Monday, October 31, 2011

No. 948 – Nobody’s Fault But Mine

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Presence
Year: 1976
Definitive Version: Destroyer, 1977

As you might know, Destroyer was a bootleg from Cleveland (Richfield) during Led Zeppelin’s ill-fated 1977 tour. If you’re a Zeppelin fan, you owe it to yourself to get a copy. For just about every song that’s represented on this tape that made my list, the definitive version of the song is on this album. You can find it fairly easily on the Web.

I got a taped copy from a friend of Scott’s who seemed to have lots of music resources in January 1987 shortly after I went back to Northwestern. So I can’t help but to think about the winter quarter; I listened to it practically nonstop—in my room, on my Walkman while riding the L downtown, in my car while driving over town for various assignments.

Naturally, I’ll have a lot more to say about that very up-and-down time in the months ahead, and I’ll leave you with this story today, which seems appropriate given the song title.

I’ve never told anyone this embarrassing story for reasons that will be abundantly clear, but I was taken for $20 in a shell game (find the ball and win) on the L one day, back when they let this activity take place on the trains. I was listening to this tape while heading downtown for a class in March, I think, just before my breakup with Beth. I was sure I couldn’t miss. Like they say in The Sting; the only thing that matters is the greed of the mark. My greed wasn’t so much financially, although an extra $20 is always useful. It was in being right, in showing everyone how I was smarter than anyone else. I’ll show ‘em.

I sure did. I showed them I’m an idiot.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

No. 949 – Rubina’s Blue Sky Happiness

Performer: Joe Satriani
Songwriter: Joe Satriani
Original Release: The Extremist
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

The Extremist came out right as the second year of the Flint Journal’s coed softball team was wrapping up. Right after that, the team entered its first MESS tournament. MESS is (or was) a weekend media softball tournament that brought together teams from all of the big Michigan papers to Traverse City. Dave and I drove up together, and we stayed cheap in a good old-fashioned cement cinder-block dorm room at Northwestern Michigan, which was right across the street from the softball complex.

We did all right but were eliminated from trophy contention in a tough third-game loss Saturday and then blew a heartbreaker Sunday to finish out of the money (no trophy) Sunday morning.

I repaired a little of my rep Sunday after being horsewhipped on the putt-putt golf course Friday night—with Bill videotaping the charade for all eternity. First, I got the game-tying hit in the 6th inning Sunday (but promptly gave up 6 runs in the 7th; it was a down year for me). Then I tied for team honors in the home-run competition after all of the Sunday games. How many did I hit? As many as anyone else on the team, and the number is more than one.

OK, I hit two. Hmm, maybe I need to do something about my swing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

No. 950 – Desert Rose

Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriters: Eric Johnson, Vince Mariani
Original Release: Ah Via Musicom
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: None

In the fall of 1991, I saw Rush for the second time in a week—this time in Cleveland. I came over from Flint and was going to meet my dad coming up from Columbus, and I couldn’t wait to see the warm-up act.

Eric Johnson blew me away the first time I saw him warm up for Rush, and after listening to Ah Via Musicom pretty solidly for a week, I was ready. There was just one problem, which didn’t reveal itself until we left from our meeting point on I-71 to the dear departed Richfield Coliseum: I had lost my ticket to the show. Dad had mailed it to me in case we weren’t able to meet up, and I had no idea where it was. My guess was I left it at home in Grand Blanc.

Because this was before Ticketbastard automated its system, which had been great for getting tickets, as I will relate at a later point, the ticket office had no record of the transaction, so I had to essentially rebuy my ticket. OK, no problem. We made it inside just as Johnson was hitting the stage.

It was a carbon copy of the set the week before, in which he played almost the entirety of Ah Via Musicom and nothing from Tones, and I was loving it. Desert Rose is the song I remember the most, because it was the first one that I had memorized most of the words to already.

The show ended up being one of my all-time favorites because I was into the whole thing, all 3+ hours, and not just the main act. And the lost ticket? It was in my car the whole time; I found it years later under the driver’s side seat.

Friday, October 28, 2011

No. 951 – Soulshine

Performer: The Allman Brothers Band
Songwriter: Warren Haynes
Original Release: Where It All Begins
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

First things first: Was that some kind of ballgame last night? Unbelieveable, as someone once unfortunately said in a Flint Journal headline …

As I’ve noted, you have to be judicious when passing out the stories if a number of songs relate to the same experience. Consequently, I’m trying to tell longer stories in chronological order as best I can: This happened first, this next, etc. so you have the proper context at the outset.

Sometimes that doesn’t work, and this is one such occasion. Memorial weekend in 1994 was epic in the literal sense of the word. In the span of four days, I saw Pink Floyd twice, the Indy 500, a Cleveland Indians game and drove from Flint to Cleveland to Muncie to Indianapolis to Columbus and back. Oh yeah, I also found a new apartment while in Columbus, because the Thursday I left was my last day at the Flint Journal. That’s a pretty crazy weekend, no?

Needless to say, I have a lot of stories to come off of that one, but I’m going to dive right into the middle—the Indy 500 BBQ in Muncie at my brother Scott’s apartment. The BBQ the year before was so great, we just had to repeat it, even though Scott’s post-graduation downtown apartment wasn’t as conducive for a confab as his rental ranch house had been the year before. That didn’t stop us from having the proper food, drink and pageantry (complete with balloon release).

We added a couple of new features for 1994, but one facet of the previous year that I continued was to stop at a record store in Muncie and buy some new music for the outing. The choice in 1994 was Where It All Begins, and Soulshine was the song of the day.

