Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No. 674 – You Really Got Me

Performer: The Kinks
Songwriter: Ray Davies
Original Release: Single
Year: 1964
Definitive Version: Come Dancing with The Kinks, 1986

As I’ve mentioned, sometimes life has a way of messing up the best-laid plans and schemes. One time was in September 1987.

For my magazine publishing class at Northwestern, I planned to drive from Evanston to Frankenmuth, Mich., to do a story on Bronner’s. If Bronner’s isn’t the world’s largest Christmas store, it certainly used to be, and I couldn’t imagine one that was larger. It seemed like the perfect subject for a magazine that was based on weekend driving travel around Chicago.

My plan was to drive over on Saturday to walk around and do some interviews, spend the night in the area and come back Sunday. Then I got a call that messed everything up. Jessica was planning a party Saturday night, and, well, I couldn’t miss that.

A little back story: About a month before, Jessica, who also worked at the YMCA, had taken me to see The Pat Metheny Group at Ravinia and straight out told me that she wanted us to get together, but she had just broken up with her boyfriend of 2 years and wasn’t quite ready. She’d let me know when she was.

So you can see why I needed to change my plans. OK, I figured. I still can get up early in the morning and drive over and back on Sunday. It’s not that far of a drive, right? Maybe three or four hours, I figured.

Well, to make a long prelude to a story short, the party went great. Later in the night, someone heard that one of my favorite blues bands was playing not far from Jessica’s place. I was ready to go with everyone else, but Jessica literally pulled me back and said, no, you need to stay and help me clean. What she actually was saying was, you need to stay and help me clean and then we can make out while everyone’s gone.

As you can imagine, I was OK with that. While we were on the couch, Jessica told me she wanted me to spend the night. As you can imagine, I was more than OK with that. But, she noted, it’s my time of the month, so we can’t do anything. As you can imagine, I wasn’t OK with that at all, but at least that’s a temporary condition, and the long-range forecast looked good.

I told her of my travel plans and invited her to come along. She said yes, and we got up the next morning at the crack of dawn to head out. OK, it really was mid-morning by the time we left for Frankenmuth. I had just bought Come Dancing, which was The Kinks’ latest greatest hits tape, and we had that on the car stereo as we drove off on our little adventure.

Of course, in thinking that the drive to Frankenmuth was about a three- or four-hour drive, I had underestimated the drive by about, oh, half. Before long, it was late afternoon, and I realized that we’d have no time to get to Frankenmuth to talk to anyone and turn around and drive back in one day. My big plans had been blown up by circumstance—not that I was that upset about the reason.

But we were close enough to Lansing that Jessica said, well, my sister goes to Michigan State. If we’re this close, can we drive up and hang out with her? At this point, my agenda was shot, so why not?

So on the day I should have been coming back from Frankenmuth, I ended up spending the day at a bar in East Lansing with Jessica’s sister and her boyfriend watching the Tigers win the 1987 East Division race on the last day of the season by beating Toronto in what was a major comeback/collapse. I was rooting for the Jays all the way, but everyone in the bar was going crazy for the Tigers, so that was kind of cool.

When it was over, Jessica and I headed home. I decided I’d just do the interviews I needed over the phone. Really, driving all the way to Frankenmuth was a hair-brained scheme anyway. It could have worked out, but that it didn’t for the reasons that it did was a-OK with me. Jessica and I made plans to see each other the next weekend. I could hardly wait.

Monday, July 30, 2012

No. 675 – Tahitian Moon

Performer: Porno for Pyros
Songwriters: Perry Farrell, Pete DiStefano, Martyn LeNoble, Stephen Perkins
Original Release: Good God’s Urge
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

I like to have new music to listen to whenever I travel anywhere. For my trip to L.A. in 1996, I bought two new albums: Dust by Screaming Trees and this album. I bought Porno for Pyros’ first album and liked it enough to give this one a try. I also had gotten into Ted, Just Admit It from the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, so, as I said, I was ready to graduate to Jane’s Addiction when I arrived at LAX.

For the first half of my trip, I rented a car to drive to Anaheim for the National. I had never driven on the L.A. freeway before this trip, but because the National opened at 8 for press, the timing of my departure and perhaps the direction worked in my favor. I also left late, like at about 7, so I didn’t have any serious traffic issues going either direction that I recall.

The only thing I remember about my drive was that the Anaheim Convention Center was down the street from Disneyland, so I passed the entrance along the way, which was kind of cool. I only had ever seen Walt Disney World in Florida.

The Anaheim National was my third National, and it quickly became the National whereby all others would be judged. St. Louis was massive, but this was ridiculous. Between all the big sports and card companies that had exhibits, the National took over the entire convention-center floor to the point where the autograph-signers were cosigned to the basement.

I followed my usual buying strategy of first writing down table numbers, what cards they had and prices, and going back to the best ones later. But my strategy went by the wayside almost immediately. It might not have been the first table I encountered, but it was one of the first. The guy had a box of 1958 baseball singles, three for a buck.

No need to write that one down. I just pulled out my wantlist and started blowing through the box: You can’t pass up three for a buck on 1958s, which were in decent condition, on the possibility that someone else might have them for four for a buck (which no one, of course, did). By the time I was done, I had more than 100 cards—a serious dent in making that set attainable.

The rest of the show was like that. Although I didn’t have any huge finds like I had the year before regarding the Rose rookie, I had more overall success. I took $1,000 to spend on cards, same as in 1995, but I came back with more cards than I had from St. Louis—more than 1,000. Not counting purchases of multiple sets at once, this was the biggest haul I ever have had at a single card show.

But I had more than just cards. I bought a whole bunch of stuff for the growing Baseball Room—pennants, books, tchotchkes. I bought a foamy Hideo Nomo K at the Dodgers game, and a 1989 All-Star Game program from the Angels game, so my suitcase was a lot fuller on the flight home.

And the flight home was the best. When I fly, I prefer to sit in the back, because I’d read that in the few plane crashes where there were survivors, the survivors far more often than not were in the back of the plane. Anything that increased my infinitesimal odds in such a situation seemed worth it to me.

But again my strategy worked to my benefit on the long second leg from Phoenix to Columbus (good ol’ America West), because I had the entire last row of seats to myself. That meant I could spread out ALL of my card bounty on the trip and admire it. Now THAT’s a great way to wind up a card show.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

No. 676 – Jesus He Knows Me

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

When I went to see Genesis at Ohio Stadium in the summer of 1992, I was with Scott, Jin and one of Scott’s friends. I drove down the day of the show from Flint, and apparently I didn’t get the memo that we were all going to wear suit jackets even if it were 100 degrees out. I instead wore my Journal softball jersey—far more practical. Jin voiced her disappointment loudly.

