Friday, April 18, 2014

No. 48 – Long Train Runnin’

Performer: The Doobie Brothers
Songwriter: Tommy Johnston
Original Release: The Captain and Me
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: Farewell Tour, 1983, although the one from Live at the Greek Theater 1982, 2011, is essentially the same but with Cornelius Bumpus on vocals instead of Tommy Johnston.

I knew this song, of course, when I was a kid, but it was the version I heard for the first time on the Farewell Tour in 1982 that cemented it among my top 50 30 years later. It’s different from the original in that the instrumental middle section features all three percussionists and a quick jazzy guitar solo by Patrick Simmons instead of a harmonica. Then at the end, after the song reprises, John McFee puts it away with a blistering guitar solo that sounds like no other Doobie Brothers solo I’d heard.

Long Train Runnin’ is a Wabash song to me, because that’s when I recorded clips from the Farewell tour show that was broadcast on cable (and since released as Live at the Greek Theater 1982). So it makes sense that I tell another Wabash story, although you might be wondering how I have any left.

My stature across the campus increased as the years rolled on. I went from being a no-name freshman who quit on his fraternity to being the Voice of Wabash sports and the top English student on campus in a span of two years. This afforded me a couple of opportunities through the college itself.

The first one was a paid gig my junior year. Dr. Herzog asked if I’d like to make a little extra money and help the college out with a task. Sure. I’m glad to help—and get paid.

Wabash was interviewing for a counselor, who would help students who were going through rough patches of one kind or another. It was a new position. The college had three candidates they would interview for the job.

My responsibility, should I choose to accept it, was to drive to Indianapolis, pick up each candidate at the airport and bring them to campus. I then would drive them back the next day after the interview. I would be paid for my time and mileage. Not only could I do that, but I felt honored to be chosen. Obviously, Dr. Herzog felt that I’d make a good enough impression that I could act as an ambassador to the college.

What went unsaid was that as an ambassador of the college, I had to dress the part and follow the one Wabash rule—to act as a gentleman at all times. I had the second one covered, but for the first one, all I had was my tweed jacket and a few knit ties. In other words, back then, I didn’t own a suit. Well, what I have will have to do.

So in late spring 1985, I drove to Indianapolis Municipal Airport to pick up each of the candidates. It was about an hour from Crawfordsville along I-74 to the outerbelt and down to I-70. Because I had no idea what any of the candidates looked like, I made a sign with each of the candidates’ last name on it. I’d just stand at the gate—this was pre-9/11 when we had a more reasonable approach to security—and let them find me. It worked.

Each candidate was female. I’m not good about making conversation with strangers, but this time was easy, because the conversation topics were obvious. We spent the drive talking about Wabash, what the student experience was like, academia, Crawfordsville. My job was to promote Wabash, of course, and the one thing I didn’t want to do was say anything that might prejudice them against the school and job.

At the end, Dr. Herzog asked my opinion about the candidates. After all, if the job was based on student interaction, it was important to learn how each interacted with an actual student. I liked all three, but I preferred the first candidate. So did he, and they offered her the job, but she turned it down. (Oh, what did I do?) They went with the second candidate, who also was my second choice. I was pleased to see that my opinions reflected those of the brass.

I was asked, again by Dr. Herzog, to act as an ambassador of the college in a different manner the next year. This was more happenstance: I just happened to be walking across campus one afternoon when Dr. Herzog spotted me and called me over. The college was filming a promotional video, and would I mind being on it and asking him and another professor a pre-fed question about the student experience at Wabash?

Why not? I had TV experience thanks to my interview show with the football coach the previous fall, so I wasn’t nervous about having a camera film me. The whole thing took only a few minutes, and I was on my way to the radio station. But for years afterward—I don’t know how long exactly—if you were a prospective student at Wabash, you heard my voice on the recruiting video.

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