University of Minnesota. While I did get an affirmative answer to my baseline question of “Did cohabitation grow a lot in the 1970s?,” there was much more in the article’s twenty pages for folks with a quantitative bent. I learned that the U.S. Census Bureau began including “unmarried partner” as a status in the 1990 Census; this paper used multiple linear regression to take its best stabs at what self-identified unmarried partner numbers would have been in 1960, 1970, and 1980 had that been an option (bottom line: the authors think the estimates in use fifteen years ago were too high). I geeked out on all this plenty, but the highlight may have been seeing in print an acronym I heard back in college and perhaps not since: POSSLQ, for “persons of the opposite sex, sharing living quarters.” My then-girlfriend used it at least once in reference to the home status of one of the English professors.

But back to Timmy Thomas, who was at #5 on this show. The reason I remember hearing “Why Can’t We Live Together” back in January 2013 was the story Casey told of the song’s genesis. Thomas had a gig at a club in Miami at the time, and one night he was simply jamming on stage. Out popped a keyboard riff and a few lines about getting along better with everyone. Afterward, he was encouraged to put what he’d just performed to record. What we hear today is Thomas’s best approximation of the song he’d spontaneously generated.

Stereo Review In Review: January 1980

I don’t think that my father exactly fancied himself an audiophile, but he did purchase a decent stereo system around the end of 1973, complete with receiver, turntable, reel-to-reel, and speakers. He’d been buying vinyl since before I was born, both classical and rock; we had several shelves stuffed full with LPs in our basement. He took meticulous care of all of it, including carefully dusting records off both before and after playing them (a trait I did not remotely inherit from him). As I got older and became more interested in music myself, I took notice of a stack of Stereo Review magazines in the basket we used to keep our periodicals (mixed in with Mom’s Good Housekeeping, no doubt). I don’t know if Dad started his subscription for the equipment or music reviews, but by the time I was 12 or 13 I became all about reading the latter.

Sometime in the last couple of years, americanradiohistory.com added scans of copies of Stereo Review to their archives; I’ve referenced a few of these in posts already. Toward the end of last year, I decided I would begin a monthly feature in which I take a look at highlights in an issue of the current month selected from the period I was a faithful reader (approximately 1977-86). I don’t have a real feel yet for the form this should take, but we’re going to wheel something out today anyway and see where it leads. The inaugural post in this series comes from 40 years ago. Drumroll, please…

The stable of reviewers changed some over the years, but these are names I mostly recognize. Chris Albertson did jazz, Noel Coppage generally covered country, and Phyl Garland mostly did R&B. Peter Reilly and Joel Vance got the rock/pop albums that Steve Simels didn’t want (or at least that’s how it seemed). To be honest, I’d forgotten that SR had a Disco section for a while, so Edward Buxbaum doesn’t ring a bell; neither does Paul Kresh, and I couldn’t immediately tell what he did in this issue.

Articles
Pop Music in the Eighties, by Lester Bangs
Bangs may be best known now for being name-checked in “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” but in his time he was a highly regarded, if mercurial, rock critic. I don’t recall reading any of his stuff prior to his death in March of 1982, though I certainly had heard the name. Here, he’s trying to predict the future of various genres of popular music. Parts of his forecast are laughably wrong, while others feel prescient. Here’s a taste; click on the link a couple paragraphs up and go to page 74 if you’re interested in checking out more. (I don’t know that I could have lived on a steady diet of his writing, I’ll confess.)

Alanna Nash interviews Charlie Daniels
Nash had already written a Dolly Parton biography by this time; later she’d go on to pen several books about the life of Elvis Presley. I know of her primarily because she eventually took over Coppage’s country beat in the reviews.

She mentions in the article that her conversation with Daniels took place in a hotel room in Lexington, KY (a bit of internet sleuthing indicates the CDB played Rupp Arena on 8/26/79); Nash is a Louisville native, so maybe she was still based there at the time. My main takeaways from the piece: Daniels considers his music both very simple and very uncategorizable (don’t call him country), and he says one shouldn’t view all Southern music bands as a monolith. It’s interesting enough, and starts on page 80.