My disappointment was over our seats. We were a mile from the stage in the upper deck. Scott wasn’t able to pull off the good seats this time, alas.

As I mentioned, seeing anyone at Ohio Stadium was a big deal, and it was cool to be there and not have to listen to the grousing of Ohio State’s crummy football fans—all of whom are smarter than the guy actually coaching, no matter his record, I should point out.

But ultimately, it wasn’t one my favorite of concerts, largely because We Can’t Dance wasn’t one of my favorite albums. But I also didn’t like Genesis’ new stage and lighting effects. It was the first time they had really changed things up since 1982, and I suppose it was meant more for the stadiums that Genesis now was playing instead of the arenas they used to play. It was huge.

Genesis used the same lighting and stage on their reunion tour in 2007, and it struck me as bland, confusing and difficult to see the guys in the band. This was mostly because the massive video screen was too low and close to stage level, so the silhouettes of the band were all over the screen, which distracted from the video.

The setlist, of course, skewed recent, so the highlight of the night was a medley of old tunes, which featured Dance on a Volcano and I Know What I Like live for the first time since the Seventies. That was cool.

This song was another highlight. It featured a long intro by Phil where he says he has to raise $80 million by the end of the song for Je-zus. (The song, of course, is a parody of all the televangelists of the late 80s.) So, the song’s going along and every so often, they flashed a number on screen with numbers rapidly mounting. Finally in the end, Phil reaches his goal, and at the final singing of the chorus, a huge halo over Phil is flashed on the screen. It was pretty funny.

And with that, I closed the book on what was unquestionably my favorite band of the Eighties. I still loved the music, but the band was moving on. Meanwhile, I had just found this band called Pearl Jam. One book closed and another opened.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

No. 677 – Driven to Tears

Performer: Sting
Songwriter: Sting
Original Release: Zenyatta Mondatta (The Police)
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: Live Aid bootleg, 1985. The stripped-down version features just Sting on electric guitar and Branford Marsalis on tenor sax, and it made me a Sting fan.

Going through comprehensive exams—both oral and written—is a rite of passage at Wabash. In fact, it’s required of every senior to pass comps if he wants to graduate.

I had a bit more in mind than mere passage. I had more than exceeded my requirements for maintaining my scholarship all four years (details to come), and I was right around a 3.5 GPA. I definitely would graduate cum laude, but magna cum laude would look so much better, wouldn’t it?

I needed a 3.6 to get magna cum laude, and I wouldn’t get there even if I got 4.0s my last two semesters, but a 3.3 with distinction on comps would do it. (A 3.3 without distinction meant cum laude.)

Comps are the first week of the second semester, the first week after Christmas break, and they concentrate on your discipline. English majors start with two full days of essay exams—two sessions of three-hour stints per day. Then you had your orals with two professors in the English department where you are to select a dozen books, poems and plays and defend the rationale behind your choice.

After that, at some point in the second semester, you had your school-wide oral comps. They were campuswide in the sense that it would be three professors, all from different disciplines, grilling you for an hour or so.

There was no question that the English-only segment would be the most intense and would require the most preparation. In fact, I wasn’t sure it even was possible to prepare for the campuswide oral comps.

I had a serious plan for comps study. The plan, however, would require sacrifice over Christmas break: Instead of leaving immediately after regular exams, I’d stay through the weekend and drive home for Christmas, then turn around on the 26th and head back to Wabash till New Year’s Eve. After New Year’s, I’d come back another day early and get back at it.

I thought this was a good idea, because I wouldn’t have any distractions that middle week and really could concentrate on my studying, which involved rereading everything that was on my list. Matt said he’d come back then, too, but he didn’t, which was fine. I had the whole apartment—pretty much the whole campus really—to myself. If I played my Live Aid bootleg tapes once during that week, I played them 100 times.

I felt pretty confident going into comps week, and the written part seemed to go OK, which wasn’t good enough. I needed perfection—only the top two students in each department earn distinction. I felt less confident with the oral presentation in front of the two English professors.

I chose works that were meaningful to me rather than works that were unified behind a single theme. My choices mostly spoke to alienation, isolation and conforming with society, but I should have chosen a better grouping with that theme in mind. In the end, I wasn’t surprised when it was revealed that I didn’t earn distinction. Disappointed but not surprised.

Oh well, I still felt a great sense of relief when I was done. Now all I had to look forward to was finishing up and hopefully getting into journalism graduate school. I had applied to six schools, including my No. 1 school, Northwestern, in the fall, and I should be hearing back from them any day now …

Friday, July 27, 2012

No. 678 – Secret Touch

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Vapor Trails
Year: 2002
Definitive Version: Live in Rio, 2003

By September 2003, I was feeling good about being in Cleveland. I had my routine down, and my research was going great. I was feeling comfortable. And when I got an email that the Cleveland chapter of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, of which I was a member, was having its fall meeting downtown on a Saturday, I decided to go. I would bypass my usual Saturday of working all day at home while I watched college football on TV. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

The meeting was held at Alice Coopers’town (get it?), which was the aforementioned brass-rail bar where Scott and I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs while awaiting friends coming from the Pink Floyd concert nine years before.

The guest speaker was Joe Santry, who worked for the Columbus Clippers—my hometown team—and was a noted Columbus baseball historian. He spoke about Jack Graney, who was a beloved Cleveland baseball player, and his ties to Columbus baseball. (In fact, Graney was the namesake of the Cleveland chapter, aka the Jack Graney Chapter.)

Other than that, I couldn’t tell you what Joe said that day until the end. He finished his brief presentation with the announcement, by the way, the Clippers were looking for an official scorer, so any SABR members who were interested should speak with him after the meeting.

I couldn’t think about anything else the rest of the meeting. I had quit my job at The Dispatch—essentially thrown my newspaper career out the window—just so I could research minor-league baseball statistics and history (while continuing to write for BaseballTruth, of course). Now here was an opportunity to actually SHAPE the said statistics. I would help to generate the numbers that appear annually in The Sporting News annual Baseball Guides.

But the most enticing thought was that I COULD do it. I’d been scoring games since I was 8, knew baseball cold (or at least thought I did) and—best of all—I had a wide-open schedule. Every baseball team plays at least a dozen or so day games, which a full-time job would prevent from attending. That was no problem for me.

At the time, my plan was to be in Cleveland till my lease ran out at the end of March and then head to L.A. But it wasn’t necessary to be in L.A. at that time. Why not, say, just head out in September when the minor-league season ended?

I spoke with Joe afterward, gave him my BBT business card, and he said to get in touch with him after New Year’s. I was feeling giddy, but there was only one problem: The job paid bupkiss—$40 per game. It was obvious that I couldn’t support myself on that, so I needed some help. Fortunately, I had potential free room-and-board.

