I Can’t Close My Eyes

The week about to end has been Spring Break at my institution, but heading into it, I was wondering what things would look like on the other side. Events surrounding the spread of COVID-19 around the world seemed to begin quickening last week and have only sped up since. It became apparent by Monday evening that it was unlikely classes would be resuming as normal upon completion of the break, and late Wednesday afternoon, the news broke: three additional days of break, to be followed by remote instruction, at least through April 3. I’ve been thinking since about how I’m going to make this transition–it’s going to be unlike anything I’ve attempted before. The college has identified some potentially useful tools for us and is providing a modicum of training in their use. It’s now time to get after it, I suppose.

Other than a few errands on Monday around where I grew up and several trips to the grocery, I’ve tried to keep myself remote throughout the week. I’m teaching a class in mathematical modeling this semester, and the book we use contains a unit on disease modeling; in particular, there’s a section on a model for the 2003 SARS outbreak. Just a few weeks ago, the class and I implemented it using one of our software tools, and we saw the impact of quarantining: it did indeed “flatten the curve,” allowing the outbreak to last longer but at a lower intensity throughout. I think perhaps I should have, but I didn’t realize then we were heading toward this pandemic.

One thing I’ve come to realize this week is that, at least where I live, social distancing doesn’t necessarily mean staying cooped up in the house all day. With the impending arrival of spring, it’s getting to be nice enough now for lengthy walks around the neighborhood, with or without the dog. Martha and I were out Wednesday afternoon with Buddy when a song I haven’t heard in maybe a quarter-century popped into my head.

It’s from the Questionnaires, a band out of Nashville that had two LPs stiff before breaking up. “Window to the World” was the title song from the debut, released in 1989. I imagine the CD got placed in my hands by Greg, on one of our raids on the cutout bins. It’s possible you’re (more) familiar with the version that Shawn Colvin recorded for her 1994 album Cover Girl.

So why did I think of it this week? It’s foolish to speculate about how connections are made in my brain, but it is true that lots of folks’ windows to the world are changing radically right now, and we’re quite likely to see heroes rise (and fall, I fear) in the months to come.

Whenever One Door Closes

The first photo of me with my mother, ca. March 1964.

Which drew my attention first: Glen Campbell or Anne Murray? “Country Boy” or “Shadows in the Moonlight?”

I’m standing in the hallway around the corner, twenty feet from her room, taking a short break—maybe I’m on the phone with my wife or my sister. There’s another doorway right in front of me. On the other side of the threshold, a radio belonging to a wheelchair-bound woman with dementia is playing country songs that were popular back when she could hold on to her memories. She must be quite hard of hearing as well, since the aides are keeping the music turned up LOUD for her about ten hours every day.

Mom’s been at Dover Manor for a few days, and she’s still thoroughly angry with me. Before long, she’ll move three doors down the hall, on the other side of the blaring radio, to a corner room in the front of the building, one of the only singles in the whole place. Its previous resident has just passed on.

I head back to her current room. Her roommate’s TV is tuned into the Hallmark Channel—it’s the second week of December, time for one feel-good Christmas movie after another—but Mom isn’t the slightest bit interested. 

Continue reading “Whenever One Door Closes”

I Only Like Dreaming All The Day Long

On Wednesday evening, while Martha and I were walking the dog, my high school friend Bill texted me a pleasant surprise:

That would be 19-year-old yours truly, hanging out in 220 Clay Hall, sometime in his freshman spring semester, 1983 (that’s probably about as big as I ever let my hair grow out, by the way). Bill and Tony, another HS classmate, drove down to visit me a couple of times that year, and clearly Bill brought a camera with him once. The photo, charming as it is, was re-discovered this week by Bill’s mom. I’d long forgotten how full the walls around my bed were that year. The two laminated posters to my left had been HS graduation gifts from yet another classmate (if you squint, perhaps you can tell the lower one is a Ziggy poster; she was a big fan). Was I busy with calculus HW, or my research paper on Sikhism? I don’t know, but note the clear evidence that I used a dictionary at least once while in college!

