Nearing the Finish Line

A year ago in February we started working with an educational consultant to help us navigate the college search process. Ben was more than halfway through his junior year, and while we had some ideas and suggestions for places he might investigate, Martha and I thought we should get some outside assistance to reduce the chance of overlooking an obvious good fit for Ben. Rose came highly recommended to us by a woman in our church whose son was a year ahead of Ben.

I was very impressed after our initial consultation. Rose had established contact with schools all over the country over her years in the business and had a solid feel for the overall vibe of seemingly all of them. She asked insightful questions of Ben in that first meeting and by its end identified a couple dozen colleges and universities for him (well, us) to research. Within a week or so we had plans to tour some places in VA and NC over my spring break and a foray into OH at the end of March. A couple of other trips east came over the summer.

The visits and tours were probably more fun for the parents than the son—it was certainly a vastly more extensive enterprise than either of us had undertaken thirty-five-plus years before. Besides, as a college prof, I’m fairly interested in learning about other campuses.

By midsummer, we were holding our meetings with an associate of Rose’s. Nothing was said at first, but we intuited that Rose was ill.  When it came time to submit applications in the fall, Ben eliminated all but one of the places we had visited outside of KY, OH, and IN. I don’t think that meant our energies (and money) had been wasted—we had great times together, and knowing what didn’t excite him so much was useful information, too. Better to go to a few too many places, I say…

Ben is making his last overnight visit as I write this. He and Martha are in OH, up toward Cleveland. After they get back tomorrow, the final thinking and analyzing will begin. I think we’re down to three primary contenders, and I hope that Ben will make his choice within 10-14 days. While one has been the favorite for some time, I get the sense that he’s a little afraid of “not making the right decision,” but really, there are no bad options at this point. I’ll support his choice 100%.

Just down the street from Transy is a funeral home. I passed by it dozens of times while I was in college, walking between campus and downtown Lexington; many was the time back then when I saw folks entering and leaving it to pay respects to the recently departed. This afternoon was the first time I had gone inside. Rose passed away on Thursday, and I went to pay respects. I knew that she had been an active member of her communities over the years, but her accomplishments were impressive. (As an aside, I learned early on in our dealings that one of her daughters was a college classmate of mine).

Earlier this month, the associate had resigned from Rose’s business, and we’d subsequently set up an appointment with Rose for the second weekend of April. I’m sorry we won’t get to keep that meeting—I was looking forward to having Ben let her know of his final decision—but it is good that she is at peace. I’m glad to have met her and used her services—two of Ben’s three finalists are places she suggested to us.

Prior to Thursday, I had a different way to go with this piece, one that would hook into a prospective student event that took place at Transy around the time of this weekend’s 84 AT40 rebroadcast. I hope that’ll come in some form later in the week.

A Shining Path, A Clouded Mind

Elliott Smith was already gone for close to four years before I paid much mind to his music. Like any number of other ‘discoveries’ in the late 2000s, he came to my attention through my “Aimee Mann Radio” Pandora channel. First it was “Son of Sam,” then “Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud” and “Baby Britain.” Soon thereafter I picked up Figure 8, which includes the first two of those songs; it’s absolutely one of my favorite albums from this century.

It wasn’t that I was unaware of Smith prior to then. I’d seen Good Will Hunting, I’d caught his name mentioned on public radio, I even remember hearing about his death in real time. My impression was that I might like his stuff, but the period from around 2000 to 2007 was one of very little delving into the current music scene.

I visited Greg in early 2010 while attending a math conference in DC. After mentioning how hooked I’d become on Figure 8, he trotted out the excellent “Waltz #2” from XO for me. (One thing I dig about Smith is his frequent use of 3/4 and 6/8 time—also check out “Stupidity Tries” or “Easy Way Out” on Figure 8.)

I seem to prefer Smith’s later, fuller, more Beatlesque material, which I don’t doubt puts me at odds with many Elliott-philes. In addition to the songs I’ve already mentioned, big faves from Figure 8 include “Junk Bond Trader,” “In the Lost and Found (Honky Bach),” and “Can’t Make a Sound.”

This Sunday will mark the 15th anniversary of Smith’s suicide, at the far-too-early age of 34. I wrote a short note about him on Facebook at this time two years ago, which included this sentence: “He was both an amazing talent and one more cautionary tale about the perils of addiction and depression.” I don’t wish to boil down his life to a single line—I can’t know his trials and his demons, though, so I don’t want to say too much more. I’m just very sorry he (along with so many others) wasn’t able to hold it together, to make things work.