It was a perfectly warm sunny Saturday as we hung out in the side yard with the Allman Brothers floating down from the speakers Scott moved to the windows of his second-floor abode. There’s nothing like a good slide guitar as you stand in Winner’s Circle and quaff the post-BBQ victory milk (with all-important spillage), I always say. Sweet soulshine, for sure.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No. 952 – Love or Confusion

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Are You Experienced?
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None

As you might imagine, I was pretty surprised when I got the call from my sister saying that she wanted to come visit me for a weekend. Why the heck would anyone want to leave Chicago to spend a weekend in Flint, particularly in the early summer? OK, so when you have been only one place for a while, anyplace that’s different is good. I was glad to see her after the disappointment of moving from Chicago coincidentally right after she had moved there.

So Jin flew into Flint’s weensy airport and crashed on my mustard yellow hide-a-bed couch, and we hung out but not before we drove by the former Holiday Inn where—depending on whom you believe—Keith Moon either dove into the empty swimming pool or drove a car into the swimming pool on his 21st birthday in 1967, which resulted in a companywide Who ban.

Other than that historical tidbit, I didn’t really know anything about the Flint area besides the putt-putt golf course by my gym and the antique stores in Holly. I’m pretty certain that even if pressed I couldn’t tell you where we ate that weekend, although I’m pretty sure we went out. My dining table wasn’t really conducive to have two people sit at it, unless I moved it into the living-room area.

What I do remember clearly about that weekend was Jin opening the curtains on every window in my apartment to let in more sunlight (even though my apartment was by the walkway to get to other apartments) and then sitting around listening to Hendrix. Jin wanted me to make a “best of” tape, but she wasn’t sure she knew songs by titles, so I would play a snippet of each one, and she would go ‘yay’ or ‘nay.’ I remember her basically saying ‘yay’ to every song from Are You Experienced? No, it isn’t actually a greatest hits album; it only sounds like it is.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No. 953 – Overdrive

Performer: Foo Fighters
Songwriters: Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett
Original Release: One By One
Year: 2002
Definitive Version: None

When Jin and her new guy, Paul, moved in together, that put a serious crimp in my plans. By this time, I knew I was definitely going to quit the Dispatch in early 2003 to begin work on my book on minor-league baseball. Originally, I was going to move out to Los Angeles into my sister’s back bedroom and essentially be the domestic to earn my keep while I did my writing.

Although it made sense financially, LA was hardly an ideal location. Most of the best baseball-research collections were in the East, including most significantly Cooperstown and The Sporting News archives in St. Louis, as well as a recently discovered treasure trove: the Cleveland Public Library. LA had the Olympic archives, which had a few things, and the LA public library was massive, albeit not baseball-focused. Still, I was willing to give it a shot.

But I knew in the fall of 2002 when One By One came out, that the last thing my sister and her new guy would want is big brother lurking about. Even though they both said all the right things—and perhaps truly did believe what they said about having me come out—there was no question that it would be best for everyone to find other arrangements.

The solution was obvious: Move to Cleveland for a year to blow through all of the books, guides and microfilm that were there and then reassess the situation to see whether after another year, it then was the right time to head West.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No. 954 – Pissant

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Cherub Rock single
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

It seems crazy that a band would have enough leftovers after only two albums to be able to put out an entire album of “B sides,” but Smashing Pumpkins was that band. I was grateful to have new material again a year after Siamese Dream came out, even if it technically wasn’t new.

This song is the hardest of the bunch, and it hit me at just the right time. When Pisces Iscariot was released in the fall of 1994, I had initiated the family rift by disclosing to my dad and stepmother that Debbie and I had decided to go from being friends to lovers, and to top it off, my first love had left me in shambles. I’m talking, of course, about baseball. The Strike and cancellation of the 1994 postseason, which would have started the day Pisces Iscariot came out, meant that I would have no sports-entertainment release that fall. I still hadn’t rekindled my love for Ohio State football at that point, and hockey was underreported in Columbus (this being six years before the Blue Jackets came along). That was a pretty heavy one-two punch.

So, as you can imagine, I carried a lot of anger with me as the leaves started to change and drop. And I was definitely receptive to music to thrash about to when I was alone in my apartment.

Monday, October 24, 2011

No. 955 – Guitar and Pen

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Who’s Next
Year: 1978
Definitive Version: None

My sister, Jin, and I have very different music philosophies if not tastes. She is far more adventurous and open-minded than I am. Consequently, she’s way more hip than I’ll ever be.

No better example of that is the divergent paths we took after discovering The Who at about the same time in the fall of 1979. I went from The Who to Jimi Hendrix to Led Zeppelin to Yes. She went to Cheap Trick, Rush and AC/DC—all up-to-the-minute current bands at the time. My bands, not so much. Heck, even our first Who albums told the tale: I bought The Kids Are Alright soundtrack—essentially a live greatest hits collection; she bought Who Are You—their latest album.

So I can’t hear this song and not think of Jin, and how she’d play something for me that she had found and thought I would like—only to have me typically dismiss it out of the gate. But few are the times that I didn’t eventually come around. Little sisters can be a pain, but sometimes they are smarter than you are and do, in fact, know best.

OK, in my sister’s case, it’s more than “sometimes.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No. 956 – Neurotica

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Roll The Bones
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

Flint was—and I suppose still is—an excellent hockey town. When the birth of the Colonial Hockey League was announced in 1991, it meant that hockey would return to Flint after a one-year absence, and no one was more geeked than Bill, who was by far the biggest hockey fan in the Journal sports department. He’d be on the beat when it started that fall. At the time the first puck dropped, I had Roll the Bones on heavy rotation at home.

