Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No. 827 – How Many More Times

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: John Bonham, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page
Original Release: Led Zeppelin
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: The studio version with bowed guitar.

As fate would have it, I ended up living with one of the guys who used to drive me nuts my freshman year at Wabash with his endless renditions of Eight Days a Week. We decided to be off-campus roomies our senior year, and considering I was from Columbus, and he was just up the road in Delaware, it made sense.

It turns out our musical tastes complimented each other pretty well. There was little overlap—even on the stuff that we liked. Case in point, I had Led Zeppelin IV, Physical Graffitti and Song Remains the Same. He had Led Zeppelin I, II and III and In Through the Out Door.

Matt taught me a basic philosophy towards life and music and one I’ve passed along a few times when appropriate. Matt used to say, “When the women don’t understand, Led understands.” Absolutely right, and this is one of several songs that fits that tenet.

We weren’t really friends when our senior-year odyssey began in August 1985, but we were the best of friends by the time graduation rolled around, and we continue to be friends, although we don’t have as much contact as we used to since I moved to Chicago. Matt really helped me when I needed it in the spring of 1986.

I never went anywhere over spring break. I had Beth, and obviously, I wasn’t going to be able to take Beth with me to Florida, so I went home each year.

But Spring Break my senior year was going to involve a very unpleasant task—one that I will recount at a separate time—and I needed a diversion. Even though Beth was there, I didn’t want to go home given the nature of what was coming. So Matt suggested I go with him to visit his mom in Knoxville, Tenn., for a few days. She was studying for her Ph.D. at Rocky Top, and Matt was going to go see her and then swing over to North Carolina to visit one of his brothers.

It was no drunken beach orgy in Fort Lauderdale, but it sounded great to me. Before we left, we made a couple of tapes for the drive, with this song being one of them. We took Matt’s dog, Ziggy (as in Ziggy Stardust) who had become the house dog and one of the campus dogs, and I would take Ziggy with me to Columbus and then back to Wabash.

We spent a couple days in Knoxville. One day, we went to Oak Ridge, where they developed The Bomb, and we saw this crazy sci-fi movie called the Quiet Earth. (Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) But generally we just hung out, watched TV and drank Killians (one of my go-to beers), which was what I was looking for.

Finally it was time to do what I had to do, so I piled Ziggy and her stuff into my car and off I went—the dread building with each passing mile.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

No. 828 – Ted, Just Admit It

Performer: Jane’s Addiction
Songwriters: Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery, Stephen Perkins
Original Release: Nothing’s Shocking
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

Here’s a perfect example of how my sister is way more ahead of the curve than I am. In 1991, on one of my visits to Chicago, she played Nothing’s Shocking while she was getting ready before we went out as an example of something she liked and thought that I’d like. I hated it. It was, to my sensitive ear, too abrasive.

It turns out the introduction was premature. The next summer I was listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and before long I had added Soundgarden and Tool to my repertoire. Along the way, I was exposed to Perry Farrell’s post-Jane’s breakup band, Porno for Pyros, who were OK. I was definitely ready to give Jane’s another go.

In the summer of 1996, the National was going to be in Anaheim, which gave me a great excuse to visit Jin in L.A. Jin had moved in November 1993, and for various reasons—mostly having to do with having no significant vacation time and a new girlfriend—I wasn’t able to visit her the first two years she was there. In 1995, Debbie and I went to Northern California, and Jin was ticked that I didn’t come down to L.A. or let her know so she could come up to visit. She hung that over my head for a year until I said I was going to come out and asked if her couch was available. She readily accepted.

I flew out solo on a Wednesday. (I still wasn’t ready to expose Debbie to the card-show element.) On Thursday, I got a rental car, so I could drive down to Anaheim while Jin worked. I would go to the show on Thursday and Friday and then we’d do some touristy stuff on Saturday and Sunday before I flew back on Monday.

After the show each day, we went to a baseball game. On Thursday, we went with her friend and roommate Derek to Dodger Stadium—my first trip to the legendary ballpark. I still keep a picture of me and Jin under the sign in the parking lot beyond the left-field bleachers that has the Dodgers’ logo on it. I don’t remember much about the game itself except that I came inches from getting a foul ball.

We were in the front row of the upper deck on the third base side, and I set my camera bag out on the overhang in front of us. Late in the game, a batter (don’t remember who) hit a foul pop that came right for us that dropped an inch at the last second and hit off the face of the upper deck and dropped down. One inch higher, and it would have cleared the edge of the facing and thumped into my camera bag. I am convinced that had it done so, it would have stuck into the pillow-like padding of the empty bag, and I would’ve been able to reach over and grab it. We’ll never know.

The next day, Jin drove down to Anaheim and met me after the show at the Big A for an Angels game—a first for both of us. Tickets were easy to come by, and we sat in the lower bowl. All I remember about that game was that the gift shop still had 1989 All-Star Game programs for sale (I grabbed one each for myself and Dave) and Jin lusting over Mark McGwire. This was memorable because Jin had never before shown any inclination for athletes—particularly muscleheads. She couldn’t explain it either, but she didn’t apologize for it. On that day, he was doing it for her. OK.

I’ll talk about the National itself another time, but at some point on the trip, and I seem to recall it was the day we went to Chinatown, but I told Jin to put on Jane’s Addiction. I explained that I probably was wrong about them and I wanted to give them another chance. She was shocked, which is ironic given the album title. But Nothing’s Shocking became the soundtrack of the first-run performance of Mr. Will Goes to Tinseltown.

Monday, February 27, 2012

No. 829 – I Will Follow

Performer: U2
Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Original Release: Boy
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: Under a Blood Red Sky, 1983

I wasn’t watching when MTV flipped the switch and showed Video Killed the Radio Star, but it wasn’t long before it came to Columbus in 1981 and I was watching nonstop.

Two things I remember about the first time I watched MTV: REO Speedwagon was on all the time. Apparently they were the first current concert video that MTV showed on a Saturday night (and thereafter made Saturday nights required viewing for subsequent concerts), and MTV cut up all the songs, turned them into their own videos and played them to death.

The other thing was all the new bands—all English and all with weird haircuts—that MTV played.