I approached Dad at Thanksgiving and told him of my opportunity—I would work Clippers games for a summer before heading to L.A.—so would it be possible if I freeloaded off him for a summer? He was all for it, thought it sounded like a great opportunity for me, and what the heck, most of the summer, the house would be empty anyway.

Laura, Matt and Casey would spend the summer—from mid-May to Labor Day—at Torch Lake. Dad would be going back and forth half the time and gone the rest. I would essentially serve as in-home security while taking care of the yard and any other chores that popped up.

That said, I also think he thought—as I did—that it would be a great opportunity for us to bond when he was home during the week as we hadn’t since certainly before I started dating Debbie and, truthfully, since the divorce.

With that resolved, I called Joe, and he had me come in for an interview and a scoring test. I drove down from Cleveland the night before in January (when I found Los Lonely Boys) and wore my suit, which was the right move even though NO ONE wears suits in baseball.

We chatted for a while about my experience. Joe explained that I would be an employee of the International League (AAA ball), not the team, to maintain independence in the scoring. Then Joe had me score about five innings of a game on videotape. I also met Ken Schnacke, the GM of the Clippers.

When we were done, Joe asked how many games I wanted to do. Still not grasping that I already had the gig, I said I could do all of them if he wanted. (I had no idea how many people they interviewed.) All he said was to come in a few days before the season started in April to check out the set-up in the press box.

And with a final handshake, it was official: My major-league dream had died 24 years before, but I now was employed by Organized Baseball.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway (and there are plenty of stories to come), that would be—and probably always will be—the best job I ever had.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

No. 679 – Suffer

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Gish
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

Oh, hey, what do you know? It’s another breakup song. Sorry about that; it’s just the (bad) luck of the draw that these have been on top of one another. This one isn’t as heavy (or as long of a post, thank goodness).

I had just discovered Smashing Pumpkins and Gish in October 1992 before Jenna and I went out for the last time. Unlike with Melanie, the end of whatever relationship Jenna and I had going came as no real surprise. The entire time we dated, I felt as though I were living on borrowed time anyway.

I assumed that because she had been with her previous boyfriend—living with him, in fact, now that I think about it—for more than a year, Jenna was going to need some alone/rebound time. Well, I was looking for more than being a rebound romance. My plan, as I mentioned, was to be cool and bide my time after I got the news that Jenna had broken up with her boyfriend. Events, however, conspired to commit that plan to the scrap heap, as I’ll detail in the not-so-distant future.

But after we started to date, I kept holding back, not wanting to push too fast, like I had to my detriment before. Ironically, THAT was the thing that doomed me this time around. Maybe it was inevitable that Jenna and I weren’t going to work out, regardless, but when I should have showed her more attention than I did (and I was afraid that if I swung in that direction, I’d show her too much), she saw that as disinterest. It was anything but, and in retrospect, I should have come clean with how I really felt. If I’ve learned anything in life—and that’s debatable—it’s that you should be honest at all times. It saves time, if nothing else.

Anyway, our last date was a horror double bill at a drive-in near to where she lived in Clio, north of Flint: Sleepwalkers and Pet Semetary II. Now, before you chastise me for that questionable choice, let me point out that it was Jenna’s idea. She was a horror-movie fan, and Halloween was right around the corner.

It wasn’t a great date; it was chilly and a light rain fell, which made it unpleasant to keep the windows down for the drive-in movie speakers. And I had a sense of foreboding as I drove away that night with Gish on the car stereo, not from the movies, which were predictably lame, but that my time with Jenna was up.

Sure enough, a few days later, I got a letter from Jenna giving me the heave-ho (which I think I still have somewhere for some reason). She wrote exactly what I had been thinking the entire time: She wasn’t ready to date someone else yet. She needed time to be alone, she wrote. It was confirmation that my original plan was correct, but I never had a chance to enact it.

That’s the way it goes, I guess. Rats.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

No. 680 – Thick as a Brick

Performer: Jethro Tull
Songwriter: Ian Anderson
Original Release: Thick as a Brick
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: Any one that has the whole thing.

Thick As a Brick is the longest song on the list, and it’s not even close. Few bands even would attempt a single-song album; Jethro Tull had two. Heck, even the live version of Karn Evil 9, checks in at a pedestrian 35 minutes, compared with this 43-minute opus.

There aren’t many places where a 43-minute song makes for good listening. I take the train to work; I have since I started in 2006. In fact, the train is where I write this here blog most of the time during the week. I started Thick As a Brick as soon as I got on, and I won’t hear the entire thing by the time I get to my destination, because my trip—barring delays—is a half-hour.

But one place where a 43-minute song is useful is the drive through Indiana. Doesn’t matter the destination, direction or route. Basically, aside from Indianapolis, EVERY drive is an endless sea of flat farmland—and uninteresting farm land at that. I’ve been driving in, through and around Indiana for 30 years. I know. I mean, even in Ohio, once in a while you get the odd charred cross at a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon’s home (I-71) or a building that looks like a picnic basket (Rt. 161).

But in Indiana? Until they built a massive windfarm north of Lafayette a couple of years ago, there literally was nothing to look at for dozens of miles at a stretch. This song was a Godsend, because when you start it, by the time it’s done, you’re 50 miles closer to your destination. (I drive fast.) That’s helpful.

One drive through Indiana when I had this song playing particularly stands out. I don’t remember why I was there, but I had been in Cincinnati visiting Scott (a Reds game, most likely). Anyway, I was on I-65 south of Indianapolis, heading home, and I could see the sky getting dark to the northwest as a thunderstorm bore down on me.

I don’t stop during a thunderstorm. I don’t see the point even if it’s a torrential downpour. I’d rather be creeping along at 30, because unless you stop for the duration of the storm, you’re going to have to drive through it at some point. Any time stopped is time delayed, so I figure, you might as well slow it down and just barrel through it.

But this time, as I kept rolling north, my speed was such that I was going to clip the front of it, which sometimes can be the hairiest part of a storm. Then a funny thing happened. At about the time when I should start feeling the wind and having the rain begin to pound on my windshield, the freeway bent around to the east, so instead of going underneath the thunderhead, I curved around the front.

I had angry clouds just overhead and I literally could see the downpour to my left, no more than 100 yards away as the wind began to bend down the trees. But I kept curving around the front of the storm. In my rearview mirror, the sky was black as I could see the storm sweep over the freeway.

Not a single drop of rain hit my windshield.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No. 681 – The Start of Something Beautiful

Performer: Porcupine Tree
Songwriters: Gavin Harrison, Steven Wilson
Original Release: Deadwing
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

We have a habit in our society of delivering instant analysis. Because we now have 24-hour news, sports and business—and quite frankly there isn’t enough of either on many days—the time has to be filled with something. Analysis is quick and easy, but because it’s instant, no distance exists to truly be able to put things in proper perspective.