I hope Bill saved his notes, because an accounting of the inaugural season of the Flint Bulldogs would make quite a book. I went to a number of games that year—both at home and on the road—and the entertainment level was as high as the quality of hockey was low. Think Slap Shot, minus the championship at the end, and you’d about have it. The team was as motley a collection of Land of the Misfit Toys rejects that ever were assembled, and the team owner and league founder, was the Skippy in the Box.

They couldn’t skate, couldn’t play, were poorly coached and loaded with goons—and we loved ‘em. I still have carefully preserved the team set of hockey cards that they released that season—with the players all looking painfully uncomfortable as if aware of their shortcomings in front of the camera.

The ringleader was Jacques Mailhot, whose hands weren’t made for stick-handling. Bill conducted a preseason interview where Jacques talked about fighting—his specialty—and he said something along the lines of when he and a guy from the other team were going to fight, Jacques would ask him, “Do you want to dance with me?” Except, he said it in such a thick French-Canadian accent that, as Bill said, it came out “Do you vahnt to DAHNCE wit me?”

Since that time, a hockey fight has forever come to be known as a “dahnce,” and there was much dahncing—and rejoicing—that first season. Needless to say, a few stories will be forthcoming.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

No. 957 – Helen of Troy

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Phil Johnstone, Robert Plant
Original Release: Now and Zen
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

When I joined the news copy desk at the Flint Journal, I was one of two people who were younger than 30 and three who were younger than 40. Most of the rest of the desk had been in the game almost longer than I had been alive—grizzled vets.

I was treated with kid gloves (ahem). I started at about the same time as an elderly woman, and we were essentially tasked with learning the system and not getting too much in the way.

Well, that didn’t play with me. I pride myself on being a fast-learner, and I was moving from an editing system that was, shall we say, arcane to a system called ATEX. It was like going from a DOS computer to a Mac. How easy is that? By the second week, I was being thrown inside wire pages to design and then edit and send. By the next, I started working weekend shifts, where you have to be able to pull your own weight (and, at times, a little of others’).

Meanwhile, the other newbie was still learning where the headline-fit button was.

The staff appreciated my quick study, and in return they taught me to drink. Welcome to Flint, pal.

Friday, October 21, 2011

No. 958 – Breed

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Kurt Cobain
Original Release: Nevermind
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

After I had publicly pledged allegiance to Pearl Jam in the spring of 1992 to much approval from Robb, he made me a tape of Nevermind. Unlike Pearl Jam, of whom I had been dimly aware but didn’t know their music, I knew Nirvana. You pretty much would have had to be living in a cave to not know Smells Like Teen Spirit. I was living in a cave, and I still knew it.

I didn’t like it. I was reacting to everyone else piling on the bandwagon to the point where I was already in backlash-mode. But really it was pure ignorance; I didn’t know what I was talking about.

But when Robb made me the tape I was ready to give it a chance, and I have a clear memory of sitting in my car as this song came on as the rain cascaded down at the first Grand Blanc co-ed league softball game of the year. It should have been a rainout, but the league was run by, shall we say, not the sharpest knives in the drawer (and I’ll definitely have more to say on this topic at a later date). So there I sat listening to Nirvana, awaiting the rain to subside, which it finally did after a looooong delay.

I still didn’t like it. I got why people were into Nevermind, and I certainly didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it a bit too abrasive. That seems silly in retrospect, doesn’t it? But I would like to remind everyone that when Nevermind was released, Rolling Stone gave it only three stars, so I wasn’t the only one who didn’t genuflect on first impression. (I still have the magazine to prove it.)

Of course, I came around—and Rolling Stone later named Nevermind the album of the decade. First impressions don’t have to be the only impressions.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

No. 959 – Friends

Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriter: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Tones
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: None

By the time Christmas rolled around in 1991, I must have been home five times in the previous three months due to one thing or another going on.

Everyone was there for Christmas. Scott was at Ball State, Jin was in Chicago, and I was in Flint, so it was no trouble to get together. I have a crystal clear vision of the three of us in the living room around all the stacked up loot from the morning before, a fire crackling in the fireplace, listening to this song. I had found Eric Johnson that fall, and Scott got me Tones for Christmas, so we were giving it a spin. It was late afternoon, and the setting sun along with the fire and lit Christmas tree gave the West-facing room a yellowish glow.

I don’t remember the conversation, but I remember the feeling. It was comfortable, and I began to entertain thoughts that I could go home again.

This realization was something of a revelation, considering that I couldn’t wait to leave Columbus when I graduated from high school nearly a decade earlier. But most of my friends still were there, and I was seeing them more frequently than I had in years; and my family was there, and I was closer to them than I had been before. Staying at dad’s place was a big stress-reliever compared with staying at my mom’s, and it was fun to be with Matt and Casey.

When I got back to Flint, I sent a letter to the Dispatch sports department, inquiring about openings, but nothing came of it. The timing wasn’t right yet.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No. 960 – Eyes Without a Face

Performer: Billy Idol
Songwriters: Billy Idol, Steve Stevens
Original Release: Rebel Yell
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: None

After my sophomore year in college, it was evident that I needed a new car. The Fart, my mom’s 1971 VW squareback (she bought a new car in 1980), was struggling to make those commutes from Wabash to home, so in May 1984, I got through the Bank of Dad a Mazda GLC.