Now I had had some experience with watching videos and seeing these new-wave bands, like The Police and Squeeze. Warner Cable in Columbus had the first interactive TV system, called Qube, that aside from providing my first exposure to extensive cable programming (including porn on jerry-rigged systems) also had a show where viewers voted through their cable boxes what videos from a choice of three they wanted to see. And before that was Video Concert Hall.

But MTV significantly upped the game, because, well, the show never ended, of course. MTV would become my favorite “TV show” for the next five years. Jin pledged allegiance to the hair bands—particularly Duran Duran—but to me early on it was an ending stream of flotsam punctuated by the occasional appearance by a mainstream band that I liked or Nina Blackwood.

But some bands clearly were better than others. I can recall to this day the first time I saw U2 doing I Will Follow on MTV. Although it sounded generally like a lot of other bands at the time, there was clearly something distinctive about their sound, so much so that I thought and said that this was the band that had the best chance of all of them to be big. As we all know, I was horribly mistaken …

Years later, I’ll never forget going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and seeing in the U2 exhibit a couple of letters of rejection by record companies. I pointed them out to Scott: “Look. Letters from people who no longer are in the business.” Forget trying to find the Next U2, they had a chance to get THE U2 and passed. But then no one ever accused the record industry of being overpopulated by geniuses.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

No. 830 – Everlong

Performer: Foo Fighters
Songwriter: Dave Grohl
Original Release: The Colour and the Shape
Year: 1997
Definitive Version: None

The video for this song was my favorite post-Nirvana video until Dani California came along, but I recall more a performance on The Late Show when David Letterman called it his favorite song by his favorite band. But what I associate it with most was my own birthday in 1997, shortly after this album came out, when I got the best birthday present of my life.

For many reasons, Cleveland was the baseball capital of the universe in 1997, and perhaps the biggest was that the All-Star Game was going to be there that summer. Attending one of those was right at the top of my baseball to-do list, behind only a World Series game, but when tickets went on sale to the public, I got skunked in my attempts to buy online. My guess was that after you took care of the season-ticket holders, the corporate shills and the general glad-handers and VIPs, maybe a dozen ducats were made available to the unwashed masses.

It was time to go high or go home, and I didn’t see that I was going to get a better and potentially less expensive chance to go to the Midsummer Night’s Classic (when you consider travel costs and staying in a Motel 6 on the outskirts of town), so I decided to go high: I would suck it up and scalp.

A month before, I turned 33, and I can’t remember where Debbie and I went for my birthday—definitely either Handke’s or The Refectory and probably Handke’s—but I remember the present she gave me: It was a birthday card of the Bambino. And inside were 10 portraits of Andrew Jackson done in green ink.

“I want to buy your ticket to the All-Star Game,” Debbie said as I pored over the money in shock. We’d just bought a house, and she’s not only encouraging my frivolity but participating in it. It doesn’t get much more awesome than that.

At this point, there was only one thing to do: Call Dave and see if he wanted to drive down from Flint, split a hotel room and hit up FanFest—the accompanying baseball expo that Dave had raved about as being the National but without any other sports besides baseball—maybe even hit up the Homerun Derby. He was definitely game, and I made the reservations.

Obviously, I’ll have more stories to tell about All-Star weekend, but it all started with what I’ll probably always consider to be the Red Ryder BB gun of all of my birthday presents.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

No. 831 – Porch

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriter: Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Ten
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged bootleg, 1992

So, do you like Pearl Jam as the Stone Gossard Pilots? I didn’t come up with that line, of course, but I always liked it.

If Pearl Jam’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was what made me notice them, catching a rerun of their appearance on Unplugged cemented the relationship.

As I’ve mentioned, MTV Unplugged was an important show in terms of my music choices in the Nineties. The stripped-down nature was what made it great, because I believe that anyone can write something and amplify it and trick it out so it can sound good (witness most of today’s auto-tuned pop), but a truly great song needs no such trickeration. Sure, it can sound better electric—and many songs do—but if you can strip off all the gloss and it still sounds great, then that’s just a great song.

In Pearl Jam’s case, it was also the performance. You’ve probably seen it, but if not, you can find clips fairly easily. Porch is the closest I’ve seen a band come to blowing the walls down with nothing more than acoustic guitars and a microphone. I remember sitting in my apartment in Grand Blanc thinking, wow, Eddie Vedder plays for keeps at all times—even on an ordinarily sedate TV performance. That’s a band that demands respect.

Because I had my VCR hooked up to my tape deck, I was able to make a reasonable-quality bootleg of the show, and I listened to that tape all summer. Of course, it makes me think of the White Horse.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—The White Horse never put Ten on the jukebox. (Nevermind was on there, briefly.) I suppose everyone would have gotten sick of me playing the whole thing every weekend. So I kept my Pearl Jam to myself on the drive into work and home after.

Recently, Dave told me he had finally discovered Pearl Jam after all these years. He asked me, rhetorically, where have I been? Dude, you were having your first kid. You had other things on your mind than some new rock band, and, hey, better late than never.

Friday, February 24, 2012

No. 832 – Plush

Performer: Stone Temple Pilots
Songwriters: Robert DeLeo, Scott Weiland
Original Release: Core
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

No one was more shocked by my musical transformation after discovering Pearl Jam in 1992 than my sister, who had always been hipper than I was. Now, I was telling her about things she was aware of but hadn’t heard yet.

So it was with some amusement when I drove over to help her move in the fall of 1992, and she asked me if I had heard the new Pearl Jam song? Which one? This one, she said, when Plush came on the radio while we were out and about.

Ummm … yeah, about that “Pearl Jam” song …

So, yeah, STP when they first hit the scene owed something of a debt to their Seattle brethren, particularly with this song. I didn’t buy Core right away, as I mentioned, but I didn’t turn this song off when it came on the radio. In the fall of 1992, faux Pearl Jam was better than no Pearl Jam.

And this song was on the radio quite a bit when I helped Jin move into what would turn out to be her final Chicago apartment. She didn’t know it at the time, of course, but she did know that she was ready for her first solo Chicago apartment.

Jenna and I had just split, so I had nothing better to do than drive over and lug some boxes and furniture with a few of Jin’s friends. The two things I remember most about that day—besides hearing this song on the radio, of course—is that in the evening, after it was over, Jin found a cockroach in her bathtub and fell apart after taking care of the problem. At that moment, she wondered about the wisdom of her move, and she looked very lonely and vulnerable—two emotions I don’t associate with my sister, who’s as tough as they come.

