1967 and the Prog-Rock Progenitors* (Revisited)

Progressive rock reached its full potential in the ‘70s, but its roots trace back to the previous decade. While an attempt to determine when and with whom prog-rock formally originated is impossible (not to mention pointless), it is instructive to consider which artists pointed the way.

The official or at least easiest story is that when they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles ushered in a new era wherein rock music could be appreciated—and appraised—as Art. Of course there is considerable truth to this account, but there were plenty of other bands, circa 1967, edging things in a direction that was at once more evolved, complicated and unclassifiable.

For starters, The Beatles themselves had already made significant strides: Rubber Soul and especially Revolver showcased a facility for experimentation (sitar, string quartets, enriched lyrical import) and restlessness with regard to convention. “Tomorrow Never Knows” could be considered the true opening salvo that foresaw the future; after this song nothing was off the table, and opportunistic acts followed suit.

If 1967 characterizes a high point (famously, if a bit unfairly exemplified solely by Sgt. Pepper), it also initiated an explicit realignment of what was possible in rock music—for better or worse. Two albums that, in their way, illustrate where the art form would go are The Who’s The Who Sell Out and Love’s Forever Changes. In fact, if you combine the various concepts and approaches of both, a rough formula can be gleaned, previewing much of what was to come.

Indeed, both Love and The Who (led by Arthur Lee and Pete Townshend, respectively) had already made advancements on previous albums. The Who’s cheeky mini-opera, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” provided a template that Townshend—and many subsequent imitators—would utilize to greater effect. Love is notable for creating, alongside Dylan, Zappa and The Rolling Stones, one of the first songs to fill an entire album side. Love is not extolled nearly enough for the subtle ways they augmented the possibilities of a standard pop song: incorporating strings, flutes and harpsichords are all elements that make Side One of Da Capo a ceaselessly colorful and engaging listening experience.

Neil Young, not long for Buffalo Springfield, employed strings (with Jack Nitzsche’s supervision) for his elaborate miniature epics “Broken Arrow” and “Expecting to Fly”. The Moody Blues took a definitive leap forward, collaborating with Decca’s house orchestra to embellish their conceptual song-cycle Days of Future Passed. The Moody Blues were also one of the first bands to make prominent use of the mellotron (courtesy of Mike Pinder who, incidentally, is credited with turning John Lennon, pre “Strawberry Fields Forever”, onto the instrument), which would become a fixture in the prog-rock sound.

Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” remain ubiquitous psychedelic anthems from 1967, but it was arguably two lesser known and celebrated (at the time) acts that provided crucial direction for more ambitious artists. The Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart dropped albums that inspired and influenced the way modern music could connect. By turns surreal and cynical, Lou Reed and Don Van Vliet turned a mordant eye upon society and extended the lyrical possibilities Bob Dylan pioneered. Tracks like “Venus in Furs”, “Heroin”, “Drop Out Boogie” and “Electricity” (theremin!) are uncanny blueprints of a kitchen sink sensibility that quickly became commonplace.

Special mention must be made of the inimitable Brian Wilson. Even though his magnum opus SMiLE never saw the light of day (much more on that, here, “The Once and Future King: ‘SMiLE’ and Brian Wilson’s Very American Dream”) he can be—and has been, by none other than Paul McCartney—credited with inspiring if not intimidating the Fab Four to raise their game. Although the world would not hear the ideas and innovations Wilson began to assemble in 1966(!), enough material was salvaged to ultimately surface on 1967’s Smiley Smile, and “Heroes and Villains” could be considered the yin to “A Day in the Life’s” yang.

Two other debuts, both released prior to Sgt. Pepper, contain multiple elements that would be mined throughout the ensuing decade. We will never know what direction(s) Jimi Hendrix may have headed in, but the sources of a very different rock sound are sprinkled liberally throughout Are You Experienced?. His virtuosity alone served notice and opened the floodgates of imitation and indulgence; arguably no one has yet caught up to what Hendrix was achieving between 1967 and 1970. Whatever his merits as a lyricist (never mind poet), there is no question that Jim Morrison introduced a modus operandi that was at once more literate and dark than most of the rock albums that preceded The Doors.