I feel that way a bit about this list. I got turned on to Porcupine Tree less than two years ago. In all candor, how can I rate their stuff fairly compared with songs I’ve known for 30 years?

I probably should have not included anything I glommed on to in the past five years, because I honestly haven’t built up enough perspective yet to be able to form a definite opinion on where those songs should be on the list—or even whether they belong on the list at all.

If I were to do this list again in another five years—and I won’t—this song very well could be higher or it could be off the list completely. If I had to guess, however, it would be the former. I liked this song right away, and it’s continued to grow on me. With each listen, I like it more.

I really got turned on to this song at my current gym. Yes, I still work out and still listen to newer music when I’m there, but I no longer use my old trusty Walkman. Now it’s a second-gen iPod Shuffle that someone gave Laurie and she immediately bequeathed to me. (She hadn’t yet been clued in on the benefits of MP3.)

But I no longer work out a Bally’s gym, for the first time in more than 20 years. Bally’s apparently sold all of its Chicago gyms (among gyms elsewhere) to L.A. Fitness last year. So far, I haven’t noticed much difference good or bad other than the Bally’s logos inside the gym finally have been taken down. It’s been a very slow switchover from what I can tell.

My gym, to which I’m heading as I write this, is OK, I guess. It has enough equipment and room for the most part. It’s also the fourth gym I’ve tried since I moved to Chicago. The first one became impractical after I started working because of its distance both from my apartment and my train station (let alone my workplace). I still visit the second one, which is near to work in Deerfield, when I drive, but it’s impractical in dealing with the train.

The third one was my favorite. It was pretty close to my home train station, so I didn’t burn a lot of commuting time to and from. It had plenty of equipment and tons of space. My routine never was interrupted by having to wait for a piece of equipment to become available. However, there wasn’t a lot in the way of eye candy, so there were trade-offs to be had.

However, when I had my wallet lifted from my locker a few years ago, that was the end of that. Actually, it wasn’t even my wallet, but the cash therein. And it happened while I stood just around the corner combing my hair for a minute. The thief had to have gone after the wallet, which was in my coat pocket, not out in plain view, grabbed the cash and snuck around the corner. I had to admit that was pretty ballsy. He didn’t take any credit cards, so I was out only a few bucks. I figured he needed it more than I did, so I never even bothered to report it.

I also never went back to that gym, and I never again let my locker out of my sight. I might not be the brightest bulb in the box, but I’m not totally dim.

Monday, July 23, 2012

No. 682 – The Greatest Gift

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Chris Blackwell, Phil Johnstone, Charlie Jones, Kevin Scott MacMichael, Robert Plant
Original Release: Fate of Nations
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

When Scott pitched me on the idea of a backyard 500 barbecue at his place in Muncie, where he was spending the summer in between his junior and senior years at Ball State, I liked it

I can’t remember if this was entirely his idea or if it was a group effort, but it seemed natural to me that if we were going to have a 500 barbecue, we needed to do it up right. And doing it up right meant paying as much tribute to the race itself.

Aside from the inevitable banners, Danny Sullivan cutouts, beverages and processed meats, that also meant replicating the pre-race pageantry of the 500. Scott and I decided to copy everything from the invocation onward to the race start (the placing of the burgers and brats on the grill).

We lined up two charcoal grills in the backyard and pulled out one of the awesome seven-foot long nap couches that was in Scott’s living room, along with the usual assortment of lawn chairs and blankets. At the appropriate time, we assembled the guests. The barbecue was about to start.

After turning off Fate of Nations, we started with a very truncated and intentionally off-key Star Spangled Banner—our tribute to Married with Children—before moving to the invocation, in which Scott gave thanks for good weather asked for good grilling. Then it was time that all 500 fans look forward to—the singing of Back Home Again in Indiana. (The 500 is one of, I think, only two sporting events where the National Anthem is NOT the last song before the event begins. The other, of course, is the Kentucky Derby.)

Scott and I looked for the words for a while in preparation, although we knew most of them by heart. Because this was at the dawn of the Internet, we couldn’t just google them like you can now. But I found them, wrote them down and Scott and I ran through them once in the morning to be ready for the big moment.

Naturally, if you’re going to sing Back Home Again, there’s only one way to do it—in the style of Jim Nabors, operatic and overdramatic. We’re running through it in glorious fashion, and when we hit the windup line, “When I dream about the moonlight on the Waaaaaaaaabaaaaash,” suddenly everyone started cracking up.

Why? Unbeknownst to the others, Scott’s girlfriend, Shani, snuck off to a spot around the other side of the garage and on cue released from the trunk of Scott’s car the 20 or so helium-filled balloons that we had bought that morning for the occasion—the aforementioned morning chore.

When everyone saw the balloons drifting over the garage, at the correct moment of the song—just like they do at the race—they realized that we WERE doing a full-fledged Indy 500 tribute. They all got the joke.

Then followed the command: “Gentleman start your grills!” And with that, the 500 barbecue was officially under way.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

No. 683 – Romeo and Juliet

Performer: Dire Straits
Songwriter: Mark Knopfler
Original Release: Making Movies
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: The Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert, 1988, although the version from On the Night in 1993 is more or less the same.

When I started work on this list a year ago, after I assembled all the songs and began the sorting process, I concentrated on the songs that I thought were in the 900s, because—obviously—those would be the first ones up. I had to make sure I had the order right on those.

I left everything above, say, 700 for the time being assuming when I got to those songs, they’d fall into place accordingly. What I found however is a few songs that I hadn’t listened to in a while that I assumed would be in the top 500 or even 300 shouldn’t be that high. (By the way, no, I don’t know at this point what the No. 1 song is, although I have a few contenders. I probably won’t decide that till next year at the earliest.)

This is one of those songs. This is an undeniably great song, and it would be impossible to write my autobiography to music without this one, but hearing it now elicits an unpleasant response, as in, oh man, am I tired of this song. It wasn’t something I was expecting, but now that we’re here, there’s no doubt this song should be ranked lower than it is, although I couldn’t tell you where it properly belongs. Oh well. We can fix this in editing …

So, yeah, my breakup with Melanie … It was heart-rending at the time, and it messed me up for a long time afterward. I’ve touched a bit on the aftershocks, and I’ll go further into that another time. This is the story of the actual breakup itself.

In 1988, I had been looking forward to Labor Day weekend for a while, because after covering the local rivalry football game—New Buffalo vs. River Valley—I would visit Melanie at her family home in the Detroit suburbs. (Remember what I said about women and southeast Michigan?)