The other came earlier in the evening when we went out for post-moving pizza. Jin’s female friend who had helped—and whom I knew from years before at Torch Lake—and I were chatting. She said something that sounded slightly flirty, and Jin said from the front seat of the car. “Hey. I don’t want to lose another friend.”

That was directed at me and was a reference to Melanie, of course. I wasn’t even thinking along those lines after having just been put out to pasture, but I never forgot it, and I never have dated another of her friends—even long after she said she was only kidding.

All the same, I’m not interested in taking any chances.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No. 833 – Don’t Cry

Performer: Seal
Songwriter: Seal
Original Release: Seal (II)
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

OK, that’s enough death for awhile.

At the top of my to-buy wish list after I moved to Columbus was a state-of-the-art home-entertainment system. I knew all the components that I wanted and I purchased them piecemeal—only when I found them on sale. The last piece to the puzzle was the TV.

Like most kids, I watched TV all the time, but as I got older and had more to do in the evenings, I watched less. By the time I moved to Columbus in 1994, about all I ever watched were sports, and movies and shows on HBO. The rest of the time, if I was watching TV, it was videotapes.

So buying a TV wasn’t a priority. I wanted a bigger screen, because my TV was a kitchen hand-me-down, and the ol’ 14-incher didn’t look so good surrounded by an awesome receiver, dual tape deck, five-disc CD carousel (all Sony), four-head VCR (Sanyo) and speakers (Bose).

I finally got the proper motivation to buy form the start of the Ohio State football season. For various reasons, I had stopped being an OSU fan by this time (a sacrilege, I know). But Debbie was a big fan and couldn’t wait for the season to start, so the day of the first game—a Monday night game at Fresno State—I decided to get a new TV and have it all set up in time for her to come over afer work and watch.

I went to the (not-so-dearly) now-long-departed Sun TV, where the salesmen worked on commission and bugged you every step after you hit the floor—even when you were just going to buy blank cassettes. Used to drive me crazy.

Anyway, I sucked it up and weaved my way through the picket fence to my chosen model—a 27-incher by Sharp. It was the biggest screen that would fit in the entertainment center that I had bought and was still in my wheelhouse price-wise, about $400.

Was I in for a rude awakening when I got home and had to get that thing out of my car, into my apartment and into the entertainment center by myself. It weighed a freakin’ ton! But I had it all set up in time for the 8 p.m. local time kickoff … by which time Debbie had already fallen asleep on the couch.

It turns out, I must have known what I was doing, because every piece of equipment that I bought, except for the VCR, which failed last year, is still in good working order. I still use the music equipment and Scott has the TV. I hardly ever watch TV at all—I don’t even have cable any more—so he can have it (and the fun of trying to move it).

I did finally spring for a new rig, but that’s a story for another time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

No. 834 – Valley

Performer: Jethro Tull
Songwriter: Ian Anderson
Original Release: Roots to Branches
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

Although I’ve known Jethro Tull since I was a little kid, I can’t say I was much of a fan. Tull was about the only semi-progressive dinosaur band that I didn’t bond with, for some reason. Them and King Crimson.

So it was with some trepidation when Debbie’s brother, Anthony, suggested going to see Jethro Tull when they toured in 1996. To me, it was kind of like going to see The Beach Boys but without the must-see cache—they weren’t exactly current. Debbie wanted to go, so, of course, we went.

I’ll have more to say about the show itself at a later time, but it was the only thing in all the time that Debbie and I were together that we did with her brother. I mean, we saw him all the time at Christmas when Debbie’s entire extended family would invade our home, and we’d see him when we’d go over to visit Debbie’s mom. (He still lived there.) Debbie loved her brother, but their lives didn’t intersect much, you know?

Anthony had a gigantic rottweiler, Choker, who always looked at me crosswise, but I’d let him give me a sniff, and we’d be good. I never had a problem with Anthony. He was a good guy.

Anyway, it was with considerable sadness that Debbie called me years after we had broken up and after I had moved to Chicago to say her brother had died.

Apparently, he had some illness that he didn’t react to right away thinking it was just some random pain. Unfortunately it was blood poisoning and within two days he was at the hospital in ICU and under extreme duress when he died. It was very upsetting to Debbie and it was shocking to me, although in retrospect, I can’t say I was all that surprised.

Debbie’s family has what she called a curse and what I suspect is some genetic deficiency, but most of the males in her extended family died by the time they were 57. Anthony was 52, so he didn’t even make it that far.

So, I think of him when I hear Jethro Tull but particularly anything off Roots to Branches. But I think of him more almost every time I hear classical music. Why? The last Christmas that Debbie and I spent together, in 2000, Anthony gave us a double folding chair, complete with table and cupholders in between the chairs.

It turns out, we never used it, and Debbie bequeathed it to me when we broke up. I brought it up to Chicago after I moved here, and Laurie and I use the chair all the time when we go to Millenium Park or Ravinia for concert picnics in the summer. I love it.

Thanks, Ant.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No. 835 – Try Not to Breathe

Performer: R.E.M.
Songwriters: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe
Original Release: Automatic for the People
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

I can’t hear this song and not think about my paternal grandmother. When I was a real little kid first learning how to talk, I couldn’t say Grandma. It came out Meemaw, and the name stuck. She was forevermore Meemaw, and everyone in the family called her that. (That’s the power of being the first-born grandchild.)

Meemaw was the best. Meemaw spaghetti, pizza—and most especially—Christmas cookies are legendary. I will have more Meemaw stories for sure on this list, so I’ll spread them around, unlike my Mark Beener epic, where I basically burned everything up in one blast.

This song comes in toward the end. Meemaw’s lone fault, really, was that she was a voracious smoker for more than 50 years. And, of course, it destroyed her lungs. It got so by the early Eighties, she could no longer get up and down the hill at Torch Lake to watch the sailboat races, which she loved to do. So my grandfather bought her a golf cart—the Meem Machine—which, of course, all the kids drove when she wasn’t using it.

I don’t remember that she still was smoking at this time, but sometime in the mid-Eighties—I want to say 1987—she had a major incident and had to go to the hospital. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I seem to recall that she was diagnosed with emphysema. Regardless, pretty much from then on, the family was on death watch. At any moment, we could get The Call.