Stereo Review gave extensive coverage to both classical and popular music. Each month, they chose four or five recent releases as Best of the Month (two of them popular), flagged numerous others as a Recording of Special Merit, and wrote a few lengthier reviews, often for well-established acts or promising newcomers.

Obviously, we’re going to be strictly popular here. This time out, I’m simply going to list the highlights; I may include snippets from reviews in future installments. I’ll admit that several of their picks are completely unfamiliar, but maybe I can take this as an opportunity for some long-overdue investigation. Initials refer to the reviewer, natch. (Here’s the link again, if you want to check anything out. BofM starts on page 85, while popular reviews begin on page 116.)

Best of the Month
Bette Midler, Thighs and Whispers  (PR)
Joe Jackson, I’m the Man (SS)

Recordings of Special Merit
Rock/Pop/Country:
Phil Everly, Living Alone (NC)
Steve Forbert, Jackrabbit Slim (NC)
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Bros. Band, Straight Ahead (NC)
Hall and Oates, X-Static (PG)
The Osborne Bros. and Mac Wiseman, The Essential Bluegrass Album (NC)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes (SS)
Rose Royce, Rainbow Connection IV (PG)
Sweet Inspirations, Hot Butterfly (PG)
Tom Verlaine, S/T (SS)

Disco:
Dante’s Inferno, S/T (EB)
The Duncan Sisters, S/T (EB)

Jazz:
Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio, Dedications (CA)
Joanne Brackeen, Keyed In (CA)
Shelly Manne, French Concert (CA)
Dave McKenna/Scott Hamilton/Jake Hanna, No Bass Hit (CA)
Buster Williams, Heartbeat (CA)

Featured Lengthier Rock/Pop Reviews
The Boomtown Rats, The Fine Art of Surfacing (SS)
Jimmy Buffett, Volcano (PR)
Fleetwood Mac, Tusk (NC)

Selected Other LPs Reviewed
Herb Alpert, Rise (PR)
Cheap Trick, Dream Police (SS)
Foreigner, Head Games (JV)
Crystal Gayle, Miss the Mississippi (NC)
Barry Manilow, One Voice (PR)
Weather Report, 8:30 (JV)

I carry around in my head recollections of a modest number of the reviews I encountered in SR–if there’s anything from this issue I remotely remember, it’s the Petty.

We’ll close with a few music selections from the Special Merit listings that are totally new to me. Those horizons won’t expand on their own…

Songs Casey Never Played, 1/16/82

Today it’s a few AC and AOR nuggets that were living on the Hot 100 as 1981 became 1982. Alas, they all fell short of making AT40, to varying degrees.

#92. The Kinks, “Better Things”
Second single from Give the People What They Want; it didn’t fare any better than “Destroyer,” which peaked at #85 in November. “Better Things” spent eight weeks on the chart (including the frozen 1/2/82), managing to climb all the way from #98 to this spot over that span. James bought the album during our college years, and I know many of the songs on it, but this one–the closer– slipped by me then.

#88. Rush, “Closer to the Heart”
Rush went through four cycles of four-studio-LPs-then-a-massive-live-album between 1974 and 1996. Exit…Stage Left came at the end of the second of those, between Moving Pictures and Signals. The studio version of “Closer to the Heart” was their first time on the singles charts, making #76 at the very end of 1977. The live take from E…SL fared a tiny bit better; it’s coming down from a #69 high. It’s plenty true to the original–I don’t mind it at all.

#67. John Hall Band, “Crazy (Keep on Falling)”
Hall was a founder of Orleans, but bailed after their first two hits for what turned out to be a marginally successful solo career. His new band made the charts twice, and this one came mighty close to the promised land, reaching #42 (he went back to Orleans in the mid-80s). Hall was elected to the U.S. House from New York in the Democratic wave of 2007, but was swept back out four years later.