Then yesterday on the way to work, I heard a song on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave that also took me back to that room, right around this time of year. Men at Work’s “Be Good Johnny” was never released as a third single from Business As Usual here in the U.S, but TM Stereo Rock, the vendor supplying WLAP-FM’s automated playlist, added it for a few weeks anyway. I assume that the label decided against putting it out after recognizing that Cargo was almost ready to go? Granted, “Overkill” is easily Men at Work’s best single, but in the alternative world that resides in my head, “Be Good Johnny” peaked at #24 on the Hot 100 just as “Overkill” made its debut in mid-April…

Half a Lifetime Ago

There are fourteen variations on a Gregorian calendar–January 1 occurs on each day of the week in two forms (one without a Leap Day, one with). It almost always takes twenty-eight years to run through a “calendar cycle;” that is, with exceptions around most turns-of-centuries, any given date will land on each day of the week four times in any twenty-eight year span, with some version of a 5-6-11-6 pattern of years between occurrences, repeating from cycle to cycle.

Today I’m starting my third trip though a calendar cycle. I was born the Thursday after the Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; it’s pleasing enough to be able to say that “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was #1 when I made my debut. The Top 40 from two days later has lots of names and bands recognizable even now to people roughly my age, if not quite as many memorable songs.

Twenty-eight years later, I was in my last semester in grad school, trying to find a job. The #1 song then was a cultural touchstone of sorts, I suppose: “I’m Too Sexy,” by Right Said Fred. The chart has some other notable tracks–“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”– but there’s also plenty there I wasn’t giving the slightest attention (I might be looking at you, Color Me Badd). That Thursday night, Greg and I went to a concert in the 1300+-seat Foellinger Auditorium, sitting on the south edge of the main quad at the University of Illinois. I was much more familiar with the opening act, but it was a great show from start to finish. Here are two songs we heard that night, one from each of the two acts on the bill.

According to the set list from the show, “My Wife and My Dead Wife” came at the end of the first encore. What I recall is the wholly affecting performance Hitchcock gave singing it, absolutely the most striking moment of the evening. That video I’ve embedded is pretty fun; the young woman who made it plays all three of the song’s characters.

I wish I could say I was going to a concert tonight, but the primary local opportunity is Kiss playing Rupp Arena–I could stand maybe ten minutes of that. (We’re going to see the Chieftains on Saturday, instead.) And alas, I’ve become too old to care much about what’s on the Hot 100 these days.

Expect posting to be lighter than normal for the next two-plus weeks. There’s something I’ve been wanting to try to get down in writing for a while now, so most blogging-time in the near term will be going toward that project instead. I can’t tell right now if you’ll see all, some, or none of the resulting work here eventually.

Some Things In Life You Cannot Measure By Degrees

Final odds and ends from the re-examination of a year long ago…

Here’s what I thought I’d be doing with Destination 89 back in January:

I’ll be looking thirty years into the past, occasionally for stuff that happened in the world and to me then…but more often for music—I’m anticipating having a roughly weekly feature that highlights a cool tune from 89.

This is the 35th post with the Destination 89 tag. I’m not sure that quite constitutes ‘roughly weekly,’ but things evolved a little over time, as I occasionally went the listicle route by periodically examining Hot 100 and Modern Rock Tracks charts, as well as plugging a few Forgotten Albums. That’s okay; I got to re-visit a larger number of songs than I expected (though plenty were not ‘cool’).

I suppose I hit all the personal events I planned on writing up, though. Grad school life, both academic and social, was obviously the focal point. The year taken as a whole was almost exactly the middle of my time in Illinois, and it was transitional in many respects (though it was the only year in grad school I didn’t move). I started off not knowing for certain I would be able to advance on to PhD work and ended reading papers with the professor who agreed to be my advisor. Getting back into bridge wound up being a much bigger part of my life than I ever would have thought.

Progress in math was measurable but slow, too slow at times.  It would be several months into the new decade before I actually began tackling what turned out to be my dissertation work. Likewise, growth in bridge skills was often painfully incremental (and playing so much just might have impacted the pace of my graduate studies).

On the other hand, the unpredictable can happen, and quickly.  It might be a decently major health scare for a parent, or a whole new circle of close friends could form after getting invited to join a a group of grad students in physics and electrical engineering for a post-bridge trip to Steak ‘n Shake (though that didn’t happen until late January of 90).

My favorite song as the year ended—and for some months after—was without a doubt “No Myth,” from Michael Penn. I wasn’t alone, apparently—it made #13 on the Hot 100, #5 on Album Rock Tracks, and #4 on Modern Rock Tracks. Maybe it was its use of the Chamberlin that caught and held our attention? I picked up March sometime in very late 89/very early 90; it was probably the album I listened to most over the first half of the year. There’ll be a couple other songs from it in upcoming Modern Rock Tracks posts.

