Martha Lutz spent her first year after graduating from college in Hamburg on the German equivalent of a Fulbright Award, mostly studying the history of mathematics (she’d double-majored in math and German). She knew she wanted to do graduate work in math but arrived back in the States too late for the 1985-86 academic year; in August 1986, she enrolled in the master’s program on a teaching assistantship at the University of Louisville, across the river from her hometown of New Albany, IN. Martha received her degree in a ceremony held at Freedom Hall thirty-five years ago today, on May 14, 1988. In attendance were her parents, her sister, and her then-boyfriend (the picture above was taken just after she’d received her diploma). That summer she began a job at Midway College (now University), a two-year women’s college in the process of converting to a bachelor’s-granting institution, with the intention that eventually she’d return to school to get a doctorate.
During those twenty-one months, my future wife and I were charting the same course (unbeknownst to each other, of course). I was three-and-a-half hours northwest of Louisville, at the University of Illinois, and my master’s ceremony, held in a hall of the fine arts center, was just eight days after hers. In attendance were my parents and my sister (I wasn’t dating anyone at the time). I would be staying to work on a Ph.D., but a number of folks in my initial cohort were departing Urbana-Champaign, some to teach at a community college, others to take a position that required quantitative chops, and a couple or so to pursue doctoral work elsewhere. I also have a photo from the day of the ceremony, taken as I’m about to enter the apartment near downtown Urbana I shared with friends John and Jim. Note the cheesy mustache and scraggly growth on my cheeks and chin; that was the last time I made any sort of attempt at facial hair, and I’m pretty sure I got rid of it within a few days.
What to do for this slightly odd tale of two math nerds doing the same thing at the same time in different places for a couple of years who then met two-thirds of a decade later and really got a thing for one another? I’m going with the only Top 40 hit for a duo out of California. Times Two released one album and one EP before splitting in the early 90s. “Strange But True” is sitting at #23 on this countdown, two slots shy of its peak. (They tried to follow it up with a Club Nouveau-ified cover of “Cecilia,” but the public voted against it.) Be warned: the video contains a severe case of late 80s fashion.
At some point—it was before I came on the scene—Martha let go of the idea of going back to school. Inertia may have played a role. That decision clearly paid off, for both of us, in one big way.
I’ve said it before, and likely will say it again someday: one of the greatest things to come from listening to old AT40s over the past decade has been discovering Soul hits from the first half of the 1970s (when I was between six and ten years old) that failed to make the pop canon. This weekend, Premiere is playing the 5/1/71 show, and fully a quarter of its tunes went Top 10 on Billboard‘s R&B chart. A few are still well-known today; perhaps others deserved to be. Let’s investigate. (Note: any omissions are due to less-than-crack research on my part.)
33. Brenda & the Tabulations, “Right on the Tip of My Tongue” (peaked at #10 R&B) An all-time great group name, notable enough to receive mention in Reunion’s fall 1974 stream-of-consciousness hit “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me).” (Trivia question: in checking “Rock”‘s lyrics for mentions of other acts, I discovered that indeed there’s another group in this post who got name-checked in it–do you know which one?)
32. Honey Cone, “Want Ads” (#1) I learned a lot when Casey started recapping the #1 songs of the 1970s in October 1978, but not enough. While I’m pretty sure I was passingly familiar with “Want Ads” by then, I didn’t know the name of the performers–my chart from 12/9/78 shows I thought they were called “The Honey Combs.”
29. King Floyd, “Baby Let Me Kiss You” (#5) I did not know until writing this: 1) King was Floyd’s given name; 2) he and I share(d) a birthday. As was the case for Brenda & the Tabulations, we’re being treated to the second of two forays onto AT40.
25. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “I Don’t Blame You at All” (#7) The 27th and final Top 40 hit by the Miracles while Smokey was with them.
23. The Fuzz, “I Love You for All Seasons” (#10) Like Honey Cone, the Fuzz was a female vocal trio. I should have known this song well during the 70s. One deeply abiding mystery from that period is why I rarely flipped over K-Tel’s 20 Power Hits Volume 2 after side one (which I listened to frequently) finished. Had I done so, I’d be singing along this weekend instead of trying recover from a lost opportunity.