I was really proud to get it. I had researched exactly what kind of car to get and the GLC seemed right: cheap, solid, good. I dubbed it the Magic Mazda, and it was magic all right: It constantly made my money magically disappear. I replaced the alternator twice and went through three, count’em THREE, transmission replacements before I mercifully took it out back and shot it, so to speak. It was in fact a lemon.

But in the summer of 1984, when this song was everywhere on the radio, I loved it. But what to do with the VW? There seemed only one reasonable solution—give it to my sister, who had turned 16 in January. I concocted a treasure hunt where we drove all over town to get various clues before we ultimately cruised down the street to my grandparents’ house, where the treasure was parked in the driveway, red and gleaming with a bow on top and a Happy Birthday sign on the side.

“I’m getting The Fart?!” she exclaimed. Yup. No give backs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

No. 961 – Space Cowboy

Performer: The Steve Miller Band
Songwriters: Steve Miller, Ben Sidran
Original Release: Brave New World
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents The Steve Miller Band, 2003

Sometime shortly after I moved in with Laurie in 2005, she bought the King Biscuit album, and I loved it right away. I didn’t get into this song right away, so when I finally added it to my iTunes library, it was just in time to run for the border.

Our trip to Mexico at the end of March 2008 was the best vacation I’ve taken to this point. We went to San Miguel where Laurie’s aunt has a winter place, and it was everything I needed but don’t usually do on vacation: eat, drink and hang out. Too many times I feel obligated to see as much as I can in the short window that I’ll be somewhere—particularly if it’s someplace new. Not so this time. We still did a few things, and that was enough.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this trip in the weeks and months ahead, so I’ll just leave you with being a space cowboy. To get to San Miguel, you have to fly to Leon via Dallas. As if the 10 hours that you spend in the air, making connections, going through security and whatnot isn’t along enough day for you, then you have the 90-minute drive through the high-plains Mexican desert to look forward to.

The Leon airport was as laid back as American airports have become uptight. You disembark the airplane down the stairs on the tarmac, just like the old days here and file into the airport. You get your passport checked and then put your bag through a quick screener (like you do with your carry-on bag here). Then you play Mexican roulette. You push a button at a stop-go sign: If the light comes up red, you lose. You get to have your bag searched. Laurie pushed and it came up green, so off we went.

Laurie’s aunt had a shuttle waiting for us, and the driver had our names on a placard. We piled in with six other people and headed off.

And make no mistake: You’re in the middle of a desert, all scrubby with few signs of life after you leave Leon. The few towns we went through were maybe one stop sign (no lights), and because the rainy season was months in the rearview mirror, the countryside was a sea of brown, scrub green and maybe a little yellow punctuating the drab. The rivers and even lakes were either totally dry or about three more weeks away from it.

Finally, we came around a corner and there was a multicolored jewel dancing on the desert: San Miguel, elevation 6,280 feet—exactly 1,000 feet above the Mile High City.

And we still weren’t close to being done with our first day.

Monday, October 17, 2011

No. 962 – Sober

Performer: Tool
Songwriters: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Paul D’Amour, Danny Carey
Original Release: Undertow
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

The Flint Journal when I was there was an early PM paper, which meant that it hit the streets shortly after noon. Because of print runs, that meant that sports needed to be off the paste-up floor by 9 a.m. weekdays. So the shift for sports copy editors started at midnight.

With no one else in the building except for a security guard till 6 a.m., we needed something to break up the silence, so we would put the TV on till the sun rose. A lot of the time—particularly during the Stanley Cup playoffs—we’d have a late game on the tube, but at least as much of the time, we’d be tuned in to SportsCenter.

In 1993, however, at 3 a.m., there was only one place the TV would be: tuned to Beavis & Butthead on MTV. This was when the show was brand new and just before it was taken off for a while after the kid burned down his family’s house—when the show really was cutting edge. It quickly became the Official Comedy of the Flint Journal Sports Department.

Before B&B was Alternative Nation, which would play videos from the hip groups: Pearl Jam (when they still made videos), Smashing Pumpkins, The Breeders, et. al. We might have that for a song or two before the mayhem began. Although I’m certain this wasn’t actually the case, it certainly seemed as though the last video on Alternative Nation—every night—was Sober. I can’t hear this song without mentally playing the B&B theme song when it’s over; it was that automatic.

Heh heh heh heh, Tool.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No. 963 – Amber Cascades

Performer: America
Songwriter: Dewey Bunnell
Original Release: 1976
Year: Hideaway
Definitive Version: None

When I saw America live—my second concert—on Easter Sunday in 1976, America rolled out this song, which was the only song I didn’t know. There was a reason for it: It was a brand new song. Hideaway had just come out literally the week before. (I checked.) But I had no way of knowing this at the time, being too young and too far away from any to start hanging out at record stores.

Actually, this song doesn’t really make me think of the concert as much as a few others songs do but of camping out in the fall with the Boy Scouts. I was pretty much a bust out as a Boy Scout. I made it to Second Class, but I didn’t have the drive to go any further. When my dad moved out in the summer of 1976, mom pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. Being 12 and tired of being told what to do, I didn’t want to do anything that involved hard work or discipline.

But I loved the camping and hiking. In fact, one memorable campout—I can’t remember where—I graduated to unofficial Firestarter, First Class by starting with a single match a campfire that lasted the entire weekend, which required maintaining the hot coals and reigniting it the next morning.