1989 was an hour shorter for me than other years, as it had begun in IL on Central Time but was ending back home in the Eastern Time portion of KY. I spent much of the last couple of days of the decade reading James Gleick’s Chaos. I imagine I rung in 90 with my parents, maybe my sister too, if she was home.  HS and/or college friends were perhaps too far scattered and busy with life by this time to conjure up a gathering.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed mapping out and writing up the posts of Destination 89, but I won’t be doing anything thematically similar for 90 (or any other year) as we head into 2020.  To be honest, my muse has struggled a bit these last few months; I’ve cut back on the PastBlast posts recently and may well continue to do so. We’ll just have to see where she leads going forward. I definitely have a few projects in mind, but I’m going to try not to force anything.

Thanks to everyone reading this, and to anyone who stopped by, liked a post, and/or commented in 2019. I’m truly flattered that you find what I have to say interesting enough to visit. Happy New Year to us all.

Much Better Than Christmas

This song features jingle bells and repeatedly mentions the holiday many of us celebrate on December 25, but it’s hardly a Christmas song. I guess I’d call it an ode about possibly unrequited love/lust?

“Blow Me Up,” by the now-unknown Will and the Bushmen, is one of the many delightful tunes tossed my way via the friendship I struck up with Greg, now almost thirty years ago; it wound up on a favorite mix tape I made a year or so later. I find it catchy as hell, but it’s (to me) shockingly obscure today.

Will Kimbrough’s just about three months younger than I. According to his Wikipedia page, he hangs out in Nashville these days, writing, recording and producing. While I don’t think Kimbrough’s ever really broken through, it feels like he’s living his dream.

The year that Greg and I roomed together, Will and the Bushmen released their followup and final album, Blunderbuss. Greg, forever aspiring to completism with regard to the artists in his CD collection, had to pick it up. I assume the first track, “D.C. to Moscow,” was written right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. It’s a fairly political song–the chorus, such as it is, goes, “D.C.’s turning into Moscow/Moscow’s turning into D.C.” We laughed about that line at the time.

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.

SotD: The Carpenters, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft”

Like just about every kid, I had bumps and bruises, scrapes and scabs growing up. I was pretty fast and loved to race, but otherwise wasn’t athletic or especially coordinated. There were a goodly number of children within a year or two of me in our neighborhood, our back yard was large, and my grandparents lived on a small farm about ten miles away—it feels like I was outdoors plenty, especially in my pre-high school years. With that, though, always comes the risk of getting hurt.

I can think of a couple of incidents where I completely lucked out in avoiding serious injury. Our house was close to the corner of Bedinger Ave. and Plum St.; Plum ran entirely downhill. One summer afternoon not too long after we moved to Walton—let’s say it was in 73, which would have made me 9 years old—I was riding my one-speed red bicycle down Plum. At the bottom was a dead end into a grassy field, with a sharp right onto Catalina Dr. Whether out of a sense of adventure or recklessness (or both), I found myself going too fast to take the turn or stop. As I left the street, my bike and I turned a somersault through the air. The bike and I separated, and I landed on my back. After a few seconds of verifying there were no major issues, I sprung up and slowly wheeled my bike up the hill. I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, of course.

A second close call happened a year or two later, at my grandparents’ farm in Union. They let a local farmer keep cows in one of their fields, and the loft in the barn was used for storing hay. My cousin Alan also lived close by, and there were several occasions when he would be out there at the same time as my sister and I. One time when the three of us found ourselves at loose ends, we climbed up into the loft, which had a trap door near the center of the floor. We discovered the door open and began horsing around, pretending to push one another toward the hole. Except that Amy and Alan took it a little too far with me. Down I went; I tried to grab onto the floor as I sailed through, but that just altered my momentum enough to land on my back hard on the packed dirt floor. Again, I was able to get up and walk away with nothing more than some soreness. That was the end of playing in the loft, though I don’t think we got in particular trouble over it.

My luck ran out 42 years ago today. I’ve mentioned a time or two before that I suffered a broken left wrist on 11/5/77, but to date I’ve elided exactly how it happened. Today you get the embarrassing details. 