Morrison’s two extended album closers, “The End” and “When The Music’s Over” (from Strange Days, also released in 1967) brought a dramatic, cathartic aspect to songwriting that translated to more theatric live performances: every arena act learned a trick or two from the Lizard King. However effectively (or farcically, depending upon your preference) the organ and guitar solos on “Light My Fire” approximate jazz improvisation, Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek did the near-impossible (or unthinkable, depending upon your preference) on the song that helped define the Summer of Love: they turned attention from the singer’s looks (and vocals) to the band mates’ sounds, if even for a few minutes.

Finally, enough can never be said (and much more will be said, before long) about Pink Floyd. Another 1967 debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recorded at the same time in the same studio as Sgt. Pepper, is a fully realized burst of sui generis psychedelic perfection. Lyrically, it ranges from the obligatory astral imagery of the era (“Astronomy Domine”) to the obligatory shout-out to I Ching (“Chapter 24”) to the brain salad surgery of “Bike”, revealing the unique and astonishing mind of a 21-year-old Syd Barrett.

Captivating as Barrett’s words (and voice) is throughout; the real revelation is his songwriting. The tunes, with one notable exception (“Interstellar Overdrive”), are exercises in precision, packing maximal sound and feeling into bite-sized bits. Eccentric, erudite and ebullient, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a happy explosion of creative potential, a template Floyd would expand upon in a stretch of possibly unrivaled masterpieces throughout the ‘70s.

By 1968 it was apparent many artists were paying attention, and a trio of songs signifies some of the ways the prog-rock aesthetic was already in full effect. Perhaps most notoriously, Iron Butterfly went all in, crafting a side-long song that strained for profundity, intensity and inscrutability. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (In The Garden of Eden?) super-sized the instrumental passages from “Light My Fire” (including a drum solo!), and incorporated earnest if overbearing explorations that drew from Country Joe and the Fish’s acid-drenched “Section 43”: over the course of 18 minutes it is psychedelia unbound or pretentious noodling personified (perhaps both).

Eric Burdon, who had found fame mining blues motifs with The Animals, threw his hat into the ring and crafted one of the more successful anti-war ballads, “Sky Pilot”. The band is focused and at just over seven minutes the song still seems just right: neither noodling (musically) or preaching (lyrically), the inclusion of sound effects and bagpipes are novel strategies, albeit ones that would become familiar—and somewhat stale in the next decade.

Lastly, another overlooked artist who deserves more, Arthur Brown, reached incisively into the recent past and did much to predict the future. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is an early concept album, incorporating mythology, religion and astute sociological insight. Best known for the one-and-done hit single “Fire”, the rest of Brown’s debut holds up well even as it’s unmistakably of its time.

His flair for the dramatic (bounding onto the stage with his metal helmet aflame) and painted face anticipated acts as diverse as Kiss, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel. The remarkable “Spontaneous Apple Creation”, which sounds like a mash-up of Sun Ra and Ennio Morricone, with vocals (and lyrics) that undeniably influenced Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, remains a signpost of how far rock music had come in only a couple of years.

*Second installment of new monthly PopMatters column, “The Amazing Pudding” (First installment HERE).

Share

Props for Pops (71st Birthday Edition)

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

I had the opportunity to toast my old man on his (surprise) 60th birthday party, which occurred at his favorite local restaurant, Dante’s. It was amazing to take him back there Tuesday night for a mano a mano dining adventure (keyword: soft-shell crabs) and reflect on how much has changed in the last ten years. But mostly we did –and will– focus on how little has changed: it’s still family first, we celebrate all of these occasions together and I remain as grateful as I’ve always been that this good man brought me into the world. It’s a world I would have been ill-equipped to enter, as an adult, without his guidance and support. It’s a world I’m more grateful than I’ve ever been that he is still very much a part of. We will celebrate those bonds of love and devotion tonight, like we always do.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th (EDIT: 70th!) birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

 

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

 

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”


Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

 

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

 

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 (EDIT: 70!) well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

Share

1967 and the Prog-Rock Progenitors*

Progressive rock reached its full potential in the ‘70s, but its roots trace back to the previous decade. While an attempt to determine when and with whom prog-rock formally originated is impossible (not to mention pointless), it is instructive to consider which artists pointed the way.

The official or at least easiest story is that when they released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles ushered in a new era wherein rock music could be appreciated—and appraised—as Art. Of course there is considerable truth to this account, but there were plenty of other bands, circa 1967, edging things in a direction that was at once more evolved, complicated and unclassifiable.