#65. Steve Carlisle, “WKRP in Cincinnati”
Is it possible to have charted in the 1980s and still have virtually no internet evidence of your musical existence? Steve Carlisle is attempting to answer this question in the affirmative. Can’t find any biographical data on Allmusic, though Discogs does have a track listing for one LP. I see a couple of promo singles available via Amazon, too. He appears to have run with the Jerry Buckner/Gary Garcia crowd, even singing backup on “Pac Man Fever.”

On the other hand, we all remember his voice. Even though WKRP in Cincinnati debuted in 1978, its opening theme didn’t chart until now. This is as high as it would climb.

#63. The Carpenters, “Those Good Old Dreams”
Karen and Richard’s Top 40 career turns out to have ended the previous summer with “Touch Me When We’re Dancing,” though they tried three more times to get another hit from Made in America. “Those Good Old Dreams” was the third single released; it got stuck in this spot. I don’t remember hearing it back in high school, but it’s a delight (and the family pix in the video are neat).

#53. Henry Paul Band, “Keeping Our Love Alive”
Henry Paul, like John Hall, had left a band whose name was filed under ‘O’ in record stores and who had their first hit in 1975 (the Outlaws). “Keeping Our Love Alive” was the HPB’s only trip to the Hot 100–it topped out at the halfway point–but they Bubbled Under three other times. Paul also eventually returned to his former bandmates. I must have been starting to tune in more regularly to WLAP-FM in Lexington around this time–I know I heard this a few times as part of their automated playlist.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/16/82: The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”

I don’t think I’m obsessive about it, but I do pay attention to the weather. At my wedding, Greg joked during his best man’s toast about how often I had the TV tuned to the Weather Channel the year we roomed together (he wasn’t entirely wrong). And looking back, I can think of more than a few posts where I’ve made a point of referencing the outdoor conditions that I think existed when recalling various memories.

Perhaps the peak of my weather-watching ways was the first two-and-a-half months of 1982. Every day, I’d check high and low temps, as well as precipitation info, in the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer. I believe this info came from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG), located maybe fifteen miles north of our house in Walton. I then appended my own impression of the day just past. Here’s a look at a big chunk of January:

When I came back across this a few years ago, I was a little surprised by how cold it had gotten that winter (there was another night well below zero in mid-February). Granted, I live sixty-ish miles south of CVG these days, but I haven’t experienced frequent bouts of cold like this in a long while. I’m pretty sure that “normal” today isn’t anything like the above ranges, either.

Looking at this sheet shakes loose a couple of memories. I think it was the night of Friday, January 8 that three friends and I had a memorable evening of late-night bowling in Florence (bowling was a very frequent weekend activity in my circle during our senior year of high school). When the center closed down at 2am, we elected not to head home but instead went to an apartment close by, where our driver’s older sister lived (I guess I’d used a pay phone earlier in the evening to give my parents a heads-up). She wasn’t there when we arrived, but my friend had a key to let us in. We hadn’t been settled for very long when sis came home. Let’s just say that any plans she and the guy with her had didn’t pan out, since for whatever reason we wound up staying. I don’t imagine that I heard any details of the ensuing conversation between my friend and his sister. What makes me think it was this particular weekend is the image I have of snow flying in the air as we drove home once the sun came up.

On a different note, I love foggy weather. Everything has a radically different feel to it–places you know become all kinds of mysterious, and you truly don’t know what’s just around the bend. I especially enjoy walking around on a foggy evening (driving at night in the soup is a completely different matter). I distinctly remember those three fog-filled days of the 19th through 21st, with the remains of recent snowfalls still hanging on as temps oscillated around the freezing mark.

Like with so many other projects, I gave up on weather-tracking after a while. The last entry is from March 15th.