I had some great experiences in my troop, including being an usher at Ohio State football games for a season, but the most memorable one was at the huge Bicentennial jamboree at Scioto Downs racetrack south of Columbus int eh summer of 1976. My best friend, Marty, and I shared a tent, and I recall we took a lot of pipe from the senior troop leaders about our tent, which sagged like a hammock. If Charlie Brown had been so inclined to be a Boy Scout, his tent would’ve looked like ours. Hey, it’s standing, right?

As luck would have it, a gigantic storm came up during the afternoon while most of the troop was at the racetrack for some show while Marty and I hung out in the tent. It blew and swayed and ballooned like a parachute but stayed standing. When the wind finally died down, we went out to explore things, and the entire campsite was decimated: The Charlie Brown tent was the only one that survived.

So Marty and I went out and covered everyone else’s stuff as the rain soaked the open field. We raised as many tents as we could, but there was no way around it: Most others—including the senior scouts—return to wet sleeping bags.

Ours were nice and dry. And … what was that you said about our tent, exactly?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

No. 964 – Atlantic City

Performer: Bruce Springsteen
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Original Release: Nebraska
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: The studio version

When I went on my sojourn through the heartland in 1989, it seemed appropriate to bring along Nebraska: stark music for a stark countryside. And it was particularly stark in some places. By taking the back roads, I saw up close the effects of policy that benefited big corporate agriculture and why there was a need for Farm Aid.

In Iowa along one stretch, every third house had been abandoned, sometimes even more frequently. And the abandonment had been recent, because the houses still were in fairly decent condition with not too much overgrowth yet.

One house in particular compelled me. It was on an S curve where you bent around the white house. It was still in good shape, roof intact, no broken windows. It was nearly surrounded by tall, lush corn crops. It wasn’t the land that failed that farmer, that’s for sure.

When I was coming back from Colorado Springs, I made it a point to stop at the house and take a closer look to see what’s what. A door in the back was unlocked, and although the interior started to show wear and tear, and what I remember the most was how stifling it was upstairs where the hot air couldn’t escape.

Evidence of the family that until recently had lived there remained in bits and pieces, beyond the thin white drapes that still hung at each window hopefully awaiting the master’s return. My brother Scott had this Choo-choo train when he was a kid that would play basic tunes, such as Jingle Bells or Freres Jacques, in high-pitched screeching train whistles. Well, the yellow record from that train was lying on the floor in one of the bedrooms in the farmhouse. It was as if the family up and left so quickly that the kid (or the parents) there didn’t even have time to grab all of his or her train records.

I kept the record as an artifact and a reminder that although “maybe everything that dies some day comes back,” there was no going back for this family farm.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No. 965 – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

Performer: Otis Redding
Songwriters: Steve Cropper, Otis Redding
Original Release: Single, The Dock of the Bay
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

I got an internship at YMCA’s national headquarters in the summer of 1987 while taking a quarter off at Northwestern, and it was my first journalism-aligned gig. I loved taking the L downtown to work each morning; I felt like a real Chicagoan.

The job was a great learning experience, and the fact that I was the only single guy surrounded by a half-dozen single women in their 20s and 30s was a definite bonus.

One day, one of the women, Cindy, suggested a group outing to Jukebox Saturday Night, which was an oldies (read: ’50s) bar in Lincoln Park. You could tell you arrived when you reached the back end of the T-bird that stuck out of the wall onto the sidewalk. Being one of the few single guys at the outing, I got a lot of attention. Good thing I did a passable twist. (My Dad’s love of Chuck Berry, et. al. finally paid off!)

This is one of the songs the DJ played with regularity. Granted, it’s not a ’50s song, but it definitely fits the milieu. It also was Sasha’s favorite song. I ended up mostly paired off with Sasha, who was a recently divorced 35-year-old. I wasn’t complaining, and when we ended up in her car later after she gave me a ride home, I was pledging allegiance to Otis Redding (among others).

I had just broken up with Beth the previous spring, and a summer rebound romance with an older woman was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Alas, I was the only one searching for such a prescription. Sasha had a kid, and after another hot date, she decided she didn’t want to expose him to someone who wasn’t potentially husband material. Being 23 and just getting started in the world, that clearly wasn’t me. Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean I had to like it.

Fortunately, it wasn’t awkward at work, and I mean that sincerely. I just moved on to the next cubicle. But that’s a story for another time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No. 966 – Only In Your Heart

Performer: America
Songwriter: Gerry Beckley
Original Release: Homecoming
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: None

You would think that if you document your life, you can remember everything correctly. I thought I could, but it turns out I have to build a written timeline. I have to confess an error, and—appropriately—it was under the song Got Me Wrong. The Cubs game in question took place in 1997, not 1996, although I’m sure I still was listening to Alice In Chains’ Unplugged at that time. I listened to that album A LOT after it came out, so the story is still appropriate to the song, maybe even moreso, considering I screwed up. Yes, I got me wrong. I’ll try not to let it happen again. (Remember that part about me being a perfectionist and a completist?)

America was as big a part of my childhood as any band—probably the biggest. The first real album that I bought was History: America’s Greatest Hits. My dad had the first album and Homecoming—their two best albums—on heavy rotation on Mom and Dad’s gigantic stereo. (Think: double-height coffee table, and you about have it). He wired the stereo to speakers that were in the basement, which was the play area for me, Jin and Scott. My dad got my grandfather’s pool table when we moved into our house on Darcann, and I can’t think of America—pick any song off the first five albums—without thinking about playing pool down in the basement.