13. Stevie Wonder, “We Can Work It Out” (#3) One great cover of a former #1 song…
12. Aretha Franklin, “Bridge over Troubled Water/Brand New Me” (#1) …deserves another.
9. The Temptations, “Just My Imagination” (#1) Another final turn for a legendary vocalist before striking out on his own: Eddie Kendricks bowed out from the Temps after recording this classic.
4. Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” (#1) I’ve never tried to rank my favorite 70s songs that peaked at #2; my initial reaction is that it’d be hard to pick anything over “What’s Going On.”
3. The Jackson 5, “Never Can Say Goodbye” (#1) “Mama’s Pearl” had also broken their streak of #1 R&B hits; “Never Can Say Goodbye” temporarily righted that ship, though it’d be another three years before they had another #1 R&B (“Dancing Machine”).
Doing penance for past sins by embedding “I Love You for All Seasons.” It took a 12-position leap in this show, perhaps suggesting it might also go Top 10 Pop. The early 70s Hot 100 was a capricious place, though, one in which a song’s momentum could quickly prove ephemeral. From here, it’d go 22-22-21-28-33-off the chart. The Fuzz disbanded the following year.
I spent a chunk of Saturday morning listening to the Premiere rebroadcast of the 4/30/83 AT40. What did I learn? In no special order:
–Both songs requested as Long Distance Dedications have a Jefferson Airplane/Starship connection: in hour two we hear “Be My Lady” from the Starship proper, while the final hour gives us original Airplaner Marty Balin’s “Hearts.”
–Casey plays a snippet of Falco’s original version of “Der Kommissar” leading into After the Fire’s remake, sitting at its peak of #5. Three years hence in late April 1986, Falco would be in the top 10 himself, coming off a trio of weeks at the top with “Rock Me Amadeus.”
–We hear about the time the Doobie Brothers came under severe scrutiny for the multiple unlabeled bags of vitamins discovered on their private jet right before Patrick Simmons sings “So Wrong” (#32).
–I didn’t know that Boy George had spent a bit of time in Bow Wow Wow prior to forming Culture Club. That tidbit allows Casey to talk about provocateur extraordinaire Malcolm McLaren prior to spinning “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” (#18).
–Toto wanted “Waiting for Your Love” to be the fourth single from Toto IV; Columbia ignored them and went with “I Won’t Hold You Back” (#11) instead. Score one for the suits–when “Waiting for Your Love” (which reminds me a bit of their 1988 hit “Pamela”) was released subsequently in the summer, it only climbed to #73.
–Bob Seger’s “Even Now” (#13) is the only song in the same position as the previous week (thanks for tipping us off about a brand new #1, Case). This was quite the novelty, given how constipated the charts had been for more than a year. A quick check of AT40 lists for the previous sixteen weeks (going back to the beginning of the year) yields an average of just over ten songs staying put each week (if I’m counting right, the low was five, on 3/19, and the high was twenty, on 4/2). I’m not saying this sudden shift was related to a new chart director coming on board with the 4/30 issue of Billboard, but I’m not saying it wasn’t related, either.
–My favorite story came just before OXO’s “Whirly Girl” (#36, down from a #28 peak), spilling the beans as to why OXO leader Ish Ledezma broke up his old band Foxy. The claim is that Ish became disturbed hearing kids on a playground singing the “off color” title phrase of Foxy’s late 1978 hit “Get Off,” and he decided he no longer wanted to take part in being such a bad influence. I’d give this a little more credence if “Whirly Girl” didn’t include the line, “She’s sitting in the latest styles with open legs and mysterious smiles.”
On the first weekend of January 2007, Premiere Networks began offering remastered AT40s from the 1970s to terrestrial radio stations (it was 1/31/76, for the record). This past weekend, 11/24/79–the last regular Casey-voiced countdown from that 9.5 year span–was finally re-played. It had been the only remaining such show for two years, ever since 12/1/79 had been rebroadcast toward the end of 2020. Obsessive AT40-philes (raises hand, I suppose) can perhaps breathe a little easier now that they’re all out there.