Well, my Meemaw wasn’t going to let something like death get her that easily. She made it all the way to 1994, to the first of her grandchildren’s weddings and to my grandfather’s 80th birthday party but not quite to her own 80th birthday.

So, it seemed perfectly natural that I would think of this song and its message of dying with dignity and my Meemaw. She constantly struggled with her breath in those last years, although she didn’t use an oxygen tank until only the very end. She knew she was going to go for quite some time, but it was going to be on her terms.

The last time I saw her, she was apologetic about seeming so frail, and it was obvious that she didn’t want that to be the lasting image of her. Not a chance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

No. 836 – Comes a Time

Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Comes a Time
Year: 1978
Definitive Version: Live Rust, 1979

The first stop for my dad and I on our Western sojourn in 1982, after our delay in Denver, was Rocky Mountain National Park. It was my first experience with the reality that you can be cold in August. We went from shorts and T-shirts at the start of the day to longs and wool shirts (and still being cold) at the park and then back to shorts almost immediately again after getting down below 8,000 feet.

Beyond the peak was a mini-glacier on one side of the road that melted into a bubbling creek on the other side. We stopped for a photo op. I have a picture of me throwing a snowball in my shorts with no shirt on: The juxtaposition of appearing warm (and it was warm) surrounded by snow showed an early appreciation of irony. Anyway, the water in the creek was frigid, crystal clear and good.

My dad was a Boy Scout, and as I mentioned, I was a failed one. But I did learn how to camp out. To keep expenses down, we took sleeping bags and a tent, so we camped out a couple of times along the way. The first time was on our way to the Tetons, out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Dad pulled off the two-lane highway amid a bunch of scrub brush and we set up a tent.

It was great, except that when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you don’t have anything to protect you from the wind. And it was howling that night, making the tent flap and fold (but never collapse). Eventually Dad gave up the ghost and slept in the car. I stayed behind and eventually did get to sleep. I suppose we probably got about the same amount of sleep, which is to say next to nothing.

The next morning was cloudy and chilly when we broke camp early. Dad has always been a very early riser, although I wasn’t getting much sleep that day anyway, as I said. What I remember most about that was how on the other side of a nearby barb wire fence were several antelope playing (as antelope do) whilst checking us out from a safe distance. That was the first time I’d ever seen a zoo animal that wasn’t actually at a zoo.

We again took our time going along, and it was late afternoon when we made it to the Tetons. I still have never seen anything like it—even in Alaska—and I would argue that pictures don’t really do them justice. What makes them so spectacular is Jackson Hole, the huge valley that butts up against the mountains, with the Snake River cutting through the middle. It’s extremely flat, and it appears that the mountains are rising right out of the grass. There are no foothills to speak of before you get to the mountains—unlike with the Rockies in Denver—and it makes them appear much taller than they are.

We stayed in a cabin at Jackson Lodge that had two beds and a shower, both of which were very welcome. After we got cleaned up for the first time in three days, we went over to the Lodge itself for dinner. They sat us at the window overlooking Jackson Lake with the sun setting on The Grand Teton. We each had fresh rainbow trout and cold Coors, and it remains to this day one of the best dinners of my life.

We stayed there two nights. The first day, Dad got up at the crack of dawn to take about a zillion pictures of the mountains and buffalo roaming (as buffalo do). I caught up on some of my sleep. We spent the day hiking around Jenny Lake and then going in to Jackson. I noted with some glee that that was where they filmed Any Which Way You Can, a cheesy Clint Eastwood movie that we saw on the flight out and recognized several of the filming sites.

The next day, we headed out early to get to Yellowstone, and that’s where we’ll wrap this up until the next episode of our exciting adventure.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

No. 837 – 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)

Performer: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Electric Ladyland
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

I was six when Jimi Hendrix passed from our mortal plane. Of course, I didn’t know anything about it at the time—the news was for adults—or anything about his music, but I did know his name because of my best friend from kindergarten, Mark Beener.

I don’t remember how we met, but we were in the same kindergarten class—Mrs. Tubbs’ at Cranbrook Elementary School—and I have a clear memory of seeing my shadow on the sidewalk as I went with Mark to his house after school the first time. His house was one street over from mine.

Mark was big into dinosaurs, like I was, and race cars, again like I was. He had Johnny Lightning; I had Hot Wheels. We’d race them in a corner of his basement, away from the washer and dryer, and what I remember about his basement was it was very Sixties chic. Hanging rows of beads separated a sitting area from the play area and laundry area, and I thought that was pretty groovy. I also remember that that was the first time I’d ever seen a lava lamp and a bottle candle, where the wax dripped over the sides like artwork.

I spent the night at his house once—my first sleep-over. Mark was the youngest of four or five kids, maybe even six—my memory on this is dodgy. And he was the youngest by a mile. He lived with his mom, who was divorced, and a sister who was in junior high. His older brothers and, I think, sisters, were gone.

His mom’s bedroom was downstairs, but the kids’ bedrooms were upstairs, and my recollection was that they were two large rooms, like dorms. In the boys’ room, which now, of course, was just Mark’s room, were these really colorful posters on one wall, and I remember the words on them even though they didn’t mean anything to me at the time: Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

The next morning, his mom made pancakes, and in the front living room, we played Uncle Wiggily, who had rheumatism. (I remember that but nothing else about the game, because it was such an odd word to me.)

Anyway, that was the only time I spent the night, because before long, my parents began to discourage me from playing with Mark. Why? Well, let’s start with Mark’s older siblings. As I said, they were never around. What I recall is that they were either in jail or rehab or both as a result of drugs.

I had no understanding of drugs other than they were bad, mmkay. One day I went over to Mark’s house when one of his brothers was there briefly after—again my young-boy recollection being fuzzy—getting out of jail. Mark was very happy to see him, and I remember we played kickball in his driveway. He didn’t strike me as a particularly bad person.

So, yeah, Mark was a hippie kid. I did know what that meant. He had long hair, but to me, he was just a regular kid. It’s not like I saw drugs around, although in retrospect, there had to be, just not in the open. No one ever offered me anything; Mark and I were just little kids. I was never afraid to go to his house. It’s not Mark’s fault that his brothers and sisters were screw-ups (and I don’t even know if that’s necessarily true).

The next year we were in different classes, and we started to spend less time together, but the real break happened when my family moved in the middle of second grade. Because it was far enough away that I would have to cross busy streets on my bike to get to Mark’s house, we didn’t see each other any more.