For starters, The Beatles themselves had already made significant strides: Rubber Soul and especially Revolver showcased a facility for experimentation (sitar, string quartets, enriched lyrical import) and restlessness with regard to convention. “Tomorrow Never Knows” could be considered the true opening salvo that foresaw the future; after this song nothing was off the table, and opportunistic acts followed suit.

If 1967 characterizes a high point (famously, if a bit unfairly exemplified solely by Sgt. Pepper), it also initiated an explicit realignment of what was possible in rock music—for better or worse. Two albums that, in their way, illustrate where the art form would go are The Who’s The Who Sell Out and Love’s Forever Changes. In fact, if you combine the various concepts and approaches of both, a rough formula can be gleaned, previewing much of what was to come.

Indeed, both Love and The Who (led by Arthur Lee and Pete Townshend, respectively) had already made advancements on previous albums. The Who’s cheeky mini-opera, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” provided a template that Townshend—and many subsequent imitators—would utilize to greater effect. Love is notable for creating, alongside Dylan, Zappa and The Rolling Stones, one of the first songs to fill an entire album side. Love is not extolled nearly enough for the subtle ways they augmented the possibilities of a standard pop song: incorporating strings, flutes and harpsichords are all elements that make Side One of Da Capo a ceaselessly colorful and engaging listening experience.

Neil Young, not long for Buffalo Springfield, employed strings (with Jack Nitzsche’s supervision) for his elaborate miniature epics “Broken Arrow” and “Expecting to Fly”. The Moody Blues took a definitive leap forward, collaborating with Decca’s house orchestra to embellish their conceptual song-cycle Days of Future Passed. The Moody Blues were also one of the first bands to make prominent use of the mellotron (courtesy of Mike Pinder who, incidentally, is credited with turning John Lennon, pre “Strawberry Fields Forever”, onto the instrument), which would become a fixture in the prog-rock sound.

Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” remain ubiquitous psychedelic anthems from 1967, but it was arguably two lesser known and celebrated (at the time) acts that provided crucial direction for more ambitious artists. The Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart dropped albums that inspired and influenced the way modern music could connect. By turns surreal and cynical, Lou Reed and Don Van Vliet turned a mordant eye upon society and extended the lyrical possibilities Bob Dylan pioneered. Tracks like “Venus in Furs”, “Heroin”, “Drop Out Boogie” and “Electricity” (theremin!) are uncanny blueprints of a kitchen sink sensibility that quickly became commonplace.

Special mention must be made of the inimitable Brian Wilson. Even though his magnum opus SMiLE never saw the light of day (much more on that, here, “The Once and Future King: ‘SMiLE’ and Brian Wilson’s Very American Dream”) he can be—and has been, by none other than Paul McCartney—credited with inspiring if not intimidating the Fab Four to raise their game. Although the world would not hear the ideas and innovations Wilson began to assemble in 1966(!), enough material was salvaged to ultimately surface on 1967’s Smiley Smile, and “Heroes and Villains” could be considered the yin to “A Day in the Life’s” yang.

Two other debuts, both released prior to Sgt. Pepper, contain multiple elements that would be mined throughout the ensuing decade. We will never know what direction(s) Jimi Hendrix may have headed in, but the sources of a very different rock sound are sprinkled liberally throughout Are You Experienced?. His virtuosity alone served notice and opened the floodgates of imitation and indulgence; arguably no one has yet caught up to what Hendrix was achieving between 1967 and 1970. Whatever his merits as a lyricist (never mind poet), there is no question that Jim Morrison introduced a modus operandi that was at once more literate and dark than most of the rock albums that preceded The Doors.

Morrison’s two extended album closers, “The End” and “When The Music’s Over” (from Strange Days, also released in 1967) brought a dramatic, cathartic aspect to songwriting that translated to more theatric live performances: every arena act learned a trick or two from the Lizard King. However effectively (or farcically, depending upon your preference) the organ and guitar solos on “Light My Fire” approximate jazz improvisation, Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek did the near-impossible (or unthinkable, depending upon your preference) on the song that helped define the Summer of Love: they turned attention from the singer’s looks (and vocals) to the band mates’ sounds, if even for a few minutes.