The basement itself was ‘70s awesome: Bad red-and-black carpeting in the romper room, wood paneling above faux brick that would make the owners of a Cork and Cleaver green with envy. My dad had made these wood toy chests that were on wheels, and if they were ever full—meaning that toys weren’t scattered all over the floor—I’d bet it couldn’t have been for more than two weeks total during that time.

Jin said something funny to me the other day in Las Vegas: She declared almost out of the blue that she still liked America, and she wasn’t going to apologize for it. My take: America isn’t a band that you have to apologize for. They’re better than being a guilty pleasure.

My first album? The Jaws soundtrack. THAT you have to apologize for.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No. 967 – Entre Nous

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Permanent Waves
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: Snakes and Arrows Live, 2008

When Debbie and I moved to our apartment in Gahanna, we had a second bedroom, which was the guest room when we had company. It was actually a pretty sweet guest room, because the apartment was a double master suite. In other words, each bedroom had its own connected bedroom. My bedroom furniture went in there.

Otherwise, it was my fun room. It was where I put my baseball books and—later—my baseball paraphernalia, which began to expand at an exponential rate now that I was making more than I ever had before and was sharing expenses. It was where I had my Super Nintendo and later my desk and computer.

At the time, I ran through the middle portion of Rush’s back catalog, picking up Permanent Waves, Hemispheres and Farewell to Kings. I had those CDs on a lot while I’d go on a video-gaming binge, so, naturally, this song makes me think of preparing for another day at the Dispatch by matching wits with Bowser.

Funny thing though: I didn’t really like this song then. It was a bridge song that took you from the cool stuff at the beginning of the album to the cool stuff at the end—nothing special. But when Rush pulled this one out and gave it a go-through on their tour in 2007—the first time they played it live—it was like I was hearing it in a totally different light. Now I liked it. That’s happened to me with several songs that are on this list: I dismissed them for one reason or another at first. Timing is everything, even with music.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

No. 968 – The Dirty Jobs

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Quadrophenia
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: None

I got into Quadrophenia in a big way my sophomore year in college, which seems about right. After an up-and-down freshman year, I had an excellent sophomore year that, perhaps more than anything, cemented my love of Wabash.

I lived in a professor’s house off campus with two seniors that year. The professor was on sabbatical for the whole school year, and it was a sweet deal—not only less expensive than the dorms but much better. Because I got third choice on the bedrooms, I got to take the professor’s roll top desk in the formal living room as my workspace, and when I wasn’t on campus, I was camped out there.

By this time, I had discovered the VAX computer on campus, so I typed all my papers there. And I found that I could concentrate on my reading better at some hiding spot in the library, so most of my work at the rolltop desk consisted of three things: playing Strat-o-matic baseball games, sorting baseball cards or reading one of Beth’s excellently mushy love letters. All the while, I’d have on my headphones, which included an extension to reach all the way to the stereo in the family room with Quadrophenia (among other things) playing endlessly and blaring enough for anyone who walked by to hear it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No. 969 – Paint It, Black

Performer: The Rolling Stones
Songwriters: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards
Original Release: Aftermath
Year: 1966
Definitive Version: None

IN the early days of MTV, there was a trifecta of ’60s tunes that featured “stories” that involved riding roller coasters: Fire by Hendrix, Livin’ in the USA by Steve Miller and this song. So naturally I think of amusement parks when I hear this song.

I was a big roller-coaster aficionado back in the day. Growing up in Columbus meant that you had equal access to King’s Island, near Cincinnati, and Cedar Point, on Lake Erie. I liked Cedar Point better, but my best roller-coaster story took place at King’s Island in April 1979.

King’s Island, not two weeks before, opened The Beast, which at that time was the tallest, fastest, longest, baddest ride in the world. So when my Dad proposed taking the family to King’s Island, I brought my buddy Jim with an eye on one thing: Ride The Beast.

We did, twice, but that was pretty much all we did that day. The line to ride The Beast was—and I’m not making this up—3 hours long. It wound through an incredible number of carousels, and King’s Island had markers that told the tale: “2 hours from this point,” “1 hour from this point” and so on. But when you’re 14, what else are you going to do, ride the merry-go-round?

To make matters worse, King’s Island played top 40, which meant Disco, the entire time we were in line. Actually, the song I hear the most when I think of the line, because we must have heard it played a thousand times, was Knock on Wood, but Paint It, Black is a much better song, wouldn’t you say? Oh well. It could have been worse: It could have been raining. The ride itself? It was fantastic, of course, although I’d be hard-pressed to say it was worth 3 hours’ wait twice.

To commemorate our successful jaunt, Jim and I bought baseball caps that had The Beast logo (unchained claws ready to tear up a roller-coaster track) on the crest, and the next thing we know, we’re being interviewed by a Columbus TV Show (PM Columbus?) that was doing a story on The Beast. I can’t remember the name of the guy, but his schtick was a goofy bowtie (a la Gene Shalit), which he had on that day. We even made the cut, so that was pretty cool.

Fortunately, no video showing my pimply 14-year-old face exists on YouTube.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

No. 970 – Killing Floor

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Chester Arthur Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf)
Original Release: Jimi Plays Monterey
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: The Monterey International Pop Festival, 1992 (It’s the same)

I remember how geeked I was when I found out that Rhino records was going to release a box set from the legendary Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. It wouldn’t be complete, but considering that it contained the entire performances of The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, that alone made it worth the price of admission. I’m pretty sure that when I bought it at the Genesee Valley Mall, I first put on Disc 4, which has Hendrix’s performance, when I got home—and this song, of course, opens the set.