A few weeks ago I was rummaging through my collection of cassettes that we’ve stowed away in a cabinet in our basement. Several of them caught my eye, but one in particular is germane at this moment:

I had a combo alarm clock/radio/tape recorder then. It appears I had nothing better to do that Sunday, arguably the coldest day of the year, than to sit in my bedroom with the radio and push record when a song I liked showed up. I know you’re anxious to find out what’s on it. Turns out I filled up only one side this way:

10cc, “I’m Not in Love” (LP version)
Atlanta Rhythm Section, “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight”
Diesel, “Sausalito Summernight”
(single edit)
Mike Post featuring Larry Carlton, “Theme from ‘Hill Street Blues'”
Leo Sayer, “Living in a Fantasy”
Greg Lake, “Let Me Love You Once”
The Miracles, “Love Machine (Pt. 1)”
The Go-Go’s, “Our Lips Are Sealed”

Love the 10cc, the Diesel, and the Sayer still (gotta admit I think “Living in a Fantasy” is criminally underrated). The Lake piece, full of all-too-familiar early 80s male bravado, was sitting at #61 at the time, just down from its #48 peak. “Our Lips Are Sealed” was literally my favorite song right then, hanging out at #1 on this week’s Harris Top 50. It’s at #31 on the real thing, its last on the countdown, having peaked at #20.

The Go-Go’s finish before I run out of tape, and it becomes evident that I’ve recorded over something. We get to hear most of an ad for a big promotion being run by WYYS, Yes 95, which spent a good portion of 1980-81 trying without success to break WKRQ’s stranglehold on the Cincinnati Top 40 market. They were giving away a cool half-million; my best recollection is that the contest ran in the fall of 1980. There’s supporting evidence for this claim after the ad wraps up, as we get about thirty seconds of ELO’s “All Over the World” before the side ends.

Side two might just be my first attempt at creating a mixtape from my vinyl collection, though it must have been recorded several months later. It’s a much more AOR-dominated affair.

The Sherbs, “No Turning Back”
Foreigner, “Night Life”
Journey, “Feelin’ That Way/Anytime”
Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure”
Little River Band, “Man on Your Mind”
Electric Light Orchestra, “Confusion”

This time at the end, I find a snippet–just a very few seconds long–that’s both tantalizing and frustrating: the outro as one of the first three hours of an American Top 40 show comes to a close. My guess is that this is also from the fall of 1980; definitely bummed that I recorded over it.

Beauty and the Beat is another album whose tracks I’m tempted to rank, but that’s gonna have to wait for another day. All I’ll say right now is that I’ve always strongly preferred its first single over its second.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 1/18/75: Linda Ronstadt, “You’re No Good”

To cut to the chase: “You’re No Good” was Linda Ronstadt’s first Top 40 hit in over four years, her only Billboard Hot 100 #1 (it’s at #21 on this show and would reach the top four weeks later), and the beginning of a multi-year run of hits that were almost all covers. Granted, Ronstadt wasn’t ever a songwriter, but working with now-producer Peter Asher seemed to make her gravitate toward re-recording major and minor works–often R&B–from the late 50s or 60s, and spinning them into gold. (Asher was doing the same thing at this time with James Taylor.)

Anyway, it’s very near the top (if not the top) of my list of Ronstadt singles from her commercial peak. I dig the range of emotions in her voice, though I think it’s the instrumental solo and coda that really suck me in.

“You’re No Good” was an oft-covered song, and I wanted to highlight a few of the other takes. It seems to be invariably brought up in conversation as a Betty Everett cover, and it’s true that Everett had the highest-charting version prior to Linda, reaching #51 in January 1964. Nice and smoky.

The Merseybeat group The Swingin’ Blue Jeans cut their version shortly thereafter, and it made #97 in August of the same year (#3 in the UK).

I was blown away, however, by the original. It’s by Dee Dee Warwick, who sounds nothing like her older sister Dionne. It made the faintest of chart noises the same time that Everett was getting traction, scoring a #117 peak the weekend of the Kennedy assassination. Simply incredible; distinct from the others, yet a clear ancestor of Ronstadt’s version.