But this wasn’t going to be just an ordinary visit. Melanie had decided to leave Albion, which she attended when we met, and transfer to Michigan State. This was good news, because we’d be closer … but not close enough for me.

At this point in my life (I was all of 24), I had been in relationships for roughly five years and all of them were of the long-distance variety for the most part. (Beth and I, of course, were long distance during the school year at Wabash.) I was pretty much done with that.

But more than that, I was so in love with Melanie that I didn’t want to be apart from her any more than was absolutely necessary. I wasn’t quite ready to propose or move in together or anything like that, but I wanted to be where she was. Melanie going to Michigan State was a big opportunity. Nearby Lansing was a decent sized city and had a much larger newspaper. My great scheme was to look for a job there in the fall and move as soon as I could.

This is what I proposed Saturday, the day I arrived. The proposal was soundly rejected.

For years afterward, I beat myself up about how I handled that surprising turn of events, which is to say very immaturely. I freaked out. We had started the conversation in my car while getting dinner somewhere, and we finished in her driveway. I got out of the car and started walking away, my heart splitting in half, and at some point I recall ending up lying face up in the middle of someone’s back yard. (No one had fences in Melanie’s neighborhood.) All I wanted was for the ground to open up and pull me in.

The sky was very gray and dark—perfect for a breakup—and it looked like it was about to pour at any second, but it never rained harder than a light mist. Rats. I couldn’t even get a good, I-hope-it-rains-so-hard-I-get-pnuemonia-and-die-and-then-YOU’LL-BE-SORRY funk going. I just felt empty.

Melanie knew I was upset and wouldn’t let me drive back that night to New Buffalo, which I wanted to do. So I spent the night and drove back as soon as I woke up the next morning, which was at dawn. (I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep much that night. It’s hard to sleep when you can’t breathe.) I had hoped to sneak out without seeing her again, but she was listening for me. If I didn’t cry the entire four-hour drive home, it had to have been three hours and 53 minutes of it.

What happened? Well, obviously, I pushed too hard, too fast and wasn’t adequately skilled enough to properly handle a rejection that left open the possibility for a later reconciliation. For example, when she called almost the second I arrived in New Buffalo, I snapped at her on the phone, saying I would call her LATER. (I still needed to process the events of the day before.) That was clearly the wrong move.

But the fact is, I DID give Melanie the back-off option. I DID say, OK, well, we can continue to see each other as before. It was only when she said at that point, well, we need to talk about THAT, too, that I saw what was coming. It was only after that that I got out of the car.

She had been agitated that day. Even when I arrived Saturday afternoon, usually a joyous occasion, something didn’t feel right. She obviously had something on her mind, too.

The truth is the breakup probably was inevitable. Things may very well have been moving too fast for her, but she also was about to enter the great social pool known as Michigan State and perhaps didn’t want to be tied down to one person. But whether it was more the former or latter or a combination of both, it doesn’t matter now.

All I knew at the time, however, was exactly how a beached whale feels: I just want to lie here on the floor of my apartment until I die—with Romeo and Juliet (Melanie played Juliet at Albion just before we met) on endless loop on my tape player to make my death as pathetic as possible.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

No. 684 – Free as a Bird

Performer: The Beatles
Songwriters: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starkey
Original Release: Anthology 1
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

There’s some irony for you—ending the last blog with the word trapped and then the next song starts with the word free. I’m not clever enough to have done that on purpose.

Anyway, I know any self-respecting Beatles fan will grab for their barf bag over this choice, but it clicked with me when it came out. At the time, I had just become more or less free of Dad’s family after Debbie and I moved in together. Debbie’s family more than made up for any gap.

Debbie was very close to her family, and back then most of extended family lived close enough that we saw them all the time—at least once and sometimes twice a month, on Sundays.

We would go over to Debbie’s sister’s house for some serious down-home cookin’ and shootin’ the breeze, although I mostly kept my yapper shut. Debbie’s family could get pretty boisterous, and I learned that it was better to just stay out of it and listen.

Christmas was our big hosting duty. Debbie always had had her family to her place on Christmas Eve, and we continued that after we moved in together. The first Christmas Eve in 1995 we had 20 people in our apartment. It’s a good thing the living room and kitchen were open, great-room style. I don’t know how we would have done it otherwise.

It also turned out that that Christmas was the only one that I was able to fully attend, due to work and a typical lack of vacation days at the end of the year. In later years, I would come home on my dinner break long enough to say hi and grab some party grub before heading back to work.

After the first holiday, my Christmas present from Debbie’s sister, Pat, was always the same—a homemade apple pie, which is my favorite desert (heated with ice cream). And let me tell you, Pat’s apple pie is the best in the world, so that was as good a Christmas present as I could get. I’d hide it as soon as I got it, so no one else would be tempted to sneak a slice.

Debbie used to say afterward that although she loved doing it, she also was glad that it was once a year. She could take her extended family all together—particularly the kids when they got wound up—in small doses, and I agreed. But they accepted me right away, no questions asked. I was thankful for that at a time when my family was just the opposite.

Friday, July 20, 2012

No. 685 – Youngstown

Performer: Bruce Springsteen
Songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Original Release: The Ghost of Tom Joad
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: The studio version

This was my favorite song off Tom Joad when it came out, but a few years later it took on added significance.

My sentiments about The Dispatch were questionable when I started, and it got worse as my tenure went along. The Dispatch was, and is, a family-owned newspaper, and as such it’s subject to the vagaries of the family that runs it.

And the family that runs The Dispatch was (and maybe still is for all I know) one of the most powerful and well-connected in Columbus. The Wolfes had their fingers in many a pie. I guess it’s gotten a lot better than it used to be, but for a long time, if a story that was sensitive to a certain contingency in the city broke, The Dispatch was the place for it to go and die.

My favorite example: The Dispatch reported that Woody Hayes, legendary Ohio State football coach, resigned after punching a Clemson player in a bowl game. Every other paper, as far as I know, told the truth: He was fired. Why The Dispatch changed that story, I don’t know, but obviously someone somewhere wanted it that way—as if Hayes’ actions, which everyone saw on TV, weren’t embarrassing enough to himself or the university.

And Business, my department, did a lot of dirty work. It’s not that I recall that other papers were noting particularly atrocious deeds that we covered up, but we for sure didn’t report anything more controversial than a bad financial report. No one did any enterprise reporting of any real meatiness, and one-source stories were a-OK.

After coming from a paper and department that competed as best it could with the Detroit papers, this was distressing. But, as I’ve mentioned, the options for a journalist in Columbus were scarce. And when Debbie and I bought our house in June 1997, my options were limited to Columbus, period.

I tried to make the best of it, and for a while it was all right, and I recommitted to the department after my brief flirtation with moving to sports. But in January 1998, everything took a big turn for the worse. It all started when I got to work one day and there seemed to be a murmur in the newsroom as I went to check my mailbox.