Magic Numbers

Edited to add: I intentionally didn’t look at any music blogs to see if or what they wrote about Bob Dorough before I did my thing here; that may have been an error. If I’d read Len O’Kelly’s take (he also links to “Lolly”), I might not have bothered with this.  Go to his site–his post is great.

Amy and I spent many a Saturday morning in the mid 70s watching cartoons. Favorites included Scooby Doo, Where Are You? and Looney Tunes, with helpings of shows like Hong Kong Phooey and The Pink Panther thrown in. When we had it on ABC, I usually enjoyed the three-minute Schoolhouse Rock pieces that played between shows. Those came back to mind yesterday when I learned of Monday’s passing of Bob Dorough, who wrote many of the songs featured in Multiplication Rock, Grammar Rock, and America Rock segments. He also sang most of his compositions, so his is definitely a voice of my childhood!

The Multiplication Rock shorts came out in early 73, Grammar Rock six-to-twelve months later, and America Rock in 75-76. (I’d already gotten too old by the time Science Rock was introduced a couple years beyond that). I mostly remember the Grammar ones. “Interjections,” which Dorough didn’t write, is my favorite. Among those he did pen, I most enjoy “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,” “Three Is a Magic Number” (more meaningful to me now since we have just one child), and the haunting metaphysics—“that’s a circle that turns ‘round upon itself”—of “Figure Eight” (sung by the inimitable Blossom Dearie).

I got the Schoolhouse Rock DVD when Ben was fairly young, but these songs indubitably mean much more to me than to him.

Thanks to you, Mr. Dorough, for all the fun, educational diversions you created, and rest in peace.

In Memoriam: John Heaton

(Edit in 2020: My apologies if you’ve come here thinking I might be writing about the YouTube music reviewer–you aren’t alone. This is a remembrance of a beloved personal friend, a long-time church choir director in Kentucky.)

Yesterday afternoon I attended a memorial service for an old friend, John Heaton, who passed away on Thursday. John was choir director at First Christian Church in Georgetown when I started attending in the mid 90s, and he served in that capacity until the end of 2011 (close to twenty years altogether, I think). Here are a few assorted notes and memories.

–John came to First Christian in retirement. He’d served as Minister of Music at various Baptist churches in his career; one of the attractions of doing part-time work at FCC was that his daughter Charlotte was the organist.

–John was a delight as a director. He was great about working on pieces several weeks in advance and we invariably felt comfortable about what we were singing on Sunday when its time came. John definitely had a way of making rehearsal an enjoyable time of fellowship; that’s one big reason why I continued to participate for those almost seventeen years and kept on afterward. He taught me a lot about singing, even if I’m still strictly an ensemble, not a solo, vocalist. For Christmas, we did formal cantatas sometimes, while other years he assembled a program from our library of seasonal music.

–I came to appreciate John Rutter through John; there were many other favorites, but two particular standouts are Tom Fettke’s “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” and Craig Courtney’s “Thou Art Holy.”

–In 1999, John decided we should sing Celebrate Life!, a “pulpit musical drama” written in the 70s by Buryl Red and Regan Courtney. We worked on it for several months and performed it (just one time) that August. It was probably the most ambitious, yet most rewarding, thing we did as a choir. The picture at the top is one Martha took on the day of our performance; we were in costume that day, ostensibly in the style of the first-century CE.

–John was one of the people in the room the night in January 95 I met Martha, when I first showed up for choir practice at the invitation of my physics colleague Bart Dickinson.

–He loved to sing in his barbershop quartet, and I was fortunate to hear them a few times. I learned at the memorial service that he’d been a mean trumpet player back in the day. I would have enjoyed that, too.

–John suffered from macular degeneration for much of the time I knew him. While it kept him from driving, it didn’t slow him much at all in his directing, and it certainly didn’t stop him from serving as a greeter at Kroger in Lexington. I can still picture him standing in front of us, infectious grin on his face as he delighted in the music he was helping to make.

–I last saw John about a year ago when he and his wife Vivian came back to visit at FCC. We talked only briefly afterward, but it was awfully good to see him out in the congregation from the choir loft.

–As it happens, we sang the Fettke piece just a week ago. It always makes me think of John. Here it is, sung by a much larger group than ours!

Rest in peace, John—your friendship and kindness to me over the years are so appreciated.

SotD: Stan Ridgway, “The Last Honest Man”

Last week I briefly mentioned Jon, an agronomy grad student I met playing bridge at Illinois. I think we met in 89, at the nascent student bridge club started by my good friend Mark, a fellow math grad. Jon and I played together occasionally over the next couple of years, both on campus and at the club in town. We were both close to rank beginners, but I fancied myself the better player. My recollection is that he’d gotten interested in the game through his mother.

