Thursday, October 31, 2013

No. 217 – Precious Time

Performer: Pat Benatar
Songwriter: Billy Steinberg
Original Release: Precious Time
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: None.

When it came to video channels in the early Eighties, Pat Benatar was everywhere. It only seemed like every other song was one of her miming on stage while wearing almost impossibly tight pants (which did nothing for me, by the way).

Jin loved Pat Benatar; I didn’t hate her, but I certainly wasn’t as into her as seemingly I should have been. This song was different. The first time I heard Precious Time—and I’m sure it would have been on MTV—its more-bluesy sound pulled me right in, and it’s been one of my favorite songs since.

When we first started to date, Beth and I didn’t waste much precious time in the summer of 1982. After our first date in June, subsequent dates came fast and furious.

Watching fireworks at Northam Park—the site of baseball triumphs—on the Fourth of July was particularly memorable, not only for the location but also that we spent most of it making out. In fact, that’s pretty much how all of our dates ended after that that summer.

Beth’s curfew started out at 10 and quickly went to 11 but went no later. (Beth was 15 after all.) There would be heck to pay if I didn’t have her home by my deadline, but it turned out that all that mattered was that Beth was home by the appointed hour, not necessarily that she was in for the night.

Sometimes her parents would be awake waiting in their family room, and on those nights, after checking in, we could steal a few minutes together on the wrought-iron loveseat on the front porch. But sometimes Beth’s parents wouldn’t be waiting up at all. Beth was given a strict curfew, but she also was left on her honor. As long as the only question that was asked was “What time did you get home?” she didn’t have to lie.

That slack oversight wasn’t enough to push trying to sneak into the basement, but it made the front porch fair game. We’d go out, I’d bring Beth her home by 11 and then we’d sit on her front porch—out of sight to any prying eyes—for the next hour or so “saying goodnight.” Every night we’d push our affection just a little bit further—hold the kiss a little longer, use a little more tongue, move the hands a little closer to the bounty beneath her blouse. It was all new and delightful.

Inevitably, those late nights ended up with me pushing something else—my car. The street where Beth lived had a slight incline, not enough to make much difference if you wanted to go bombing down it on a bike or a skateboard, but enough that if you put your car in neutral and gave it a shove, you could get it to roll slowly down the hill.

On nights where we might even have crossed into the next day, we didn’t want to alert Beth’s parents to exactly when she was coming in for the night. So, I’d put the Fart in neutral, pull the parking brake and give it a push from the door and frame. As soon as it started to move, I’d jump in and let it roll a hundred yards or so before I’d start the engine and drive off.

Now, I suppose this is the part where I tell you that hilarity ensued one night when I slipped and my car went rolling unoccupied into a cop car or something typically sit-comical. It never happened, even in the winter.

Later, after Beth and I had been dating a while and Beth’s curfew became nonexistent, we’d reminisce about the crazy days of our youth when I’d have to sneak off in my car—both of us floating on air and thinking that Beth’s parents were none the wise about when she was coming in for the night.

Which, of course, they were.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

No. 218 – Shadow of the Season

Performer: Screaming Trees
Songwriters: Gary Lee Connor, Mark Lanegan
Original Release: Sweet Oblivion
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None.

When you’re young, if you’re in any way rebellious, the biggest denial in life is that you’re anything like your parents. No way, man! My parents are losers! I’m NOTHING like them!

Eventually you get over yourself enough to realize that, yes, not only are you like them, in many ways you’re EXACTLY like them. Unfortunately, among other things, I’ve come to realize that I inherited Mom’s tendency toward self-destruction.

Unlike Mom, I don’t seem to carry it out in terms of my physical health. I might drink too much, admittedly, when compared with someone who’s a tee-totaler, but I don’t do drugs; I don’t smoke. I try to eat healthful foods and I work out three times a week. My health problems aren’t of my own making.

My self-destruction manifests itself in, well, everything else. It seems that at some point I try and blow up everything in my life—work, friendships, love relationships. Many times, I succeed. I had a lot of horrific success when I was younger. Fortunately, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become good at surrounding myself with people who won’t let me get away with my crap.

Laurie is one of those people, which probably is why we’re still together after nine years. Dave is another of those people. Put quite simply, Dave wouldn’t let me blow up our friendship 20 years ago, and God knows, I tried.

After a while in the winter of 1993-94, Dave and I settled into a comfortable pattern of not seeing each other. I was fine with it; I even started doing more things outside of work with other people. Then in March 1994, as I mentioned, I ended up in the hospital with a gangrenous gall bladder that required immediate removal.

When I came out of surgery, I had a get-well card waiting for me in recovery from everyone at The Journal. It had been organized and sent by Dave. Then, when I was moved to a regular room and could start accepting visitors, guess who was the first person to come see me? That would be Dave.

I remember feeling very uncomfortable in the hospital when Dave was there. We weren’t friends any more, so why had he bothered to show up?  Well, any discomfort was entirely on me, because I realized after the fact that I felt ashamed. Even in my somewhat addled state, I recognized that, now, when I was REALLY laid low, Dave was there like a true friend. It was a humbling realization.