Finally, enough can never be said (and much more will be said, before long) about Pink Floyd. Another 1967 debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recorded at the same time in the same studio as Sgt. Pepper, is a fully realized burst of sui generis psychedelic perfection. Lyrically, it ranges from the obligatory astral imagery of the era (“Astronomy Domine”) to the obligatory shout-out to I Ching (“Chapter 24”) to the brain salad surgery of “Bike”, revealing the unique and astonishing mind of a 21-year-old Syd Barrett.

Captivating as Barrett’s words (and voice) is throughout; the real revelation is his songwriting. The tunes, with one notable exception (“Interstellar Overdrive”), are exercises in precision, packing maximal sound and feeling into bite-sized bits. Eccentric, erudite and ebullient, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a happy explosion of creative potential, a template Floyd would expand upon in a stretch of possibly unrivaled masterpieces throughout the ‘70s.

By 1968 it was apparent many artists were paying attention, and a trio of songs signifies some of the ways the prog-rock aesthetic was already in full effect. Perhaps most notoriously, Iron Butterfly went all in, crafting a side-long song that strained for profundity, intensity and inscrutability. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (In The Garden of Eden?) super-sized the instrumental passages from “Light My Fire” (including a drum solo!), and incorporated earnest if overbearing explorations that drew from Country Joe and the Fish’s acid-drenched “Section 43”: over the course of 18 minutes it is psychedelia unbound or pretentious noodling personified (perhaps both).

Eric Burdon, who had found fame mining blues motifs with The Animals, threw his hat into the ring and crafted one of the more successful anti-war ballads, “Sky Pilot”. The band is focused and at just over seven minutes the song still seems just right: neither noodling (musically) or preaching (lyrically), the inclusion of sound effects and bagpipes are novel strategies, albeit ones that would become familiar—and somewhat stale in the next decade.

Lastly, another overlooked artist who deserves more, Arthur Brown, reached incisively into the recent past and did much to predict the future. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is an early concept album, incorporating mythology, religion and astute sociological insight. Best known for the one-and-done hit single “Fire”, the rest of Brown’s debut holds up well even as it’s unmistakably of its time.

His flair for the dramatic (bounding onto the stage with his metal helmet aflame) and painted face anticipated acts as diverse as Kiss, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel. The remarkable “Spontaneous Apple Creation”, which sounds like a mash-up of Sun Ra and Ennio Morricone, with vocals (and lyrics) that undeniably influenced Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, remains a signpost of how far rock music had come in only a couple of years.

*Second installment of new monthly PopMatters column, “The Amazing Pudding” (First installment HERE).

Share

Props on Pops: 70th Birthday Edition

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

I had the opportunity to toast my old man on his (surprise) 60th birthday party, which occurred at his favorite local restaurant, Dante’s. It was amazing to take him back there Tuesday night for a mano a mano dining adventure (keyword: soft-shell crabs) and reflect on how much has changed in the last ten years. But mostly we did –and will– focus on how little has changed: it’s still family first, we celebrate all of these occasions together and I remain as grateful as I’ve always been that this good man brought me into the world. It’s a world I would have been ill-equipped to enter, as an adult, without his guidance and support. It’s a world I’m more grateful than I’ve ever been that he is still very much a part of. We will celebrate those bonds of love and devotion tonight, like we always do.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th (EDIT: 70th!) birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

 

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

 

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”


Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

 

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

 

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 (EDIT: 70!) well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

Share

Props on Pops (Revisited)

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th (EDIT: 69th!) birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”


Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 (EDIT: 69!) well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

Share

May 3: Props on Pops

I have written more than once about my mother (here and here) but I haven’t said a great deal (here) about my old man. That is, in part, because he is still very much with us, and our story is still unfolding. For a variety of obvious reasons, I hope that continues to be the case for a long, long time.

But anyone who knows me understands that my relationship with the old guy (Pops, to me; Jack, to others, Pa, to his two grandchildren), which I’m happy to report has always been more than solid, is a non-negotiable facet of my existence. Certainly, after what he and I (and my sister and her husband) went through during and after the death of my mother, things could never be the way they were. On literal and figurative levels. When I talk to others about this inevitable part of many people’s lives (e.g., losing a parent long before it’s expected or acceptable), I usually offer the opinion, based on what I’ve witnessed and experienced, that the crisis either pulls families closer together or pushes them farther apart. At least once a day, on some level, I’m grateful that our family had the foundation to rally around one another and work together on healing, a process that is measured not in years or months or even weeks but in days and sometimes minutes. We went through it, together and we’ll go through it, together.