On the bulletin board in the mailroom was a terse typed notice—two sentences—saying the business editor and assistant business editor had been reassigned and a new business editor and assistant were named. This was the first I had heard of this.

Let me restate that: Upper management blew apart the Business department and the people who actually worked in Business found out about it at the same time as (or later than) other people at the newspaper. And they didn’t even have the stones to tell us in person. Deplorable!

But the ultimate indignity was who they promoted to run the department. About a year before this, we hired a reporter who had been at the Youngstown Vindicator. (There’s your tie-in.) Harvey seemed like a good enough guy, but it didn’t take long to see that he was a poser. No matter the task, he’d complain about it, ask why it needed to be done and then whine that he never had enough time to get everything done.

As you can imagine, this sentiment didn’t play well with a copy desk that had to work in the evenings and always extra hours Thursdays and Fridays to get everything out on time, when Harvey NEVER stayed past 5.

So not only did the Brass announce in cowardly way the changes in Business, they also promoted the biggest jag-off in the department—if not the entire paper—to lead the department. The editor at least apologized later that day for the announcement, but the damage had been done, and my attitude went down the drain.

Fortunately, Harry continued his 5 p.m. departure policy regardless of what was going on in the department, so I had to deal with him for only an hour or so each day. In retrospect, of course, I should have been more professional in my interaction with the new management, but one can mask a general contempt so well. I had a mortgage, a fiancée and no reasonable job options. I was trapped.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

No. 686 – Prayer for the Dying

Performer: Seal
Songwriters: Gus Isidore, Seal
Original Release: Seal (II)
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

When I went to Cleveland to see Pink Floyd Memorial Day weekend 1994, Scott’s crew and I got a hotel about 15 miles south of the city. Why did we get a hotel? Well, why go see Pink Floyd once, when you can see them twice? John and Chris decided they wanted to get random tickets—didn’t matter where, as long as they were in the stadium.

Once was enough for me and Scott—particularly when you consider that we were going to be seeing them AGAIN in two days. So we instead decided to see an Indians game that Friday night. (I know I said earlier that the first Pink Floyd show was Friday, but now that I think about it, it had to have been Thursday, because the Indy 500 is always Sunday, unless it’s rained out, and we did nothing Saturday save for the BBQ.)

I didn’t have any trouble getting tickets, which was surprising given that it was the first year of Jacobs Field, the brand-new new-wave ballpark. Cleveland apparently wasn’t quite ready yet to pile on the franchise-rebirth bandwagon.

We started the next day at Denny’s across the parking lot from the motel and proceeded to the nearby Kmart. Everyone had been appreciative of my clothes the night before, but they wanted their own togs this time around. The gametime temperature for Pink Floyd the night before was 41 degrees, and it wasn’t going to be much warmer tonight. (They don’t call it the Mistake by the Lake for no reason, you know.)

After that, we needed to find something to do to kill time during the day. Cleveland was more than a year from opening the Rock Hall of Fame, so we didn’t have a lot of options. We found an arcade and batting cages and then decided to see a movie.

How about … Sirens? What’s Sirens? That’s the movie where Elle Macpherson is naked—a lot naked—so I’ve heard. I’m in! Me too! It’s unanimous—Sirens, it is! Yeah, go figure that such a movie would be of interest to four 20-something dudes?

After that and after separate cold shoulders (just kidding), we headed into town. First pitch was at the usual 7:05, and I wanted to walk around the park to check it out, so Scott and I broke off first.

I noted with some irony that I had never seen a game at Muni Stadium, although I’d seen two concerts there (the other being The Who in 1989, story to come). In fact, this would be my first Indians game anywhere. Can you believe that after almost 30 years of living in and around Ohio? Well, what the heck: At that point, it’d been almost two decades since I’d seen a Reds game.

Jacobs Field, or ob’s Field, as the sign still being assembled read on this particular day, would be the first of the new-wave ballparks I would visit for a game. Scott and I checked out the Bob Feller statue outside the right field stands and toured the yard during batting practice. It looked beautiful, different from Camden Yards, the first retro park, but definitely of the ilk.

The Indians had the Oakland A’s on the schedule, and Scott and I had seats that were about as far from home plate as you could get and still be in the stadium. We were literally at the end of the last row in the lower bowl. If someone hit a homer off the Feller statue, we had a chance to catch it if we got lucky with the rebound.

It was cold for May, but fortunately, unlike the previous night, it was clear, so it wasn’t a bad night for a game. Scott and I had the usual—dogs and beers—for dinner, and the game rolled along fairly quickly and uneventfully until Paul Sorrento sent everyone home happy with a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Tribe a 3-2 win. It was the first walkoff home run I’d ever seen at a professional game, so that was cool.

But now Scott and I needed something to do. The game ended, we figured, at about the same time as Pink Floyd was playing Time, so it was going to be at least another hour before the show finished and another half-hour before we met up with John and Chris. Sirens again? Sadly, no movie theaters were in the immediate vicinity.

So we hiked up Ninth Street by the park before coming to a rather ornate brass-railing and fern bar that’s something else now. They had the Stanley Cup playoffs on, so that seemed like the place for us. It was Game 7 of the Rangers-Devils and it was 2-2 at the start of the third period.

We watched the third period, the first overtime and the second until the Rangers, of course, won it. By this time, we figured, the concert was over. And, sure enough, almost as soon as we left the bar to go and meet up with John and Chris, here they came walking up the street. How was the show? It was awesome: They played all of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall and Wish You Were Here and Meddle and … Yeah, yeah, yeah. Heard it.

And with that we jumped in our cars and caravanned our way to Muncie, Ind. The kids were willing to split a hotel room to see Pink Floyd twice in Cleveland but not to avoid driving for five hours in the middle of the night. Ah youth.

It was about 3 in the morning when Scott and I pulled up at his place. We would have to get up at about 9 to get things moving before the scheduled start of the second, now annual, 500 Barbecue. Sleep? No sleep. The Cleveland leg of the epic weekend was over; the Indianapolis leg was about to begin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No. 687 – Crystal Blue Persuasion

Performer: Tommy James and the Shondells
Songwriters: Eddie Gray, Tommy James, Mike Vale
Original Release: Crimson & Clover
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

Here’s something funny: I’ve listened to this song a lot in the past eight years; I’d known it longer than that; and I certainly had heard of Tommy James and the Shondells. It wasn’t until three weeks ago, when I collected the background information at the top of each post that I saw a picture of the band and learned that Tommy James and all of the Shondells were (are) white guys. That probably was common knowledge, but that fact somehow eluded me all these years. I didn’t know them very well, and I just assumed from the vocals on this song that Tommy James, at least, was black.