I ramped up my job search in earnest after Jenna and I split in the fall of 1992. I suppose the desire to run and hide when things go bad is a typical reaction, but it wasn’t much fun to go to the White Horse and see her constantly, and I was ready to move to a bigger city.

Because this was just before the Internet really went public, my job search at the time consisted of driving downtown every so often to the library before it closed at night and poring through the pages of Editor & Publisher magazine to see what was being offered. If nothing, then I’d turn to a publications guide to get addresses of newspapers and send out cold letters and resumes. I got hooks from both the Akron Beacon-Journal and—most notably—the Toronto Star.

The Star would have been nice: After having been to Toronto three times in the past 3 years, I loved the city and would have moved there in a heartbeat. When I spoke with the sports editor there, he liked my credentials and enthusiasm, but he had no openings and all but told me that I’d have to first move to Toronto and establish residency before I could get a job there. Although I was eager to split from Flint, I didn’t yet have the stones to just quit a good-paying job (and one that I enjoyed) and emigrate without any guarantees of a job. So Toronto didn’t happen, alas.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

No. 971 – In the Light

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones
Original Release: Physical Graffiti
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: None

In the fall of my senior year, I was listening to Physical Graffiti a lot when I got a gig as a bagger at Food World, the local grocery store (now a Staples), back when customer service was thought of as something grocery stores would provide.

The work was OK, but being part of a two-person bagging crew on weeknights meant I was on floor-cleaning duty, which always took place after the rush died down about 9 p.m. You had one of two responsibilities: driving the cleaning machine or mopping the spillover behind it. Obviously, driving the machine was the fun part. I got to be pretty good at it, spinning it on a dime and driving it down each side of the aisle without knocking anything off the shelf or (God forbid) crashing it into the Crisco display at the end of the aisle.

I worked with a great crew. I was surrounded mostly by college students or other 20-somethings, who showed me there was a whole world beyond the closed-in walls of Upper Arlington. The best part would be break time in the back room, away from customers’ prying eyes, where the stockers would joke and swap stories. It got so those 15-minute breaks were the highlight of my day.

And there were fringe benefits, too, such as the fact that everyone—including the hottest of hot women—comes to the grocery store. Everyone eats, right? So, now and then, you might hear the murmuring from stockers, “Aisle 5,” and—coincidentally, of course—you realized that the cereal on Aisle 5 needed fronting (stacking it up at the front of the shelf). There was this one girl in particular who had strawberry blonde hair who would come into the store with her mother … But that’s a story for another day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

No. 972 – Sleight of Hand

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Binaural
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: None

When Debbie and I scheduled our trip to Alaska for around Memorial Day 2000, it became quickly apparent that we were going to have to come back a day before we might ordinarily have. The reason was as obvious as the predominant amount of Cincinnati Reds gear that adorned my Baseball Room: The team was going to pay tribute to the 25th anniversary the 1975 Reds—one of the greatest teams of all time—on my birthday.

Debbie didn’t like it. She wanted to add Denali to our trip, and despite the ambitiousness of that goal, I suppose that if we had had the extra day, we might have been able to shoehorn it in. But I wasn’t going to relent: I had to be in Cincinnati that day, once-in-a-lifetime trips be damned. Besides, Denali would always be there. The 1975 Reds? Definitely not.

We went to the game with my brother Scott and his wife and a couple of Debbie’s friends from work on a perfect June afternoon. Each member of the superteam was introduced, except for Joe Morgan, who couldn’t attend for reasons that weren’t entirely clear, and, of course, Pete Rose, who was there in spirit. But the unquestioned highlight came in the middle of the game when they began to roll out the birthday announcements on the scoreboard.

There it was—big as life—Happy Birthday to Will and I was stunned. Debbie had made the arrangements and apparently paid a pretty penny for the privilege. (I never learned how much.) Apparently all had been forgiven for cutting short the Alaska trip.

Little did I know at the time, the launching of BBT that day started a chain of events that led me to wind up in Chicago 5 years later. “Moved by sleight of hand,” indeed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

No. 973 – Switch Opens

Performer: Soundgarden
Songwriters: Ben Shepherd, Chris Cornell
Original Release: Down on the Upside
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

Memories being what they are, sometimes I need the helping hand of the Internet to make sure the time frame is correct—that a particular album came out in, say, 1995 instead of 1996. I have a clear vision of walking from the nearby grocery store to the apartment that Debbie and I moved into in Gahanna with this song on my Walkman, but the timeline for the story that I have today might not quite fit. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what I think of when I hear this song.

After we moved in, Debbie and I planted bulbs in the fall of 1995, so we’d have daffodils and tulips and a few hyacinths the next spring. The layout of the apartments in this complex was such that the “front” door faced a fence opposite of the driveway. In effect, you parked your car in the “back” and entered the apartment either through the garage or “back” door to the kitchen/eating area.

One day the next spring, I was walking back from the grocery store and noticed that the garden out “front” (hidden from view from most of the traffic in the complex), which had been a sea of yellow the day before, was all green. Upon further inspection, I saw that someone—not Debbie—had come along and cut all of our daffodils. The most maddening part was that whoever did it cut them right at the head, leaving a patch of green stems.

Whoever did it took the flowers; it wasn’t that the heads or petals were scattered about. That led Debbie to conclude that it was some little kid who didn’t know any better and cut the flowers for his mom, but I know a miscreant flower-cutting thug when I see one, or at least the work of one. I was ticked. I didn’t go through all that digging—at the expense of watching college football, mind you—just so some slingshot-using urchin who had had one too few spankings could eradicate my garden.