But as luck would have it, in third grade, a new kid joined my class. It was Mark. I was eager to rekindle our friendship, but my mom wasn’t having it. She expressly forbid me from playing with Mark (all the while never saying why).

The reunion was brief anyway, because a few weeks later, he told me his family was moving to Florida. So I went home and asked my mom once more if I could play at Mark’s. She said no. I didn’t say why I wanted to that day, but when you’re nine, you don’t have a sense that reason works on parents. No means no. So I didn’t go over, and I never saw Mark again.

I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, but some time after that, I told Mom that Mark had moved away. I told her that was why I had wanted to go over to his place that one day—to say goodbye. She expressed shock: Well, if I had known that, I would have let you go over.

Ah, so it was my fault then. Thanks for the guilt trip along with the value of your hindsight and your opinion about the trustworthiness of my judgment. It was my first real experience with the notion that being a parent doesn’t mean you know everything or even what’s right.

Anyway, It makes sense to spin out my most epic post to date to Hendrix’s most epic psychedelic fantasy. I have no idea what happened to Mark. I think we exchanged letters once after he moved, but you know, boys don’t write letters, so that wasn’t going to continue. For all I know, he’s now the world’s foremost expert on Johnny Lightning cars, and he still has that two-engine dragster.

I’d like that. And, dude, I still have the Twinmill and the orange track. I want a rematch.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

No. 838 – (Da Le) Yaleo

Performer: Santana
Songwriters: Shaka Ra Mutela, Carlos Santana, Christian Polloni
Original Release: Supernatural
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

I’ve liked Santana since I was exposed to the group from the movie Woodstock. How can you not, right? But I didn’t get Supernatural. I mean, I literally did, of course, like everyone else, but I didn’t get why it was so huge.

I didn’t care for any of the superhuge collaborative hits. I liked the songs that actually WERE Santana songs—Latin infused incandescent rock—like this one. Songs like Smoothe or Maria Maria weren’t really Santana songs but just songs where Santana was a guest star. Supernatural, to me, was mostly fake Santana.

I think about that in context of a baseball-related trip that Debbie and I took at about the time this album came out. Unless you were living under a rock, you knew that Mark McGwire was the unquestioned King of Baseball in 1999 after his giddy home-run chase that ultimately ended up, of course, with McGwire hitting an unheard-of 70 home runs in a season and in several opinions saving strike-torn baseball in the process.

When I saw St. Louis at Detroit on the 1999 schedule, that was intriguing. I wanted to see Mark McGwire vs. Tiger Stadium. So we drove up on a one-day windsprint for the game and made sure to arrive at the park two hours before game time, because I wanted to see McGwire take batting practice. So did a lot of other people, and there were maybe 5,000 fans outside when the gates opened.

I’d seen McGwire do his thing before, but this far more memorable. He started slow: His first cycle resulted in only a line shot that cleared the left-field fence by a couple of feet. He was just getting warmed up.

His second go-round, on the second pitch, he hit a moon shot into the upper deck. Applause. Next swing, he hit one off the face of the roof in left field. More applause. Next pitch, another moon shot that hit the top of the roof and bounced over—out of the stadium. Huge applause.

The next pitch made a sound like an explosion when it left the bat, and you just knew he got it all. It cleared the roof by at least six feet in left center field just to the left of the light tower. Good … bye. The crowd roared … during batting practice.

McGwire hit two more that hit the roof down the line to left and bounced over, four balls out all told, including one that might very well have landed on the Fisher Freeway. That he ultimately did nothing in the game itself mattered not at all. His batting practice exhibition was unreal.

Years later, that’s the perfectly apt description: It wasn’t real at all. As we all know, the hero had a lot of extra help in hitting so many long home runs. McGwire and others of his ilk have been exposed as frauds. Sure, I saw what I saw, but it was an optical illusion, no more real than the handiwork of Industrial Light and Magic. What a bummer.

Friday, February 17, 2012

No. 839 – Kiss That Frog

Performer: Peter Gabriel
Songwriter: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: Us
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: The studio version. It rollicks along much better than any live version I’ve heard, which almost makes it unique.

When you’re rebounding, it almost goes without saying that you tend to do some dumb things. I don’t have any funny walks-of-shame stories to relate, unfortunately. The dumbest thing I did in Flint after Jenna and I parted company was try the newspaper-classified dating game.

This was before the Internet got rolling, so there was no or anything like that, where I know a couple of success stories. As far as I know, no one’s ever had any success through the newspaper classifieds. Think: Craigslist. You’re just lucky if you don’t get knifed.

Most of the time, I never heard from anyone I called. There was one ad where the female was talking about being romanced like a fairytale princess, and I thought a clever response would be to play off that with my message with this song in the background: Kiss That Frog. You know, “kiss that frog and you will get your prince.” And it’s got a killer groove anyway. I wrote down my spiel and cut up the song appropriately. I must have spent a full day working on the recording before I called up and played it on her voice mail.

I never heard from her.

My biggest success, or failure if you look at it that way, was a woman who in her ad said essentially that she was a babe. That’s enough for me. And lo and behold, she responded! I’m not sure if it was the second conversation we had or the first, but it didn’t take long for her to reveal that even if she looked like Salma Hayek, she was an ugly person.

But what do your loins care if she’s an ignorant, racist moron? If she looks good, it’s all good for a very short-term relationship, if you know what I mean. So I tried to set up a meeting, and she reluctantly agreed. I guess I should have seen what was coming next, but I still was surprised when she stood me up. Oh well. Sometimes a frog is just a frog.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No. 840 – On Every Street

Performer: Dire Straits
Songwriter: Mark Knopfler
Original Release: On Every Street
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: On the Night, 1993

I’d always liked Dire Straits, but I really connected with On Every Street when it came out, so I associate it with fall of 1991, kind of like Robbie Robertson’s Native Americans and fall of 1994. What I see invariably are gray clouds and highways.

I was going home to Columbus a lot in the fall and winter of 1991-1992 for a variety of reasons. The first one was for Steve’s wedding. He and Kathy had been dating for quite a while, and the invitation was inevitable. Also inevitable was the fact that I wasn’t in the wedding party due to my remote location, so I wasn’t invited to any bachelor festivities.