I learned early on from Laurie that this was one of her favorite songs. I can’t remember the context of why she told me this or whether it was from the first time I visited or over the phone, but now it was stuck in my brain cells.

When I visited Laurie for New Year’s Eve that year, it was my first trip from Columbus to see her. The first two times I had come from Michigan, so this was the first of what would become many trips on the bore-a-thon known as I-70/I-65, with Indianapolis mercifully breaking up what otherwise is an interminable passing of flat, open farm land for five hours.

A stop in Merrillville, Ind., made sense. It’s at the tip of Da Region, as the Chicago guys at Wabash called it, which is the start of the Chicago metroplex. From Merrillville, it was an hour to Laurie’s if traffic was clear but more usually an hour and a half. It marked the start of the final stretch and the end—thankfully—of the farm land.

But it also made financial sense to stop in Merrillville and load up on gas, where it was always at least 20 cents per gallon less expensive than in Chicago. Merrillville also was a good place to stop for flowers. About a mile off I-65 on US 30 is a Meijer, which besides being open 24 hours has a decent flower department.

I had brought flowers to Laurie the first two times I had visited, and it was the least I could do as a token of my appreciation as a guest. I stopped, filled up the gas tank and put together a bouquet for Laurie.

As I headed back to I-65, this song came on the radio, just as I was about to call Laurie and tell her I was an hour or so away. I knew she wasn’t home at the time, so I was going to leave a message on her answering machine. (I told you she had Nineties technology.) When I got the proper prompt, I said it was me and held the phone up to the radio for a minute, so she could hear what was on my radio at the time.

When I arrived, it took me awhile to haul everything upstairs. I had five things—a suitcase, a bag of Christmas presents, a bag of dinner-related gear, my pillow and the flowers. Laurie took one look at me trudging up the stairs and asked, “Are you moving in?”

Little did she know that her question was only nine months premature …

No, the clothes were my clothes, the presents were because we decided to have a little exchange on New Year’s Day, the dinner gear was an expensive bottle of wine that I had been holding since I had broken up with Debbie for our New Year’s/Christmas dinner, my pillow was my pillow (I didn’t like Lauries’) and the flowers, of course, were my hall pass.

The New Year’s weekend shaped up to be a huge weekend, not only because I was going to be staying four days. That night, after dinner, I was going to meet the inner circle of her posse—her best of best friends. With only a brother left, this was as close to family that Laurie had. Obviously, our relationship was developing.

But there was another reason that this was going to be a big weekend. It was a reason that I knew of but Laurie was yet blissfully ignorant. And with that, we’ll draw down the curtain for now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

No. 688 – Summertime

Performer: Big Brother and the Holding Company
Songwriters: George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward
Original Release: Cheap Thrills
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

My first exposure to this song was from the Ralph Bakshi movie American Pop. Did you see that? It had its moments, and of course my favorite section was the Sixties stuff; I had just found The Who, Hendrix and Woodstock.

Anyway, Mike, who rented me the back bedroom of his and his family’s apartment in the summer of 1987 had Cheap Thrills, and I became reacquainted with this song. Consequently, I had it on my Walkman a lot as I rode the L to and from work—my internship in the communications department at the YMCA national headquarters.

I had my riding routine down: Because this was before Sudoku, to which I got addicted when I moved back to Chicago in 2005, I did a lot of reading.

Mike’s apartment was on the southern end of Evanston, so the closest L station was Howard, which is the Evanston-Chicago border and the end of the main north-south city route. In those days, the now Red Line had three trains. Two were typical A-B trains, which is to say the train stopped only at every other station with a few exceptions. Another train was an all-stop.

Howard to the Loop was an hour if you got on an all-stop train, 45 otherwise, unless I got lucky and caught an express Evanston train. My internship was everyday—typically for half-days, with a few exceptions—so I was on the train every day, and I had a lot of time to read.

I kept track of what I read and how quickly. I blew through Return of the Native and The Woodlanders, by Hardy, Heart of Darkness by Conrad (I liked the movie, Apocalypse Now, much better) and tried and failed—again—to get through Moby Dick.

I loved working downtown. Taking the L, going into an office building while wearing a shirt and tie with a briefcase and sitting in a cubicle made me feel very grown up. It was a long way from being a student, wearing sweats and a T shirt and carrying a bookbag.

I particularly liked lunchtime when I’d leave for the day (normally). I’d stop and get a hot dog at some stand, which was my first experience with Vienna Beef hot dogs, the world’s greatest mass marketed dog and walk around with the rest of the swells of humanity.

Now if only I could get that woman in the next cubicle to take a liking to me. Sasha, her name is, I think …

Monday, July 16, 2012

No. 689 – Red House

Performer: Jimi Hendrix
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Smash Hits
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: Soundtrack Recordings from the Film Jimi Hendrix, 1973, or any other version from Isle of Wight. The solo is one of Hendrix’s hardest straightforward solos, in my inexpert opinion.

I’ve had digestive issues as far back as I can remember. This is literally true. My earliest memory is being awake in the middle of the night at Norway Drive and looking into my parents’ bedroom and saying, “I’m going to throw up” and then running into the bathroom in my Dr. Dentons.

This happened before I was 4, and I know it happened then, because it’s the only memory I have from before I had my tonsils taken out, which happened in April 1968—two months before my 4th birthday. OK, so my illness in that oldest memory was tonsillitis and not a stomach issue per se, but there you go.

As I got older, I recall having bad stomachaches, but it didn’t seem like anything unusual. I remember my friend Jim would ask in junior high which was worse: a throbbing headache or a pounding stomachache? I got both, and obviously he got both, so it didn’t seem abnormal.

However, the summer of 1981, after my junior year in high school, when the Hendrix soundtrack was in heavy rotation on my record player, was when I decided that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. I had frequent abdominal pains, mixed with diarrhea and nausea. But other than the night after my high school baseball team’s aborted road trip to Marietta, I never got violently ill.

The doctor diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome, and in retrospect, considering that my diet at the time consisted mostly of fast food, junk and Coca-Cola, is it any wonder? But there didn’t seem to be any quick fix to relieve the symptoms if things started to flare up, so I was pretty miserable most of the time.

The worst was the last time I spent the night at Dad’s house (at least for most of the rest of the Eighties). There was a big block party on their street, and I hung out with Mike for a while, so instead of driving home to Mom’s, I stayed at Dad’s.

I woke up with my stomach bothering me, and I had a massive panic attack as a result. I might have referred to this before, but this was this night when I first became aware—really aware—of my mortality. I felt my barking stomach and wondered if I was going to die soon or whether I’d already lived half my life (turns out, I hadn’t, of course), and I just basically made myself even sicker with worry.