I maintained a constant vigil after that, just in case anyone else got any ideas when the tulips came up. Fortunately for him or her, the tulips were left intact.

(Sigh) Only 31, and already I was ready to tell a wayward punk to get off my lawn.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No. 974 – Lay Low

Performer: My Morning Jacket
Songwriter: Jim James
Original Release: Z
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

I suppose to a certain extent part of the impetus for this vanity project is to accomplish one of my favorite things: Turn people on to music that they might not have heard before. One of my top recommendations these days is My Morning Jacket.

Like a lot of other folks, I latched on to them in 2005 when Z surfaced and have been on the bandwagon since. I like to call them my favorite “new band” to differentiate them from the bands that I’ve listened to since the days of records, but My Morning Jacket is anything but new, of course. Still, I believe that as long as you’re receptive to new things, you might learn something you didn’t know before and continue to grow. Plus, you can be the designated grandpa surrounded by young hipsters when you go to see a band live.

Anyway, my buddy Jim has introduced me to a lot of great music over the years—most notably Marvin Gaye and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska—and this year I was finally able to repay a couple of dollars of my musical debt. We went to a Cubs game in the spring. The action on the field being mediocre—this is the Cubs we’re talking about here—we started talking about music. That’s when I told him about My Morning Jacket, which had flown off his radar. I recommended Z as the starting point. He said he would check them out and later sent me an email saying he loved Z and this song in particular.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No. 975 – Got Me Wrong

Performer: Alice In Chains
Songwriter: Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: Sap EP
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged, 1996

Because I had my stereo setup just right by the time Alice In Chain’s Unplugged performance aired, the quality of the sound on my videotaped recording was, well, not quite CD quality, but good enough so the move from VHS tape to cassette was clean. Consequently, I had no real need to buy the CD when it came out a few months later—a bit of foreshadowing for the coming digital age. I still bought it anyway, because it had three songs that weren’t shown on TV.

Anyway, shortly after MTV aired the show, I finally helped Debbie achieve a sports goal: see the Cincinnati Reds (her favorite baseball team, as well as mine) play a game in Wrigley Field. I was listening to my bootlegged cassette tape, which finished with this song, repeatedly on the drive to Chicago. It was a near-perfect day. We sat near the Bartman seats (perhaps even IN the Bartman seats, although obviously, no one knew it at the time), the Reds won and Harry Caray sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame.

Best of all, it wiped clean the slate from what was a near-disastrous Chicago baseball experience the year before, but that’s a story for another day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

No. 976 – The Way I Feel

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Doug Boyle, Phil Johnstone, Robert Plant
Original Release: Now and Zen
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

After I accepted the gig in Flint at the end of 1989, I needed a place to live. I had almost no money and no furniture, so a furnished apartment would be ideal. I found one in Grand Blanc for $300 a month, and it ended up being where I would live the entire time I was at the Journal.

The two building complex used to be a motel many years ago—maybe even a resort—although I never did learn the history of the place. It was about a football field off the main street that ran through town, and at the time a bit out in the woods. I had a small front porch and a parking space in the driveway. There was a garage, which I was able to use for storage of a few things, but the parking spots were already taken. The key to my door was in fact a skeleton key. Shortly after I moved there, I decided to explore the woods in back, because it seemed there was a pond out back.

I was listening to Now and Zen a lot. In fact, I had bought it just before my departure, so I would have some new music to listen to while driving the U-Haul to and from Grand Blanc. (I moved all my stuff by myself this time, so the venture took an entire day.)

So I popped the tape into my Walkman and went exploring one cold, gray November evening before the sun set. I have a crystal clear vision of coming to the pond with this song on as the sunlight began to vanish. I stood there for a while, wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into now, before heading back home before the sunlight died completely—with two soakers through my boots for my efforts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No. 977 -- Iris

Performer:  The Breeders
Songwriters: Kim Deal
Original Release: Pod
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: No Alternative, 1993

I’ve often said that nothing good can come from a phone call that you receive at night. No one ever calls you at 3 a.m. to tell you they just had a baby or got a promotion or finally went out with their dream date, you know? So, if you’re awakened in the middle of the night, chances are it’s probably going to be bad news.

And so it was in January 1994 when I got a call at about 10 a.m., which, for me at that time—working the overnight shift in the Journal sports department—WAS the middle of the night. It was my first girlfriend’s mother calling me to tell me that her husband had died earlier that morning of a heart attack while shoveling snow.

I hadn’t been with Beth at that point for nearly 7 years, but this was bad news. Beth’s dad, Mr. Mac, was a good man, who had opened his house to me at a time when I really didn’t feel like I had much of a family center. Mrs. Mac (Beth’s mom), insisted that I didn’t need to come down for the funeral (which would have been awkward anyway), but I wanted to do something, so I wrote a poem about Mr. Mac to Beth’s new son.

I worked on it for a few weeks, and when I went to Columbus for an unrelated reason in February, I was able to hand-deliver the poem. I was listening to No Alternative a lot during that time, and this song seems as appropriate as any other to recall this.

I think I still have the poem somewhere on a floppy disk, and I have the original in a journal that I was keeping at the time. Beth’s son would be 17 now, I guess. I have no idea if he ever read it, because this was the last time I saw Beth. I hope so if for no reason that he should know from a former insider how cool the grandfather that he would never know was.