(It’s not a surprise that the last shows to see the light of day were from 1979. Premiere initially was unsure what to do with 70s countdowns between 10/7/78 and 12/22/79, after AT40 had become a four-hour affair. They didn’t offer any up from that block until November 2010, and even then it was only the last three hours. The first hour began being provided as optional about 18 months later, and to do this day only a few stations will play it–I can imagine the pain it could be for stations to deal with the variable length. Many thanks go to Matt, who has compiled and curated the history of the series’ offerings in a thread on the AT40 Fun & Games site.)
As for the special shows consisting of all or mostly pre-70s songs, my guess is those aren’t likely ever to be wheeled out. The same is largely true for guest-hosted shows, though a couple have been offered as bonuses in recent years following the passing of said guest host (Dick Clark, Mark Elliott). I’ve been tuning in now (again) for more than a decade; while I haven’t heard them all yet, I’m among the many who are grateful for all those who’ve labored over this project, particularly Shannon Lynn. I joke with my wife that should I ever get dementia she’ll have to endure my blathering on about the Top 40 and the songs of my youth–I suspect that all these weekends since 2012 I’ve been spending in Casey’s company have only increased that likelihood?
I’m one of the few people I know who isn’t a big fan of Cheap Trick’s breakthrough single, the at Budokan version of “I Want You to Want Me.” (I mean, it’s not bad–it just never captivated me.) The lead single/title song from the studio album that followed, though? That’s absolutely the stuff, my fave song of theirs to this day. I didn’t know “Surrender” at the time, so I wasn’t aware of how “Dream Police” echoes it to a decent extent. But the energy, the strings, the three 3/4 measures inserted in the driving instrumental toward the end–I can’t get enough of it. They really should have had more hits.
Casey introduced “Dream Police” on the 11/24/79 show (its last week on, at its peak of #26) by connecting it to Orwell’s 1984 (though he didn’t use the term “thought police”).
My small high school didn’t offer a calculus course when I was a senior—I took a class called Advanced Math instead. Among other things, we learned trigonometry (a good thing) and how to interpolate values of logarithms from a table (not remotely useful now—ah, those pre-calculator days). Still, I wasn’t hesitant about signing up for first-semester calculus as I began my trek at Transy; math had long been my thing, and was one of my intended majors, besides.
There were two sections of Calculus I on offer for Fall Term 1982, taught by different professors. Over the summer I wrote a letter to Susan, my soon-to-be Student Orientation Leader, seeking advice on which one to take. “I had Dr. Shannon for calculus and recommend him. He challenged me.” (I’m paraphrasing, since—shocker, I know—I don’t appear to have that letter anymore.) That was all I needed to hear: David Shannon, at 1:30 MWF, immediately prior to my chemistry class, it would be.
Classes began the Wednesday after Labor Day. I had Thursdays completely free of classes or labs that fall, and I remember spending hours in my room that first Thursday, thinking about polynomial inequalities, including some involving absolute value. It was my first inkling that there was much more going on in math—and this was “only” pre-calculus material—than I’d previously considered. We quickly moved on to limits and an introduction to the derivative of a function, along with some of its interpretations.
According to the calendar I kept that fall, the first test was on the last Wednesday of September, just three weeks after we’d started. I felt good about much of the exam but found myself stumped on two questions, the second of which has stayed with me throughout the years.
Looking at that test forty years later, I see it’s plenty lengthy for a fifty-minute period. My suspicion now is that I took too long with the first problem that gave me fits to spend much time at all on this one. The scribbling you see came after the exam had been returned to me with “0/5” written halfway down the page—it’s much fainter, more informal, than everything else I’d supplied in real time. But you can see to the right of Dr. Shannon’s sketch the essential part of the question’s solution: you set the slope of the line joining (4,8) to an arbitrary point on the curve equal to the slope of the tangent line at that arbitrary point as given by the derivative. It becomes a second-degree equation that you must solve via the quadratic formula.
Over the next week or so, Dr. Shannon reinforced the notion that the value of the derivative at a point measures the slope of the tangent line; it dawned on me that he had been prodding us, trying to make us think a little about how the ideas we’d been discussing could lead us to new places. I wasn’t unhappy about the missed points—I was fascinated (after all, he’d written, “very good paper!” at the top of the test next to my score).