Enough. There are plenty of things to say about Pops, but today, on the occasion of his 68th birthday, I would like to acknowledge, and celebrate, the bond of music that we (like my mother and I) share. Pops is no aficionado, but he has (some) game and I always am pleased to recall the handful of original LPs I happily stole from his collection. One of my earliest musical memories, along with the old Fantasia coloring book sessions, was Curtis Mayfield’s masterpiece, the soundtrack of Superfly. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this album set an aesthetic tone early in my formative development that made me more open (and, of course, susceptible) to all types of music. But no need to linger on the nuances; the nitty gritty of the situation is that holding the original fold-out double album of this blaxploitation classic was a seminal ’70s experience. It was immensely gratifying to give the old man a copy of the remastered reissue of this bad boy on his birthday in 1998.

Curtis Mayfield, “Freddie’s Dead”:

 

Another one that was in his slight but not unimpressive collection was the original pressing of Janis Joplin’s last joint, Pearl. I even have a picture of him, on his birthday (must have been ’71), happily holding the album up. Shame on me and not getting my scanner set up yet (stay tuned, and be forewarned). Of the “big three” who left us that unfortunate year, Pops never cared much for Jim, and never fell deeply in love (as he should have) with Jimi, but he did –and does– love Janis. Who could blame him?

Janis Joplin, “Get It While You Can”:

 

Wonderful memory: remember back in the ’80s when radio stations (even before “classic rock” stations became all the rage mid-decade) used to do their Top 500 countdowns on holidays (often either Memorial Day or Labor Day but occasionally July 4)? I used to live for those things and would listen, dutifully scribbling down the entries. Anyway, back in the early ’80s it was very unusual to hear unedited, long songs on the radio. So a song like Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” was one of those rare treats you’d catch a couple of times a year, if you were lucky. I didn’t own that album (yet) but that only made it more of an event if/when it came on. During one of the countdowns, on July 4, this one came on and Pops and I were heading back from the pool to cook out pre-fireworks. The famous “talk box” section was yet to occur, so we pulled up in the driveway and Pops simply let the car idle. Too enraptured in the moment to even miss a few seconds before we could dash into the house and turn it on the stereo, we sat there, in our soaked swimsuits and savored the moment. These are the types of shared encounters that, I suspect, sustain the father-son relationship a decade down the road when curfews are being tested and new boundaries are being established.

Peter Frampton, “Do You Feel Like We Do”:

 

1980: there weren’t a ton of bands (or albums) that all of us could enjoy (and by all of us, I mean my parents and me because my sister was never on board although, by 1980 she was already a teenager, so we’ll forgive her), but Bob Seger’s Against The Wind definitely made the cut. In fact, that may have been the only album (aside from The Beatles’ Blue Album) that we owned on LP (mine), cassette (hers) and 8-track (his). Pops has always had a thing for Seger and insists he is a better live performer than Bruce Springsteen (he has never seen either in concert, so we’ll forgive him).

Bob Seger, “No Man’s Land”:

Speaking of 8-tracks…

The Ford Grenada (speaking of the early ’80s!) sported an 8-track and anyone who lived then may recall the not exactly cutting edge way this “technology” handled the transition from one “track” to the other: if a song had not ended before the next “track” was programmed, it would just fade out where it was, then click, and fade back in (I’m sure the artists at the time were thrilled with this development and the ways it butchered their songs). There are more than a handful of albums we owned that, to this day, I can remember (and still, not without some fondness, hear) where these transitions occurred. One of the albums from that era that warrants a serious reexamination is Pat Benatar’s debut In The Heat of the Night. That album holds up remarkably well (indeed, the only two songs I don’t listen to these days are the two hit singles, the generic FM paint-by-numbers anthem “Heartbreaker” and the egregious Blondie rip-off “We Live For Love”). I’m serious. If you haven’t listened to this one in ages, or never owned it in the first place, I’m sure you can –and should– get a used copy real cheap at Amazon.