So I did the only rational thing I could think of at 2 in the morning: I left. I got dressed, jumped in The Fart and drove back to Mom’s, so I could at least sleep in my own bed—or try to.

However, I didn’t tell Dad; I didn’t leave a note or anything. He was pretty pissed when he found out about my stunt, and I don’t blame him one bit. I’d be pretty frantic if I were in his shoes and one of my kids just disappeared in the middle of the night. It was an immature stunt pulled off by someone who wasn’t thinking about anyone but himself at the moment.

But at the time, it worked. My anxiety went away and my stomach problems eased … for a while.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

No. 690 – Dream Weaver

Performer: Gary Wright
Songwriter: Gary Wright
Original Release: The Dream Weaver
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: None

The last family vacation that we took before Mom and Dad broke up was Florida in February 1976. This would be the fourth straight winter we’d gone down to New Smyrna Beach, but the last two times, we drove, because Mom hated to fly to the point where she no longer would. The year before we’d taken the Bus, but this time—and I can’t remember why—we took my grandfather’s station wagon.

It was a big green Buick—a real land yacht—and Dad had employed it a lot more in the past year to haul members of my Boy Scout troop here and there. Usually, it would be set up with only the second bench seat unfolded. The third back seat was folded flat, so there was a huge cargo area that was ideal for playing smash-em-up cars.

You’re not familiar with smash-em-up cars? Well, the cargo area was essentially untreated metal that was fairly slick, and if you took a turn too fast, you’d go sliding across the floor until you crashed into the side windows—or the luckless soul or souls caught in between. The purpose of smash-em-up cars was to crush the other person until the car veered in another direction, which would send everyone spinning off the other way.

But there was no smash-em-up cars on the family vacation, mostly because Mom and Dad put down a few blankets in the back for sleeping. As I recall, we stopped only one night on the trip, so Dad drove late into the night, and Scott and Jin (and I) would need a sleep spot.

At the time, I had really gotten into top 40 radio, so that was on in the car all the time. I remember how as we drove one night through, Tennessee, I think, we were listening to WLS, and I couldn’t believe that we could get a Chicago radio station all the way down there.

Anyway, it seemed that radio in general had a ratio of 1:3: For every one good song that you liked, it would play three crap ones. Put another way, for every time you’d hear Love Machine by The Miracles, which was Scott’s favorite song at the time, you’d hear Love Hurts by Nazareth, Lonely Night by Captain & Tennille and—God help us—anything by Barry Manilow.

Another of those songs was this song. I hated it. It was on ALL … THE … TIME, and it drove me nuts. I now can’t put my finger on why, but the synth reminded me of the background music of later Charlie Brown TV specials, although I think it was more the constancy of hearing it than anything in particular about the song itself, because of course, here we are 36 years later and it’s in my top 700.

How did that happen? Well, my musical tastes changed, and I suppose I probably heard this song after a long time of not hearing it, in a different context, and thought, oh, yeah—THAT song. That’s not a bad song after all.

But the song’s rehabilitation might even have started on that drive down to Florida when my angst over it was at its zenith. I have a clear memory of lying in the back of the station wagon at night with this song on. From my vantage point looking out a side window, I could see the night stars light up the sky far from city glare, and in retrospect, that’s a perfect backdrop.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

No. 691 – Do You Feel Like We Do?

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriters: Peter Frampton, Mick Gallagher, Rick Wills, John Siomos
Original Release: Frampton’s Camel
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: Umm, you think it might be the one from Frampton Comes Alive?

In March 2011, when I went to the doctor for a physical, I got the word that anyone approaching his or her 47th birthday wants to hear—a clean bill of health. Little did I know that that would be the first of about seven trips to see a doctor in the next month.

Less than a week later, I had a familiar scratchy tickle in my throat, so I liberally applied orange juice and Listerine to fend it off. Sometimes I catch it in time. This time I didn’t, and by that evening, I had a raging sore throat.

Oh well, you get colds; you deal with them, right? Except a funny thing happened: I didn’t get a cold, and the sore throat never went away. By the third day, which was unprecedented for me to have a sore throat for that long, I started reading around online, which is never a good idea. Steve Dahl is right: Health websites do a great job of making you think that whatever symptoms you have, you’re probably going to die.

Aside from the fact that I probably was going to die, I learned that a sore throat that lasts more than three days should be looked at by a doctor, so back in I went. My doctor did a strep test; it was negative. She gave me a bunch of drugs, just in case, because why not? My sore throat finally started to go away about a week after it started, but as soon as that improved, my right ear shut down.

For the previous year or so, I’d had this odd condition where when I worked out, my right ear would close up, producing a muffled rumble that sounded like when you put your ear to a seashell that pulsed to my heartbeat. When I would bend over, it would almost instantly reverse itself, and my hearing would come back as though I were slowly waking up. This would last only for 30 seconds at most, and that would be the end of it.

That was exactly the situation this time, except this time it didn’t end. Leaning over provided only temporary relief. It was as though my ear were clogged with wax, but that wasn’t the case. This was a real problem.

My doctor gave me real good news when I went back a third time: There was nothing she could do about it, so it was time to go see an ENT. I went to one ENT, then another. I got audiology tests at both places, and the results were the same: I couldn’t hear worth a darn except when I were bent over.

Both ENTs said I had eustachian-tube dysfunction but didn’t know the cause. However, the second ENT didn’t use the word “surgery” after his diagnosis, which is why I went to a second ENT in the first place.

He also actually looked into my ear and snaked a tube down my throat to see what was up there. He thought the problem was GERD and gave me prescription-strength Prilosec and a saline solution to clear up my throat, the soreness of which had returned. He told me to come back in another week for another hearing test.

When I went back—now more than a month after my sore throat started—I was still having problems but feeling a bit better. The sore throat was finally gone. I got another hearing test, and the audiologist was encouraged apart from the fact that she said I had … terrible ears.

The eustachian-tube dysfunction was one thing, but she said I showed a hearing loss that went beyond that. She said we might need to talk about hearing aids, words no one approaching his or her 47th birthday wants to hear. On the other hand, you do want to hear … something.

She said I didn’t them as long as I were getting along OK without them. There’s no question I have trouble with my hearing. I have had a soft, persistent ringing in both ears the past two decades. I can’t hear Laurie if she speaks softly and I’m not paying full attention. If I’m in a bar that’s loud enough, voices are a wave of cacophony.

This is all Peter Frampton’s fault. When I got Frampton Comes Alive in 1976, I played it all the time at night with my headphones on … and the stereo turned all the way to 11. The first time I pegged the volume on my stereo was to this song.

Now here I was, and the damage has been done. Damn you Peter Frampton and your magical talkbox! Damn you to Hell!