This wasn’t the moment that I decided to throw my lot in with mathematics instead of computer science. But it almost certainly was a factor in David Shannon becoming a role model and trusted mentor, in taking as many classes from him as possible. We remain in touch to this day, meeting for lunch once this past summer.
One of my favorite things about that exam question is that “she” appears four times in it; I am confident I noticed it during those final minutes before I submitted the paper. I know now that Dr. Shannon is a voracious reader and keeps well informed of world events, so I believe it likely there was literally a cosmic rationale for that choice. The conceit probably arose from one (or both) of two things: the turn Svetlana Savitskaya had taken aboard the Soviet space station Salyut 7 just one month earlier, or the announcement from the previous spring that Sally Ride would be the first U.S. woman to go into space, aboard Challenger the following year.
(No, I don’t have “We Didn’t Start the Fire” going through my head right now—why do you ask?)
Speaking of Billy Joel, The Nylon Curtain is one of the albums I most closely associate with that first fall of college, having been released toward the end of September. I didn’t purchase it, but I’m thinking my then-roommate did and played (at least) the first side some when I was around—it feels like I’ve known “Laura” and “Goodnight Saigon” forever. “Scandinavian Skies” received play on the local AOR station. Lunch conversations often featured semi-passionate discussions about new music, and first single “Pressure” (at its peak of #20) wasn’t a complete hit with my crowd, maybe because it seemed such a departure from the pop bliss of Glass Houses? I probably dig it myself more today than I did at the time.
While I don’t recall feeling any particular pressure getting ready for those calculus exams, I did quickly realize the need to be prepared for hard and interesting questions from Dr. Shannon. I finally nailed one three semesters later, in differential equations.
One last note: the Challenger disaster occurred in January of my senior year at Transy. Outside of the horror of watching the replay of the explosion, my primary memory of the day is sitting in Dr. Shannon’s office that afternoon, numbly talking with him about it. Two women astronauts, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe, had been aboard.
When Casey wrapped up recording the 6/24/78 AT40, he was nearing his eighth anniversary as its host. The following week, he presented a special show, “The Top 40 Acts of the 1970s (So Far),” while the 7/8 installment was guest-hosted by Mark Elliott (the cue sheet says that Kasem was off “filming a theatrical feature”). As Casey got back in the seat for a regular show for the first time in three weeks, he remarked rather matter-of-factly at the top that almost half of the songs he’d spun at the end of June were nowhere to be found: eight debuts on each of 7/1 and 7/8, with three more coming aboard on 7/15. By this time I’d been a faithful listener for more than two years, and it was my first experience with so many debut songs in one week, and to have it occur two weeks in a row…my guess is that I was somewhat amazed by it. Makes me curious: how much was hosting the show just a job for Casey at this point, and how much of a sense of wonder remained for unusual occurrences such as this?
Here are some of the deets of this fast-and-furious action.
–This wasn’t the first time in the 70s for consecutive charts with eight new songs; it’d also happened the first two weeks of October 1974.
-Six newcomers also on 6/24 and 7/22 made July 1978 the second and final period in the 70s to average more than six debuts over four-week stretches, the other (naturally) being in that fall of ’74.
–Casey didn’t play nineteen new songs, however. Tuxedo Junction’s disco cover of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” spent 7/1 and 7/8 at #32 and was one of this week’s three songs to depart. (That suggests two possible research projects to me: 1) Is #32 the highest peak for a song that spent only two weeks in the forty during Kasem’s 1970-1988 run as AT40 host? 2) How many other Top 40 songs from that era were never played by Casey due to special shows, guest hosting, etc? Maybe I’ll/we’ll learn about these things someday…)
–Both “I Was Only Joking” and “Follow You, Follow Me” had climbed a healthy six positions on 6/24/78, but both stalled the following week and then fell off the show. This sort of thing makes me think that it was a soft period for sales, with songs like these two getting sucked up in a vacuum caused by spring hits finally losing popularity.