After I got out of the hospital, a thaw developed in our previously frosty relationship. It was spring after all. It was better, but I guess pride got in the way, and I couldn’t just let bygones be bygones and go back to the way things were.

I wasn’t interested in rejoining the card column or the coed softball team, but I decided I would relent regarding the softball team if Dave specifically asked me to come back. I figured that as a member of the men’s team in good standing after a whole fall of playing I could satisfy my desire for playing time—and competition—with the men’s team, so playing for the coed team would be fine.

I might have told this to Doug, and Doug might have relayed the message, I don’t know. But one day in May, just before the softball season started, Dave pulled me aside in the newsroom and asked if I would play with the coed team. Satisfying my one condition, I agreed on the spot.

Of course, I didn’t play very long—two games on the men’s side, one on the coed side—before I left for The Columbus Dispatch. After my final game, Dave held a post-game cookout at his house, which I’d never seen due to our rift, and he stunned me by retiring my softball number. I again felt ashamed about my earlier behavior.

We didn’t talk much after I moved away. I had a new job and a new girlfriend, who led me down a new path of self-destruction. But in the winter, Dave sent an email (I had it at work now) saying he was throwing a Super Bowl party and would I be interested in coming up and hanging out? Considering I had Monday off, that was perfect.

It was a great bash, and I really enjoyed seeing everyone again as the San Francisco 49ers rolled the San Diego Chargers. I spent the night on the fold-out couch in Dave’s living room, and we stayed up late holding court in a baseball chat room. It was a real reconnection, so much so that in May we attended our first baseball game together in 2 years—in Cleveland.

We saw the White Sox and our man Frank Thomas take on the eventual league champeen Injuns. We posed for nutty pictures by the Bob Feller statue and ate hot dogs before the game out in the right-field bleachers where I caught (on a bounce off a seat behind us) a batting-practice home run ball by Robin Ventura.

It was a blast, and it felt just like old times, like nothing had ever happened between us. At one point, Debbie—knowing the history—said, I can’t believe you two ever were NOT friends. You guys are like little boys in a candy store together.

I know, right? But it happened. It happened because quite frankly I continued to be that immature little boy who couldn’t handle that his best friend had chosen to grow up and spend more time with his new baby and wife than palling around with his jealous buddy.

Laying aside little issues, the rift between and me was all on me. It was my nature to see the glass as half-empty and then, because it wasn’t full, try and destroy the glass in a rage and send the water flying everywhere.

But Dave wouldn’t let me get away with it. He gave me the space I seemingly wanted and waited for the right moment to prove himself, when I would realize the error of my ways. That’s why we’re still great friends to this day (even though he’s far more into the Cardinals than I’ll ever be).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

No. 219 – April Come She Will

Performer: Simon & Garfunkel
Songwriter: Paul Simon
Original Release: Sounds of Silence
Year: 1966
Definitive Version: The Concert in Central Park, 1982.

This song almost, ALMOST, perfectly represents my relationship with Melanie. It nails it in terms of length—April to September—but not quite the events of each month.

So, yeah, Melanie came she did into my life in April 1988, and I had absolutely no idea the fury of the hurricane that was about to hit before it happened. I’d met several of Jin’s friends over the years, and none ever flipped my switch.

The year before, I went to visit Jin at Albion, where she was going to college, and she hooked me up with someone who was a friend of a friend: Sharon, I think. We had a good time, but it was a one-night stand without the actual stand part.

So when Jin arrived late that Friday afternoon, I had no expectations about anything—just, hey, it’ll be cool to show Jin my new life in New Buffalo. Then she and her friend would head to Chicago the next day to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the Art Institute.

My apartment overlooking Whittaker Street had a door to the outside between the two stores below that led to a staircase up to my unit and another one to the back. I almost never bothered locking the downstairs door, so visitors could just come up the stairs and knock on my apartment door. I had a curtain I could peek out of to see who was there if anyone did.

When Jin knocked, I saw only her around the curtain, but when I opened the door, I noticed a curly-haired brunette standing to the side a bit in the shadows who lit up the dark hallway with an effervescent smile. “Will, this is my friend, Melanie.” “Pleased to meet you.” Little did I know how pleased I was …

It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was as close as I’ve ever come to that fantastic beginning. Jin later said that when she saw Melanie’s reaction when she first saw me, she knew right THEN that trouble was afoot.

The conversation between all three of us flowed almost instantly. We chatted in my apartment for a good long time, and then I took the two women to Redamak’s for dinner. Redamak’s is a required stop in New Buffalo. It’s not the world’s greatest hamburger, although it’s plenty good: It’s the hamburger along with the ambiance of the place that makes it special.

Back in 1988, Redamak’s had a dining room—all knotty-pine wood and funky tchotchkes on the walls—and an open but covered patio. The patio since has been enclosed, so there’s always room to get a table. Back in 1988, however, you might have a wait—a long one depending on the time and day. Around 6 o’clock on a Friday in April, before the summer patio opened but after it had started to warm up (Redamak’s closes for the winter), the wait was about an hour.