Other acts to have taken on the song include Ike and Tina Turner, Van Halen (whose attempt I’d somehow never heard before writing this up), Elvis Costello, and Wilson Phillips. The truly interested can look those up themselves; here’s Linda.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

By early May of 1992, I’d been actively seeking employment for several months.  I was less than two months from defending my dissertation, but prospects for employment in academia come fall were not promising. I’d sent out dozens of applications, and the results to date had been meager: in January, I’d had a few face-to-face chats at the national math meetings in Baltimore that ultimately led nowhere, while in February I’d bombed my only on-site interview, at a regional state university in Indiana. I was already contemplating remaining at Illinois—I thought I had a pretty good shot at getting assistantship support for one more year. Maybe I could make progress on extending results from my doctoral work, too.

At that relatively late moment in the hiring cycle, two glimmers of hope appeared. First, I snagged another interview, this time at a liberal arts college in the northern half of the Hoosier State. And I’d recently sent my materials off for an opening in Kentucky—a tenure-track position at Georgetown College, just a little north of my old stomping grounds in Lexington and only about an hour away from my parents. It was probably the last viable opening for 92-93 to hit the desk of my Director of Graduate Studies.

After final exams ended, I headed home to be with my folks for a few days, and as usual, I snuck in an overnight visit to Lexington to see James. On the way back to Florence, I made an impulsive decision to swing by Georgetown’s campus, just to remind myself of its layout (I’d been there at least a couple of times during college to see my sister’s basketball team face GC) and figure out where the math department was located.

The three-story George Matt Asher Jr. Science Center sits at the right base of the circle that leads up to Giddings Hall, the administration building. It didn’t take long to determine the Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science (MPC) Department resided on the middle floor of Asher. Since graduation had already taken place, the floor was very quiet, except for one man doing some year-end clean-up in a physics lab. After introducing myself, I explained my reason for being there. He showed me around a little, not put out in the least by the interruption of his work. He then offered to take me to Giddings to meet the Academic Dean; I wasn’t sure how to say no. After a brief conversation with said Dean, I took my leave of campus, thanking Dr. Bart Dickinson, the quietly enthusiastic physicist, for his time, and wondering if I’d see him again.

Well, yeah. The interview in Indiana went sorta okay at best—the chair there told me they might offer me a one-year visiting position. Not very long after, though, Georgetown called, asking for an interview on the first of June. I still hadn’t figured out how to give a good interview, but the people in the department were uniformly nice, and somehow I soon found myself in possession of a tenure-track job offer. Bart became my first department chair. 

I lived in an apartment in Lexington for my first three semesters at GC, but in December of 1993, I took the plunge into home ownership, a small three-bedroom new build about three miles north of campus. I learned early on that Bart and I shared a denominational background, of which he reminded me occasionally with invitations to attend First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was slowly working myself back into church-going after several years away, and as 1994 progressed, I found myself in the pews of FCC on Sunday mornings more and more often. Bart sang tenor in the choir, and began checking to see if I would be interested in joining. I’d never been a member of a choral group, but over the years I had learned enough to do decently well with the bass part of many a hymn.

It was on a warmer-than-average Wednesday evening in January 1995, not long after the start of the spring semester, that I decided to give choir practice a try. Bart might have been the only person there I knew, but everyone was super welcoming (several of the folks I met that night are still around and will be singing alongside me tomorrow morning). I was placed in between two of the other three basses on the back row. As rehearsal progressed, I couldn’t help but notice a woman in the row in front of me occasionally stealing glances my way. Of course, I noticed her, too: an attractive redhead, one of a very few people in the room around my age (At 30, I was definitely on the younger side).

I did know her name, and who she was. I’d recently become newsletter editor of our state math organization. One of my duties the previous fall had been to gather news from campuses across Kentucky. Martha Lutz was my contact on the math faculty at nearby Midway College, and she’d written back with an item or two for me to include in the fall issue. Around the same time, she served as Worship Leader one Sunday and had her name in the bulletin; I put two and two together, so to speak. 