–Barry Manilow was in the Top 20 and climbing on both 6/24 and 7/15, but with different songs. “Even Now” went 28-22-19 the last three weeks of June, but had its legs cut out from under it by the release of “Copacabana.” The former spent 7/1 again at #19, then was replaced by the latter at #22 on 7/8. Don’t blame me–I had bought the “Even Now” 45 at the time. (Okay, I also bought “Copacabana.”)
–Casey missed out on the last week Seals & Crofts ever spent on the show; their “You’re the Love” dropped from #18 on 6/24 to #40 on 7/8.
–Despite all the turmoil in the nether regions, seven of the Top 10 from 6/24 were still there on 7/15. It would turn out that only five of the nineteen debuting over those three weeks would reach the Top 10 and just two would go Top 5 (the #1 “Three Times a Lady” and #3 “Hot Blooded”).
–Neither “Shadow Dancing” nor “Baker Street” had budged from #1 and #2, respectively. There’s a story circulating out there, though (what I’ve read comes from an AT40 insider), about shenanigans at Billboard that prevented Gerry Rafferty from overtaking Andy Gibb one week in July. Perhaps it was 7/15? Before he plays “Baker Street,” Casey tells us that Scotland has produced more #1 artists per capita than any foreign country–sounds like something they might have saved for the (hoped-for) occasion when Rafferty joined the ranks.
The new song that had advanced the farthest by the time Kasem returned from his break was sitting at #14, closing out the second hour. I think of Frisco-based Pablo Cruise as faceless, but maybe that’s because they lost their place in the sun right around the time the video age dawned. “Love Will Find a Way” would be their second song to reach #6 (truth be told, I’m much more of a “Whatcha Gonna Do?” guy).
How about a helping or two of trivia related to songs and acts on the 80s countdown that both Premiere and SiriusXM are featuring this weekend?
–There are five covers of songs that first hit the Top 40 in the 60s. Mickey Gilley is taking on “Stand By Me,” the Blues Brothers are updating “Gimme Some Lovin’,” Kim Carnes gives us “More Love,” Carole King re-does her own composition, “One Fine Day,” and the Spinners include “Cupid” in a medley. Only Carnes and the Spinners made the Top 10, both also peaking higher than the Miracles and Cooke originals, respectively.
(A couple of side notes here: 1) Spyder Turner’s version of “Stand By Me,” which hit #12 in early 1967, is more than interesting, due to his imitations of various R&B singers; 2) there were two songs in 2007 with ‘Cupid’ in the title that charted, but I know the #66-peaking “Cupid Shuffle” much better than the #4 hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.” While my son was in HS, the former would play over the PA at home football games during halftime, usually immediately after the band had performed, and many band members–surprisingly, my son was one of them–would sprint to the sidelines to line dance when it came on.)
–Meanwhile, as best as I can tell, only “Funky Town” would chart as a remake, although there were different songs that hit later in the 80s with the titles “Call Me,” “All Night Long” (be a stickler if you want over Lionel Richie’s parenthetical), “I’m Alive,” and “Magic.”
–Movie songs were all the rage. I count eight, from American Gigolo, Urban Cowboy (three), The Blues Brothers, Xanadu (two), and The Rose. Additionally, Meco was doing his thing with music from The Empire Strikes Back. And soundtrack fever wasn’t soon to abate: not only were more hits from the mechanical bronc-busting and roller disco films soon to chart, but tunes from Fame, Caddyshack, and Roadie were also on the way.
–“Call Me” had already outlasted Blondie’s next single–“Atomic,” from Eat to the Beat, fell off after topping out at #39 the previous week.
–Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes appear on the countdown both individually and in a duet with each other. I have no clue how common that sort of feat was back then, but I will point out it happened again just a few weeks later with Olivia Newton-John and ELO.
–The first six songs are also those that debut this week; none would reach the Top 10. This was one of two times in the 80s (at least through 8/6/88, Casey’s last show at the helm of AT40) when six or more songs came on the show without any getting higher than #11 (the other set being the seven that debuted on 9/11/82). I know of three times in the latter half of the 70s–6/26/76, 5/27/78, and 6/24/78–when this also occurred.