But I got a note that they wanted me at the wedding rehearsal, because they wanted me to do a reading. That was cool: having a little participation. I was to read a relevant passage from The Bible (can’t remember what now), but I remember at the rehearsal that Kathy told me that I should “proclaim” it. In other words, speak up.

I also remember that there was a brief get-together at Kathy’s parents’ home and I ended up chatting up the maid of honor, who was very attractive—and responsive. Now we’re getting somewhere, or at least I thought, until I was informed that she had a date—prearranged a long time before—for the wedding itself. Oh well.

The next day, the wedding went off without a hitch, and I “proclaimed” to the highest host my testament to love (I practiced it a couple of times that morning) and gave the bride an approving nod and wink as I went back to my seat. At the reception, I ended up dancing to Walk of Life, so Dire Straits fit in with the proceedings.

The evening ended at Polo’s Place, which had been my crew’s favorite hangout (and one with which I had a little history, as I’ll later recount), where a big group of us ended up watching Game 6 of the World Series—the Kirby Puckett game. Most everyone had peeled off by the time Puckett hit his game-winning homer in the 11th inning, but I didn’t have anywhere else I had to be.

By the way, the maid of honor’s date was some big doofus, who pretty much didn’t have anything to say to anyone. She didn’t look too happy, but she lived in Dayton and I lived in Flint. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened anyway if I lived in Columbus, but it certainly wasn’t going to happen living in Flint. It was the first spark of the idea that it was time to seek a greener pasture somewhere else.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No. 841 – Kiss on My List

Performer: Hall & Oates
Songwriters: Janna Allen, Daryl Hall
Original Release: Voices
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: None

I love the contrast of going from Led Zeppelin to Hall & Oates, and my friend Steve would love even more that I have a Hall & Oates song ahead of Led Zeppelin, because in high school, he hated Led Zeppelin as much as he loved Hall & Oates.

I knew Steve in junior high, but we became friends our junior year in high school. I’ve mentioned Steve’s musical tastes on this list before, but Hall & Oates was his favorite band back then—embarrassingly so. We made sure to mock that choice at every opportunity.

For example, Hall & Oates toured with a warmup band called Steelbreeze, which had a minor MTV hit that was actually pretty good before disappearing forever into the ephemera. The next day when he came to school, I immediately asked him how the Steelbreeze concert was. Then a funny thing happened, I realized later on that I liked this song. And he ended up not hating Led Zeppelin and its satanic music as much as he once did.

I can’t remember when we became friends, but there’s no question that our great bonding experience was video games. This was right in the Pac-Man/Centipede/Donkey Kong nexus, and Steve and I took whatever opportunity we had to go play somewhere. For example, there was a sub shop down by the Scioto River that had Centipede when it first came out, and we’d go down there for lunch, which was close enough to get to during lunch period, but just far enough away that by the time we got there and each played a game, we’d have barely enough time to get back before the next bell. We’d eat in the car.

Before long, Steve and I were checking out arcades around town, but our usual spot was Timeout. Timeout was a hole in the wall, just north of the Lane Avenue/High Street party vortex near Ohio State. It was next to a bar that’s still there called The Library, which is an inspired name for a college bar. “Where are you going tonight, son?” “I’m going to the Library.” “OK, study hard.”

Timeout had all the games. If Timeout didn’t have it, it didn’t exist. It was 30 tokens for $5, which meant after we really got good at a few games, Steve and I could play all night on a single fin: Warlords, Tempest, Asteroids, even the occasional Space Invaders for old time’s sake.

Steve wasn’t a drinker back then, nor was I. And neither of us had girlfriends of any consequence, so we played video games till all hours of the night. And while others in our high school were out partying, having exotic sex and accumulating life experiences never to be forgotten, Steve and I were battling Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde—and listening to Hall & Oates or whatever else was on the radio piped over Timeout's p.a. system.

Slow Times at Upper Arlington High.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

No. 842 – Trampled Under Foot

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

When the time came for me to find a job, I was more particular than a 16-year-old punk ought to be. I didn’t want to work in a restaurant—particularly a fast-food joint. I don’t recall why specifically that that struck me as something I didn’t want to do, but, obviously, that took a lot of potential jobs out of the equation.
Fortunately, I made enough money in back-to-back summers re-roofing the garages of a couple of Dad’s neighbors that I wasn’t hurting for cash. I didn’t have a girlfriend, so I didn’t have a lot of expenses. I mean video games cost only so much, right?

Finally in the fall of 1981 when Led Zeppelin, and Physical Graffiti in particular, was at the top of my play list, I got my first job. It was as a bagger at Food World, the neighborhood grocery store. This was big for a couple of reasons. First, it was the kind of job I wanted—in a store. Second, it represented something of a redemption for me.

When I was in sixth grade, with my parents heading for their inevitable break-up, I flirted with being a juvenile delinquent. My crime was shoplifting candy. I can’t remember why I decided this was a good idea, nor do I remember when it started. But I definitely remember when it ended—in the spring of 1976.

One day when I thought I had perfectly hidden away a king-size Chunky bar (I went after only the quality merch), I learned that I was spotted, and not just by anyone but the area bully. So not only did he turn me in, but he made sure to tell everyone at school and remind me about it every chance he had for the next two years.

The manager knew my Mom as a regular customer, and he basically gave me a dressing down but instead of calling the cops, he made me go home and tell my mom, which was worse. Man, that was one of the longest walks of my life, but I had to tell her, because if I didn’t, he would the next time she was in the store.

After that for a while, Mom would make me go into the store and buy stuff for her. She said it was to show them that I could be trusted, and it paid off five years later when she said the manager told her he was hiring baggers and would I be interested? I wasn’t taking any chances, and I put my nose to the grindstone when I started—doing everything asked of me without question or complaint and working as hard as I can to prove I was worthy of the chance I was given.

It turned into a longtime part-time arrangement that would last through my college years—four different tenures—and provide one gigantic fringe benefit in the summer of 1982, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, so we’ll wrap this up for the day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

No. 843 – Christmas

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Tommy         
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: Live At Woodstock, 1969

In Columbus, back in the old days, two great record stores resided near the Ohio State campus—Singing Dog and Magnolia Thunderpussy. Both are long gone, although I think Magnolia survived the big-corporation takeover of the south campus stretch along High Street a decade ago by moving South, off-campus.