I occasionally gave Jon rides back to his home, and it was then that the conversations would turn to music. As I said earlier, he’s the one who suggested I listen to Jane Siberry’s No Borders Here, for which I’m still exceedingly grateful.  He let me borrow some of his disks/tapes (perhaps I reciprocated–it’d be like me to do so). I distinctly recall his choice for favorite album of 1990: Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints (mine was Kirsty MacColl’s Kite). Jon was always upbeat; nothing seemed to get him down, not even my much-too-harsh carping about his card play. Katie called him “Smiling Jon.”

I’ve thought about Jon occasionally over the years, wondering what happened after he finished his degree (he wrapped up a year before I did). I hadn’t taken time to Google him until last Monday, and I was stunned to find his obituary. He’d wound up in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Arkansas, where he was a highly regarded teacher and colleague. What I found in poking around a little bit indicates he completely loved his work and that he made some real contributions to his field. He passed away in late May 2013, a couple of months after he turned 54 (it’s not lost on me I’ll be reaching that moment in my life in mid-April).

Jon and I weren’t close, but I feel some loss and regret nonetheless. I would have enjoyed reaching out to him last week, hoping that he remembered me. It’s another reminder of the need to be more present, more conscientious about relationships.

One of the albums he lent me back in the day was Stan Ridgway’s Mosquitos; he highly recommended it. I didn’t make a recording, but a couple of its songs have stuck with me through the years. Here, in honor of Jon, is one of them. Cheers, to an old friend and more importantly, a genuinely nice person. Rest well.

In Memoriam: David Cassidy

Like any number of kids around my age, I watched The Partridge Family on TV for some period of time in the early 70s (and likely caught reruns in syndication later). While the eight-year-old in me thinks the most memorable characters were Rueben Kincaid and Danny Partridge, the show was a star-maker for the guy who played Keith Partridge.

I certainly didn’t idolize David Cassidy in his heyday, nor did I particularly follow his fits and starts over the ensuing decades. In reading about him last night and today, I see the chafing over the image created for him and the short- and long-term toll that substance abuse took.  He wanted his own musical (rock?) career, but it seems odd to me that the path he chose toward that included covers of easy-listening hits like “Cherish” and “How Can I Be Sure” (great as the originals are).  I remember “Lyin’ To Myself” from 90; even though I only heard it a few times, it’s a pretty solid number.  But I wonder if that mini-comeback came about in large part because of Donny Osmond’s success the previous year with “Soldier of Love.”

I concede that the Partridge Family was mostly a vehicle for great session musicians to do their thing behind David’s vocals (while not a strong voice, it’s a lot better than that of other 70s teen idols, including his half-brother Shaun, Leif Garrett, and—shudder—John Travolta).  But there is some great bubblegum stuff here.  “I Think I Love You” is legit awesome, totally deserving to be a #1 hit.  I like “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” quite a bit; my favorite, though, is “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted,” perhaps due to its presence on side 1 of a certain K-Tel album.

When Martha and I were cleaning out the basement of her parents’ house five years ago, we came across a few PF albums—she and her sister had been among Cassidy’s legion of fans.  One of the LPs was At Home with Their Greatest Hits, which was also in my house back in the day (making it one of the very few points of intersection in Martha’s and my respective album collections).  My suspicion is that Dad bought it because Amy and I regularly watched the show.  I know I played it some in the first years we had it, but there aren’t many songs outside of their four biggest hits whose titles stir any memories.  The exception is “Echo Valley 2-6809”—I guess I was a numbers guy even back then?  It’s the outro that I really remember—a repeated recitation of the song title followed by, “I shoulda called that number”—although it sounds different when I listen to it today from what I thought I heard forty-plus years ago. (Edited to add: I meant to mention that in looking things up today that I discovered Rupert Holmes co-wrote “Echo Valley.”)

I’m certainly sorry for the demons that he couldn’t conquer.  I hope that ultimately he was able to appreciate his contributions to some really enjoyable tunes.  RIP, Mr. Cassidy.

I know I won’t be the only one to post about him in the next few days; I’ll include links to others as I come across them.

–Here’s jb.

–Here’s Len from 45 Ruminations Per Megabyte.

In Memoriam: June Foray, 1917-2017

This morning I learned of the passing of June Foray, one of the voices of my childhood.  I watched plenty of Looney Tunes and Bullwinkle back in the day (though not as much of the latter as maybe I should have).  She worked regularly with Stan Freberg (for instance, the maiden almost devoured in “St. George and the Dragonet”) and she was active well into her later years (for instance, Mulan).  She died just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday.  RIP, Ms. Foray.  You brought joy and laughter to so many.