The highest of the new songs, at #35, is Ali Thomson’s only Top 40 hit, “Take a Little Rhythm.” I’m sure at some point during the song’s run Casey noted that Ali is the younger brother of Supertramp bassist Dougie Thomson, though he didn’t on this show (Mark Goodman did mention it). “Take a Little Rhythm” would climb to #15, the same position that his brother’s band would take their live version of “Dreamer” in the fall. On my own Top 50 chart, Ali spent the last two weeks of August at #5.
When I was growing up, there was a pattern to meals at home over the course of a week. My mother was a traditional stay-at-home mom, having retired from her elementary teaching career when she learned I was on the way (what I’ve read in recent years makes me realize that the school system may not have given her a choice about leaving or staying), and she took full responsibility for planning and preparing what went on the table. By and large, dinners on weekday evenings were basic meat/potato/vegetable/canned-fruit-or-jello fare, with very little ethnic content. Of course, a number of recipes were in regular rotation. Despite its extreme sodium content, I do miss chipped beef and white gravy (with sliced hard-boiled eggs mixed in) over toast; on the other hand, I never need to have liver and onions again.
It was a little different on the weekends. Saturday mornings were in some ways the high point of the week, since that’s when Mom would whip up pancakes or French toast in the electric skillet (with waffles on occasion–we had an iron in the early days if I’m recalling correctly). During my father’s days as a minister, we’d have a big meal on Sunday for lunch–fried chicken, or a roast that Mom slid in the oven before we left for church. (In later years, when we were attending my grandparents’ church in Erlanger, Sunday lunch became brunch at the Drawbridge Inn, or buffet at the Oriental Wok, or steak tips at York Steak House, or…) Maybe because we were usually stuffed from lunch, maybe because Mom decided she deserved a night off–I never really thought about asking why–as far back as I can remember, Sunday dinner was spartan–invariably for me a bowl of cold cereal and milk, often fixed on one’s own schedule. I didn’t mind in the least, perhaps in part due to my mother not being super-strict about the sugar content of what we could keep on hand. The lack of Sunday evening meal structure may have facilitated my AT40 obsession in the spring of 1976. Since Casey started on WSAI at 6pm, I didn’t have to turn him off in favor of quality family time around the table.
I’m guessing that by that Memorial Day weekend I had wrapped up sixth grade. That meant a sizable transition was looming. Come fall I would no longer have to ride the school bus five times a week to and from the elementary school i Verona six miles away–instead I’d disembark with the “big kids” in Walton, at the combined junior high/high school.
I’ve noted before that one thing I can recall from many of the first shows I heard was the name and position of that week’s highest debuting tune; the 5/29 show was not an exception. Coming on board at #34 was a new group out of Georgia with a song I’m certain that WSAI was already playing (Casey says on the intro there are seventeen acts with their first Top 40 hit this week, more than they’ve had in a while). Starbuck reached #3 by summer’s end with “Moonlight Feels Right,” and while one more minor Top 40 came just about one year later, the well soon dried up. Not even a name change in the early 80s, to Korona, could improve their fortunes.
On that holiday weekend forty-six years ago, I was just one week away from beginning what became a six-and-one-third years chart-keeping odyssey. I can’t recall now when exactly the plan formed, but maybe I hatched it over a bowl of Alpha-Bits (or was it Cocoa Pebbles?) while a groovy xylophone marimba solo came over the airwaves.
Notes and scenes from the end of the first year of college:
1) My May Term class was a lit topics course, Studies in Short Fiction. The professor was Dr. Holmes, the same fellow I’d had back in the fall for my composition course. He’d come to Transy in the early 60s, having been Ivy-trained at Cornell and Columbia. Maybe he had a bit of the patrician in his demeanor but on the whole was eager to engage with students. His comments on papers were generous though occasionally hard to decipher. (He seemed plenty old to me at the time, but I’m able to determine I’m now the age he was then. Yikes.) We read stories in an anthology and also imbibed from Joyce’s Dubliners and a Chekhov collection. As much as I enjoyed writing, looking back at my work I can tell I definitely needed the feedback. I’m glad I took the class–I still have a deep appreciation and affection for the short story format.