When I was in high school and college, those record stores were the places to go if you wanted to buy something exotic—bootleg recordings of unreleased concerts. Copyright-law enforcement was a lot looser 30 years ago (i.e., record companies didn’t sue their customers), but even then I knew that bootlegs were illegal. Records generally flew under the radar because the recording quality often was muddy and they weren’t reproduced on a widespread basis. That’s the thing that the Internet and Napster changed.

Enough digression. On Christmas break, 1983, I found what I thought was the Holy Grail of bootlegs at Magnolia: Starring the Who! It was The Who’s complete performance at Woodstock.

As anyone who’s seen The Kids Are Alright or the Woodstock movie knows, The Who owned the festival with their legendary performance in the early morning hours. The pieces that I’ve seen of it remain the single most electric performance I’ve seen on film. It was the performance that made them superstars. And now I finally was able to hear the whole thing—including the part where Pete knocks Abbey Hoffman off stage with his guitar.

Well, most of it anyway, because as it turns out, the record cut off the ending of My Generation, when Pete smashes his guitar and tosses it into the crowd, as you can see in both movies. Seriously? That’s like buying Citizen Kane and having the movie end before you see Rosebud get tossed into the fire. (Spoiler alert!) Fortunately, I since have found a bootleg that has the restored ending, thank goodness.

Anyway, it was obvious that this had to be my Christmas present to my sister, who was the ultimate Who freak. It also was obvious that she would have to immediately make tapes for me and Scott after she opened the treasure.

That might be the longest introduction I’ve written so far to the actual story of the song itself, but there’s a reason for that. The Who at Woodstock played a major role on our family trip to Hawaii in the summer of 1984. Needless to say there’s a lot more to come on that, and I don’t want to burn everything up too quickly, but when I hear this song, I don’t think of Christmas 1983 but of driving home from the North Shore of Oahu after a long day at the beach the following summer.

And we’ll just leave it there for now.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

No. 844 – Staring at the Sun

Performer: U2
Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Original Release: Pop
Year: 1997
Definitive Version: None

We were coming up on the second anniversary of our having moved in together in 1997 when Debbie began to make noises about taking the next major step in our relationship. No, it wasn’t kids, thank goodness. It was buying a house.

I was hesitant. A house seemed like a huge responsibility. It wasn’t the financial aspect of it that bothered me. That’s easy. You find something you like and can afford. It was the physical stuff, the day-to-day taking care of things. I was no handyman. However, I did have my Dad and grandfather’s genes, so maybe the handyman gene was passed along. I’ve done yard work before. I’ve reroofed a garage. I can read a manual. How hard can it really be? I relented, somewhat reluctantly.

Not that Debbie was waiting for my approval before moving ahead anyway. It seemed every Sunday when we ceremoniously read the paper before breakfast, she scanned the classifieds and told me about this house or that one.

On the financial aspect, we agreed: We wanted only so much house that we could still do the fun things we enjoyed. If we wanted to take a weekend getaway to Chicago or Maine, we could do so. If we wanted to go to a restaurant and drop $100 on a great bottle of wine, it wouldn’t put us in danger of missing a mortgage payment. I did some figuring and determined that we could fit a $150,000 house easily into our lifestyle.

Unfortunately, that pretty much took German Village out of the equation. Even though our Gahanna apartment was an ideal location and worked out great, we both missed being in the city. German Village meant we’d have to start at at least $250,000 or go fixer-upper, and neither of us was interested in that challenge.

But the price wasn’t the only consideration. Debbie had just bought a new car—an Accord—and my car wasn’t getting any younger at 100,000 miles and counting. A $250K house in German Village still might leave you with street parking. Debbie said she had to have a garage, and I said that if we’re going garage, we have to get a two-car. We had a one-car garage in Gahanna, and I was tired of having to scrape my car in the winter.

So a two-car garage non fixer-upper at around $150K meant we had to stay in the suburbs, and that meant Gahanna or Westerville. There was no sense in moving south to, say, Reynoldsburg or west to, say, Hilliard, which were just starting to blow up, because that would make Debbie’s commute ridiculously long.

And the search was on.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

No. 845 – Fading Lights

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: We Can’t Dance
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

After I found Genesis in 1983, they quickly became my favorite active band, but it became increasingly clear that after Invisible Touch they were going to part ways soon. Of course, Phil Collins’ career was mushrooming, and even he said he just didn’t have time for Genesis any more.

So, I was actually surprised to read that they were going to release a new album, this album, with a massive tour to follow. In retrospect, it should have been billed as what it was—a farewell, at least with Collins—because that’s certainly what it was. I guess instead they decided they just would tell those who were paying attention, because this song—the final song on the album—couldn’t have been more clear that this was the end.

At the time maybe I didn’t want to see it. Hey, Genesis was touring. Who cares why? You know you’re huge when you can play Ohio Stadium, which is where I saw Genesis in the early summer of 1992.

If I remember correctly, Genesis was only the second band to play Ohio Stadium after Pink Floyd in 1988, so I was excited to see a show there for the first time. (I missed Pink Floyd, but I’ve seen three others there since.)

Interestingly, almost everyone I knew in Columbus—all my friends, my whole family (Dad and Laura got better seats due to a better connection) and even my ex-girlfriend and her sister—was there. We sat a couple rows behind Erin, Beth’s sister, and I hadn’t seen her since the breakup five years before.

Now that I think about it, it would have been appropriate to have seen Beth there, even with her husband, considering the role that Genesis played during our relationship. We had gone our separate ways and now Genesis was too. The circle was complete.

Friday, February 10, 2012

No. 846 – The Vanishing Breed

Performer: Robbie Robertson
Songwriters: Robbie Robertson, Douglas Spotted Eagle
Original Release: Music for The Native Americans
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

Some songs take you back to a specific time, and this is one of them for me. Granted, I’ve been writing about specific events with all of these songs, but with this song, not only do I have memories of what I did when I hear it, but I also conjure specific smells, tastes, temperatures. It’s as if I’m there again. This song is about the fall of 1994 and very specifically October—leaves turning, wood fires, a chill in the evening air.

In mid-October, Debbie and I went to Indiana for a weekend getaway. We went to Muncie to hang out with Scott and then head down to Brown County for some walking in the woods and shopping.