My sister had turned 12 about a month earlier; it could be that one of her gifts that year was a skateboard (she was the family athlete)—regardless, Amy and at least one friend from down the street had one by this point. That Saturday was a warm and cloudy day, and a few of us wound up in my next-door neighbor’s driveway with the skateboards. One thing led to another and, in spite of my inexperience, I found myself standing on two skateboards, one for each foot. Boards started rolling, balance got lost, I fell backward and tried to brace my fall—you can tell how this story ends. 

Mom was soon apprised of my mischief, and off we took to Covington (the hospitals hadn’t migrated away from the river yet). It took quite a while, but eventually an x-ray confirmed what was obvious (waiting for the orthopedist, another doctor sauntered by, lifted my arm, and muttered, “Yes, it’s broken,” before wandering off). Fortunately, it was a clean break, so I was casted for the minimum time, about four weeks. I kept the cast, full of autographs from my classmates, for many more years than I should have.

Since it was Saturday, I had an AT40 to catch at 8pm; we made it home in time. I’d started a new chart design three weeks earlier (you’ll see one of those later in the week), but that got cast aside (no pun intended) that evening. Apparently there was time enough to sit in front of the typewriter in our basement before Casey came on:

As I noted when I first wrote about this experience, the song that always springs to mind was that show’s opener, the penultimate trip to the show by the Carpenters. We’ll mark the anniversary of my folly with the full seven-plus minute LP version. 

Dream How Wonderful Your Life Will Be

With apologies to William Martin Joel:

 

Dear Ben,

Good morning, son, time to open your eyes…

When you were very young, Mom and I would take turns trying to rock you to sleep. Usually we’d have a CD going in the background, one of which consisted of instrumental versions of lullabies. “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)” was among them, and believe it or not it’s how I began to appreciate that song so much.

That moment when you finally closed your eyes for the night occasionally brought tears to mine. I never fully understood why this was so, but maybe it was because I suddenly felt separated from you.

 

Good morning, son, now it’s time to wake…

As you got older, your bedtime ritual changed. When you became too big to want to be held, Mom began singing to you as you lay in bed. As you know, three songs quickly became your favorites. Two of them were choruses of early 20th century tunes her mother had sung to her, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Shine On, Harvest Moon.” The third used the melody of “Kum Ba Yah,” with personalized lyrics.  Mom and I continued alternating nights getting you settled in, so I learned to sing them as well.

There was a period around the time you were six when, after I was done singing, you would ask me to tell you something about my childhood. I talked about friends I had, trips my family took, and probably brief versions of some stories that have wound up in this space. Perhaps to some extent, your inquiries of years ago led to me getting many other things down in writing for you.

 

Good morning, son, now it’s time to dream…

Eventually you became too old for the nightly songfest—lately, you’ve even been staying up later than we have. And now that process we undertook for all those years unspools. Today, this morning, you’re opening your eyes, awaking, and heading out to pursue your dreams in another place, the college you’ve chosen to help you grow in knowledge, in wisdom, and in taking on responsibility. Those ambitions have morphed over the past dozen years–sort of–from inventor to engineer to lab scientist; it will be fascinating to discover what you’re thinking your life will be about four years from now.

The music of this world is often in a minor key–and has too much lately veered into dissonance and cacophony–but I am so excited to see what you can do to make it all sound a little sweeter.

Godspeed, Ben, but don’t forget:

I will never be far away…you’ll always be a part of me…that’s how you and I will be.

Love forever,
Dad

P.S. Thanks for asking us to sing to you last night.

SotD: The Bird and the Bee, “My Love”

Just learned that The Bird and the Bee have released a new album featuring, of all things, covers of first-generation Van Halen tunes (when I heard the new take on “Jamie’s Cryin'” last night, I thought that voice sounded an awful lot like Inara George’s).  This isn’t the first tribute album they’ve done; just maybe I need to go back and check out what they did with Hall & Oates material nine years ago.

In the spring of 2009 I had some release time to attend a class on mathematical modeling in the biological sciences at the University of Kentucky (honestly, it was a super fun experience). At the time I was on a kick of listening to the UK public radio station, which features “rock and roots” music (think World Cafe with extra blues thrown in), on my drives back and forth to Lexington.  “My Love,” from the then-current Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future, caught my ear a few times that semester, enough to look for it on YouTube. I don’t know now if I found the quite charming Official Video then, but I did discover the marvel shared below, apparently created for a film school assignment. Glad to see that it’s still available for viewing. I’ll go on record as giving the clip a thumbs-up, but fair warning: the highs are high and the lows are low.