Pat Benatar, “In The Heat of the Night”

Another band whose catalog we owned on 8-track was Heart. Speaking of another band that deserves a sustained critical endorsement (mental note): their first five albums were solid, and while Little Queen and Bebe Le Strange are minor masterpieces and the first album, Dreamboat Annie, has one of the great first sides of the ’70s, for my money their finest hour is 1978’s Dog and Butterfly. This one got much play in the Grenada and it still gets a lot of play at my crib. When she was in top form, as she is throughout this album, there were few voices as compelling and out and out sexy as Ann Wilson’s. (Pops had the LP version of Little Queen and I used to happily gaze at that front cover for hours. Still gives me a little tingle even today.)

Heart, “Mistral Wind”:

Pops is from Boston (as was my mother), so in addition to the accent he’s never lost (much to many of my friends’ delight), we cruised up north each Christmas and most summers. These were eight or nine hour jaunts (more if traffic or weather were issues and one or both invariably were) and I recall fantasizing, as a ten year old, how amazing it would be to just kick back and watch movies in the back to pass the time. I think of this now and how lucky today’s snot-nosed little brats are (not that I’m bitter or anything) to have video-on-demand installed into the headrest in front of them.

We got through those trips the old-fashioned way: painfully. Lots of reading, Mad Libs and music. Especially music. By the time I got to high school, sis was in college (ironically, in Boston) and moms usually flew the friendly skies, so it was a mano a mano adventure for many years. My father, being very much a man of routine, had (and has) his favorite discs (then cassettes) for each trip. Many, which we fortunately agreed upon, were mandatory, such as CCR (see below), Skynyrd (ditto), The Beatles (see above), Heart (ditto) and a handful of rotating flavors-of-the-year (I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from his infatuation with the Fine Young Cannibals circa 1989).

Funny story: one of the worst fights we almost got in was not due to alcohol, drugs, or a pregnant cheerleader, but whether or not we could (should) listen to the full (and, in hindsight, insufferable) 18 minute version of “In-A- Gadda-Da-Vida”. The fifteen year old me voted yes. Let me explain: this was the summer of either ’85 or ’86 and I was already long past the point where I took music a bit too seriously. At his request, I brought along one of my mixtapes (a long lost art I could have done graduate work in or made a career out of, had the world ever been kind enough to offer graduate degrees or paychecks for such consequential and benificent endeavors). Anyway, that song came on and about half-way through my pops –because he was sane– grew tired of the interminable organ and drum noodling, and since (although he is a seismologist, has a profoundly anti-technology acumen) he could not figure out how to fast forward the tape (you know, that fast forward button) he told me to move things along. I invited him to do it himself if he was so eager to get through the song. Hilarity ensued. Not one of my finer moments, but it was a matter of principle. And, considering I really did like that song at one time, and had not done any drugs, this proves two things: one need not be stoned, only immature, to find pleasure in Iron Butterfly; and I was, clearly, already pretty far down the rabbit hole in terms of the whole music thing.

Iron Butterfly, “In A Gadda Da Vida”

Usually, there were no issues regarding music. Mostly because it’s not that difficult to fill up nine hours. The trips almost always kicked off with CCR, not only one of the all-time great American bands, but absolutely perfect road trip music. Full props to the old man for having an original LP copy of the almost-immaculate Cosmo’s Factory, which I spun like a squeaky clean Jeffrey Lebowski.

Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Long As I Can See The Light”:

Otis: Because sometimes you have to break out the big guns.

Otis Redding, “Pain In My Heart”:

I knew I liked Skynyrd (I remember when “That Smell” got played on the radio in ’77/’78, and thinking that nobody else sounded like they did) but I did not know I loved Skynyrd until I asked for –and received– the double LP Gold & Platinum for my 12th birthday. This one has the (incredible) live version of “Gimme Three Steps” and, of course, the ultimate (live) Bic Lighter anthem “Free Bird”. Later on I crafted a mix that incorporated more material from the very overlooked Second Helping, but that original cassette copy kept us energized, and sufficiently southern, as we headed north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Simple Man”:

More on the musical memories, and Pops, another time. For now, it’s good enough to give credit where it’s due, celebrate a beloved father’s continued health, and acknowledge 68 well-lived years. Most of all, it’s nice to know this particular story is still being written.

Share