2) Having just one class for two hours a day gave one plenty of free time (they didn’t call it “Play Term” for nothing). I’d been maintaining some sort of distance running program, as I participated in a rain-soaked 10K race in mid-May, my second and final effort at that distance. Top 40 radio ruled in James’s and my dorm room, I suspect largely at my behest. (I’ve been trying to bring to mind what James was taking that May–thinking it was a history course, since he was a minor. Would that I could consult him.) For two weeks in May, I taped a ranking of my favorite songs to the door of our room (the outside, of course, so others could bear witness to my excellent taste). The second was that for 5/21, our last weekend before finals.
That spring of 1983 remains one of my favorite periods for pop music, and I’m still very much okay with all ten of these tunes.
3) Voting in the Kentucky primary would occur on 5/24, the same day as my final exam. 1983 was a gubernatorial election year (only KY, LA, and MS choose governors the year before a presidential election). Back in the day the Democratic nominee was highly likely to prevail in November, and that year featured a fierce, three-way competition among Martha Layne Collins (then Lt. Governor), Harvey Sloane (mayor of Louisville) and Grady Stumbo (a physician from the eastern part of the commonwealth). All three would score more than 30% of the primary vote, with Collins eking out a victory over Sloane by a little more than 4500 votes. (She would win in November over Republican nominee and future Baseball Hall of Famer/U.S. Senator Jim Bunning by a little more than 10 percentage points.)
The ads on television must have been incessant that spring, since I’d been inspired also to put this on our door, maybe right below my top 10 list:
About that write-in line…my college and grad school friends can attest that my father wasn’t shy in the least about disclosing his political loyalties to anyone and everyone. The young woman I was dating at the time apparently felt obliged to offer him up as an option.
4) The last entry in the diary I’d started the previous August came on 5/20; this was the first time I’d written in it in four months. It acknowledges the upcoming time apart between my girlfriend and me, notes that my sister’s HS graduation would also be on 5/24, and discusses my high school friend Frank’s relatively-new-yet-very-serious dating relationship (I’ve been asked to be best man at the as-of-then unscheduled wedding). While I wrap up with “maybe I’ll be becoming more acquainted with this book in the near future,” I’d never put pen to it again.
My favorite at the time was #5 in America, in the second of a four-week run at that position. Despite its nod toward novelty, “She Blinded Me with Science” seemed to be a pretty big hit all around me–I’ve noted before how a hall-mate was fond of blasting it at high volume after classes were over for the day. While I wouldn’t see the video for months (I lived in an MTV desert), the 45 quickly found a spot in my collection.
While it wasn’t perfect, on a personal level that spring turned out to be the high point of the year. The next several months would be quite bumpy, and it was entirely of my own doing.
Thirty-four years later, on an unseasonably cool and rainy day toward the end of April 2017, I met up with college friend Pat in Lexington to participate in the local March for Science. James was there as well, with his wife Amy and their two children; most of us carried homemade signs (mine read “Science Makes Our Children’s Future Brighter”). I’d guess that several hundred people gathered next to the county courthouse that afternoon to first walk southeast on Short St. and then northwest on Main St. Afterward, we gathered in a nearby covered space where we could learn about local organizations whose goals likely aligned with those of attendees and grab a warm drink. They had music playing in the background, and it was perhaps no real surprise when at one point Thomas Dolby came over the speakers.
I fear that in the years since we’ve learned that too many folks are blinded to, not with, the stuff.
Just like last August, the powers-that-be at Premiere have scheduled shows from 1986 and 1982 for rebroadcast on consecutive weekends. Then, preparations to decamp for grad school and college were on my mind; now, I’m thinking back on those final weeks of college and high school. This past weekend I rummaged through my brain and a bin of college memorabilia to pull out artifacts from my senior spring, a couple of which are tangible. Here are three short tales.
I. Transy observes a 4-4-1 calendar, with the spring term ending right around this time of year. One of the classes I took my final spring was a general education course called something akin to Music Theory for the Liberal Arts Student, to fulfill a distribution requirement. My recollection is that it was interesting enough, though given past experiences with piano lessons and band, perhaps I would have enjoyed a similar course designed for majors more? Anyway, the professor was in her first year on campus, her specialty in composition.