My recollection is that we spent two nights in Indiana—one at Scott’s and another down in Brown County, but that could’ve happened only if I took Friday and Saturday off, which, I suppose is possible. More likely, we just spent one night.

Whatever, it was a perfect fall day when we got to Brown County. By perfect, I mean that it was gray with just a hint of misty rain and not too cold but not warm either—jacket weather. I had just bought this red hunters jacket that hung down loosely almost to my knees and was warm. I loved that jacket. Debbie was big into photography, so she brought her camera, and my red jacket is in every picture.

On the drive in to Brown County State Park, we came upon the Bean Blossom covered bridge, which was built in 1880 as the sign over the entryway said. Like so many others had, I carved our initials into a beam on the inside. We reached the state park at the peak of fall season. The trees were spectacular, and we spent most of the day hiking around the woods. I collected a couple of particularly brilliant red leaves for Debbie.

We wrapped up the day by touring Nashville, which is an antiquer’s delight near the entrance of the state park. The funny thing is I remember little about this part of the trip. The one thing I do remember? One store had a full set of Tinkertoys in the original can. I had Tinkertoys when I was a kid, and kind of wanted them again at that moment. But at $20, I didn’t want them enough to pull the trigger. I didn’t regret it, but I also haven’t forgotten it either.

Anyway, we drove home to Columbus from there as night began to descend, making one stop along the way to buy a pumpkin to carve later that week. Halloween was coming after all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No. 847 – Intruder / (Oh) Pretty Woman

Performer: Van Halen
Songwriters: Eddie Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, William Dees, Roy Orbison
Original Release: Diver Down
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: Any that includes Intruder.

For any song where a preceding instrumental intro flows right into the song, the intro is part of the song as far as I’m concerned. And as far as I’m concerned, the only reason that this song is on the list is because of the Intruder intro.

My room in Wolcott Hall at Wabash was on the end of the building that faced East toward campus, Room 312, if I recall correctly. I lived above a couple of guys who had just learned how to play guitar, and the only song they knew was Eight Days a Week. If I heard Eight Days a Week once while I was trying to type a report or play Strat-O-Matic in my room, I must have heard it 5,000 times. Later, when I got to be good friends with one of those guys—Matt, with whom I roomed off-campus our senior year—I would chide him good-naturedly whenever he whipped out the guitar. Gonna play Eight Days a Week again? No, that was a phase, he said.

But Eight Days a Week wasn’t the only song that constantly wafted into my room courtesy of Wabash musicians during my freshman year. My room also was close to one end of the old Armory building that housed the basketball court—the side where the racquetball and handball courts were located. Below the courts was a weight room and below that, down in the basement, was a room for music rehearsal. I was in the room a couple of times, and it had lockers for instruments and acoustical tiles. I think only once I walked by and saw someone practicing the violin.

Most of the other times—and even times when I wouldn’t walk by—it was the domain of a rock band, or at least two guys who jammed together regularly. (There was never a bass player or singer that I recall.) The guitar player’s name was Paul, and he was a Beta. The drummer was a Delt, and I can’t remember his name, but I remember he played drums in the pep band with President Lew Salter. (I’ll get to that later.)

Anyway, they almost always started off their jams with this song, or more specifically, the Intruder intro. And it seemed like each time the song got longer, louder and more feedback-laced while the drums pounded out the beat in perfect time. Whenever they’d get bored with Pretty Woman, the next song was always Dance the Night Away.

Thirty years later (30?!), I can’t recall ever hearing any other songs, although I’m sure there must have been at some point. Perhaps I just didn’t know them and thus didn’t recognize them. Whatever. The Van Halen two-fer was their signature jam, and Pretty Woman was the standout. And unlike with my downstairs neighbors, I never got tired of hearing it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

No. 848 – Drowned World / Substitute for Love

Performer: Madonna
Songwriters: Madonna, William Orbit, Rod McKuen, Anita Kerr, David Collins
Original Release: Ray of Light
Year: 1998
Definitive Version: None

I was fine with Madonna at the Super Bowl. Madonna actually makes sense, when you think about it: She’s all about prerecorded, well-choreographed glitz. I’d rather see her out there than Springsteen or—God help me—The Who faking their way through some all-too-predictably lame set.

But how the heck does Madonna find her way onto this list? Simple. At least half of Laurie’s friends are gay men and most of the rest are women—most of whom love Madonna. Whenever Laurie’s posse vacations together in Wisconsin, Madonna on the boombox is as inevitable as my drink cup being filled with rum punch. Maybe it’s the rum, but whenever I heard this song (2 CD tracks, 1 song), I liked it.

The first time I heard it was my second Fourth Up North in 2006. When I landed my current job in April of that year, of course, I lost most of the free time that I had enjoyed the previous three years. That’s the trade-off for the paycheck, but as someone much wiser than I once remarked: You need money to live or you’ll starve.

But that summer it meant I would have to leave Wisconsin in the middle of the week, because I didn’t have any vacation time accrued. And Laurie did something unprecedented: She let me drive her car home.

This was a big moment. Yes, we had lived together for the past 10 months, but she never let me drive her car by myself. However, the alternative was that we would drive separately, which made no sense. So I drove her car, and she’d get a ride home with others.

I left on the Fourth of July. From our location on the grassy shores of the Turtle Flambeau Flowage up in the hinterlands of the Northwoods, it’s about a six-hour drive, maybe seven with traffic. By the time I got to Chicago for the final stretch from the Kennedy to our apartment, the municipal parks along the way were filling up as the sunlight began to fade.

As I soon learned, the Fourth of July in Chicago is for individual’s fireworks displays—like the one I conducted the day before in Wisconsin—and evidently they’re well-attended.

At about 9 p.m., the cannonade started, and because Laurie and I lived close to a large park, it was loud. I couldn’t see anything out of our dining-room windows that faced the park, but I could hear it—even with my headphones on. It went for a solid two hours and just when I started to wonder whether I would get any sleep that night, the assault stopped as suddenly as it had started. I guess the informal agreement is the city lets you do your thing as long as you quit at 11, so people can get some sleep before going to work the next day.

But walking through to park the next morning to where my car was parked was like walking through a riot zone. Paper and debris and burned-out firework hulks littered the park. Several places were completely covered in multicolor paper shards, and the stench of gunpowder lingered. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And you thought that halftime show was a spectacle. At least Madonna had someone clean up after her.