The three of us continued happily chatting away while we waited outside. Melanie and I were doing more of it, so I got to know her a little better. Melanie was a theater major at Albion, and she and Jin had met in the dorms where they were neighbors, not roommates. Remaining details about the conversation remain elusive.

What I remember though was there definitely seemed to be a spark between me and Melanie, and it was at Redamak’s where I really began to take note of her appearance. Melanie wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous. She had a trim, athletic shape and some Middle Eastern blood in her, so she had olive-toned skin and a more exotic look than any previous paramour. Her smile, though, was an absolute killer, and she flashed it often given her bubbly personality. Anyone with a pulse couldn’t help but be drawn in.

Back then, there weren’t any real bars in New Buffalo aside from a couple of dives, so after dinner, we called it a night and went back to my place. The plan was for Jin and Melanie to sleep on the floor in the living room—they brought blankets and pillows—while I was in my just-large-enough-for-a-single-bed bedroom to the side.

It soon came to pass that Melanie and I sat together on the love seat while Jin began to prepare for bed. Jin said she was hitting the wall—one illegally bought wine cooler at Redamak’s had been enough—but we could stay up if we wanted to. Jin said she didn’t need it to be perfectly dark or quiet to fall asleep, and she turned over on her side away from us.

After a few minutes, I leaned in to Melanie, breathing in the delicately scented shampoo in her curly hair and whispered in her ear, “I think she’s asleep,” and we began to kiss as simultaneously quietly and as passionately as we thought was possible.

Unlike with other moments in my life, I can tell you exactly what song was on my boombox tape player at that precise moment. No, it wasn’t April Come She Will. It was Mas Alla by The Pat Metheny Group off the First Circle tape Don made for me back at Northwestern in 1986.

Melanie and I made out for several minutes before separating for the night. Jin and Melanie had invited me earlier that evening to go to Chicago with them, and now that I had acquired a deep interest in one particular art-lover, I readily accepted. Now, as I lay in bed alone, giddily replaying and re-replaying the day’s stunning turn of events in my head, I couldn’t wait for the next day to come.

I fell into blissful slumber … eventually.

Monday, October 28, 2013

No. 220 – Hard to Imagine

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Music from Chicago Cab
Year: 1998
Definitive Version: The original version.

I mentioned almost a whole year ago that when I went to see Pearl Jam with Laurie for the first time in May 2006 (good ol’ No. 561), I was so drained mentally from my new job that I could barely move. I didn’t rock out at all. Fortunately, I got a shot at redemption.

In August 2009, just before the release of Backspacer, Pearl Jam came to Chicago for a two-fer at United Center, and I pounced on tickets. Unfortunately, my luck wasn’t as good as it had been the first time. Instead of being in the front row of the upper bowl, we were close to the top, although not so close that we felt claustrophobic, like when we saw Coldplay (uhhh … Laurie’s band) the year before.

The show in 2009 was like night and day with the first in 2006. Most important, the amount of stress at work had been severely reduced by now, so I had no trouble rocking out HARD from start to finish.

Nearly as important was that the show was better in almost every way other than the warmup act, which was Bad Religion instead of My Morning Jacket. Pearl Jam had just released The Fixer as a single and played that, but the rest was a collection of oldies and obscurities. In fact, the album that they played the most songs from that night was Vitalogy (but not my favorite off that album, alas).

The tone was set on the very first song—this one. Until Lost Dogs came out in 2003, I’d bet hardly anyone knew Hard to Imagine. I did, thanks to Napster and Freak, and it was one of my faves. Even still, I was in utter disbelief when the mysterious guitar started as the band hit the stage. NO WAY! They’re opening with THIS song?!?! AWESOME!!

Aside from Hard to Imagine, the musical highlight was Brother, another obscurity that I had known for 15 years thanks to Freak and that had been added to a rereleased and expanded Ten. I might have been the only one in my section who knew all the words, and I belted them out loud and proud.

Others in my section were more interested in getting their drunk on than any obscure Pearl Jam songs—particularly the row of Trixies behind us. As the show rolled on, their swaying got more and more unsteady. Considering that we were close to the stairs, this didn’t seem as though it would end well.

Sure enough, I think during Whipping, one of those Vitalogy tunes, one of the Trixies went down. I was in mid-air-guitar wham when I saw her go out of the corner of my eye and reached out to grab her arm, preventing her from landing on her head.

I asked if she were all right, but she didn’t say anything and just sat on the steps for a second either in humiliation or drunken stupor, I don’t know. I don’t think her boyfriend came over to ask whether she was all right until after she was back in her seat. (They left the show early, thank goodness, before the inevitable puking began.)

Did I get thanked by her or anyone in her group? Of course not, but that didn’t really matter. Being able to properly enjoy an excellent Pearl Jam show—the second best behind only the impossible-to-beat show in Louisville in 1994—was its own reward.