Fast forward almost six years. I’m at the interview in NW Indiana I mentioned in last week’s post, talking with one of the members of the search committee. He pulls out a picture with three people in it, asking if I recognize them. I do know two–they’re faculty in English and art at my undergraduate institution. The third turns out to be that music theory instructor, to whom my interviewer is now married–he tells me that when he mentioned that Transylvania was on an applicant’s resume, she was able to verify I’d once been her student (gradebooks are forever). I suspect he’s been waiting for this moment for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve kind of blown it. (In retrospect, I half-wonder if the connection didn’t play at least a minor role in securing an on-campus interview. My faux pas had nothing to do with failing to merit an offer, though.)
II. At the end of my junior year I was elected president of our campus’s leadership honorary, Omicron Delta Kappa. In March 1986, I flew down to Baton Rouge to represent Transy at ODK’s national conference. Two items of mild note from the trip: 1) one piece of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was being held at LSU at the same time as the conference, and one morning I shared a hotel elevator with then-Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins; 2) I also got to briefly meet Frank Rose, a bigwig in the ODK leadership structure. Rose had assumed the presidency of Transy in the early 50s, about halfway through my father’s time there, despite being only about a decade older than Dad. He left Transy after several years to become president at the University of Alabama. Desegregation occurred during his tenure in Tuscaloosa; he also hired Paul “Bear” Bryant away from the University of Kentucky’s football team. Dad knew Dr. Rose, of course, and regarded him with esteem, so he was glad I was able to introduce myself.
Transy’s circle (that’s what ODK calls their chapters) was the Lampas Circle, Lampas being the name of TU’s leadership honorary prior to pursuing national affiliation. Early in the school year, we’d been approached by the national office about inviting Lampas members from the past to become formal ODK members. I somewhat naively went along with this effort, and in March we sent out letters to appropriate alums to join us for an induction service on the first Sunday in May. Perhaps not too surprisingly, only a few folks (one of whom was my father) accepted–I assume most just ignored it. One invitee, an alum from the late 60s, did take the time to respond in memorable fashion, cc-ing the college President along the way.
Looking back, she was hardly wrong to see the invitation as a money grab. And I’d obviously been sloppy in not clearly identifying myself in the letter. While I think in part I simply had the misfortune of being a convenient target for venting, I actively chose to hold on to this letter as a reminder to stay humble and not get too wrapped up in self-importance.
III. The “1” in the 4-4-1 calendar is a four-week period known as May Term. Students take just one class, frequently a non-standard offering. My last May Term class was a topics course in Archaeology. Ostensibly taught by the college’s anthropology prof, it was in reality directed by an archaeology Ph.D. candidate from UK; I imagine we were helping him with his doctoral research. We first learned a little about field techniques, and then got to put them into practice on a real dig. Our site was farmland south and east of Lexington, just outside the small burg of Athens (for the non-locals, it’s pronounced AY-thens; if you think that’s funny, wait until you hear how we say the name of the town due west of Lexington known as Versailles). Evidence of past Native American settlement had been found in some of the farm’s fields, and our task was to discover what we could over a two-plus week period. We started by laying out plots via elementary surveying and then tucking in, taking off a layer at a time, moving on once we’d found what we could. One of the course requirements was to keep a journal of daily activity–while we had to hand them over at the end of the term, you know that I made photocopies before I did so. Here are two of the entries.
The final journal entry was from 5/19, just six days before my graduation ceremony. I don’t know how it all turned out, whether there was subsequent work on the site, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, though.
Good times, they come and they go. I had a wonderful college experience, but by April 1986 it was just about time to move on to the next stage. Staying at Transy probably wouldn’t have been the same, been as fun.
Sade is singing about romance in “Never as Good as the First Time” (debuting at #37 on 4/19/86, heading toward a peak of #20), not four years in college, but work with me here–there are plenty of things in this world that simply aren’t as enjoyable if extended beyond their shelf life. Savor the moments, treasure them, recall them fondly, but maybe think twice before you attempt to re-create them.