Twenty-five years ago tonight, when rehearsal ended, Martha and I said our first hellos to one another. (Okay, possibly not quite the first.) We wandered out to the parking lot and talked for a decent while beside our cars. The interaction felt comfortable, natural; it was immediately clear how kind, how smart she was, and that she was someone I’d be happy to get to know better. I didn’t sing with the choir on Sunday, but returned for practice the next Wednesday and began joining in on Sundays thereafter. On the third Saturday after meeting, we had our first date. In less than eighteen months, Martha and I were married in that church.

Bart’s plan had worked brilliantly.

It took me a good while to realize we’d been set up. Martha had been a member of the FCC choir for a few years by the time of our meeting. She did eventually mention that Bart had been telling her about “this nice young, new mathematician” in his department, but of course he hadn’t let on to either of us his ulterior motives in trying to lure me to practice. While Martha and I would have eventually crossed paths without the nudge from Bart, you never know if the outcome would have been the same. Over the last few years, Bart’s children have told us it was his only effort at matchmaking, and also among his proudest achievements.

Over the years Bart and I had various points of connection. For a while in the latter part of the 90s, he and I co-taught a Sunday School class for college students at FCC. It rarely attracted more than three or so people, but it allowed me to see up close Bart’s humble yet deep faith.  When there was an office crunch on our floor of the science building in my second year on the job, Bart volunteered to move into a storage room adjacent to the main physics lab, letting me have the office he’d used since the late 60s. With the exception of the year I spent on sabbatical in New York, he and I are still the only ones to have occupied 120 Asher Science Center.

A few weeks into the Fall 2003 semester, it became apparent that Bart was suffering significant short-term memory problems, significant enough to warrant an immediate retirement. As it happened, Bart’s son Jonathan (who had been a freshman at GC my first year there) was wrapping up a PhD in chemical physics in Virginia; he wound up being the search committee’s choice to fill the hole beginning the following fall.

For the next few years, I generally saw Bart only at church. In our conversations, he was as friendly as ever, but I can’t say with certainty that he regularly knew who I was. After a while, it became too difficult for him to continue with the choir. Unfortunately, his condition kept worsening, to the point that he eventually became homebound.

It was only after Bart’s memory issues arose that it dawned on me that I’d never offered him any kind of thanks for the pivotal role he played in my good fortune. I subsequently compounded my error by deciding it was too late to try to make amends—I’ve come to see that even if he wouldn’t have remembered my words, there was no reason not to tell him, either verbally or in writing. It’s in the top tier of my life’s regrets.

In the fall of 2013 I taught an 8am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One Thursday in early November, I was gathering my thoughts before class when Jonathan came in the room with the news that his father had passed away early that morning. I understood this was a mercy for Bart, a thoroughly fine and decent person who’d been dealt a cruel fate over his final decade. Nonetheless, I broke down immediately. I hurt for Jonathan, his mother, and his siblings, but I imagine I was also selfishly grieving for myself, over the letter never sent, the words never spoken.

The funeral was the following Sunday afternoon, in the church sanctuary. The family asked the choir to sing one of Bart’s favorite anthems, “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” (truth be told, it’s a favorite of mine, too). It wasn’t necessarily easy, but we did it, and I believe fairly well.

There’s so much in our lives, both good and bad, that comes completely undeserved. The love of one’s life. Dementia. Close friendships. Cancer. On those occasions when it’s something on the positive side of the ledger, perhaps we should celebrate, appreciate, and maybe even find a way to reciprocate. I’m very fortunate to have been on the receiving end of kindnesses so frequently. I could stand to act like I recognize this more often.

I guess there’s no time like the present to begin, so today I’ll celebrate a quarter-century with Martha in my life, and acknowledge my debt to Bart Dickinson, for thinking to look out for me.

Thank you for helping make my life so much richer, Bart.

Addendum: Speaking of kindnesses, I’m grateful to Jim Bartlett, who has a post today describing what was happening in the world on January 18, 1995, at his blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.