THE SHAPE I’M IN

“The Round Place in the Middle” is approaching its fifth anniversary (coming in February, and who knows if I’ll remember to commemorate it then…best do it now while I’m thinking of it).

Time flies.

I was originally going to call it “The Hole in the MIddle” but I was afraid people might get the wrong idea about what kind of hole I meant. I was only referring to the beautiful space in the middle of a 45 rpm record. Nothing more.

I promise.

With that duly noted, it’s been another year of solid growth. My goal from the beginning was to increase viewership by fifty percent a year. I was down a little from that this year, but since I exceeded the goal last year, I’m still right on pace overall. In any case, I comfortably exceeded all previous annual numbers in 2016, with December shattering all my previous monthly records. Onward and upward.

I feel like we’re all getting to know each other pretty well around here, so, just for fun–and maybe because it’s about time–I thought I would finally pull the trigger and close out the year with a list I put together before I started the blog and have used as a sort of rough template for the musical portion of the program all along the way.

For once, I don’t have a clever name for it, so “My Personal Stack of Life-Changing Records” will have to do.

Though there is plenty of inevitable overlap, I want to emphasize that this is not a list of “my favorite records” or “my idea of the greatest records” or “my desert island discs.” (A concept I’m suspicious of anyway…if only because I have it on good authority it was dreamed up at CIA right after the Kennedy Assassination and disseminated by the usual suspects through the usual outlets. Check the publishing credits next time you see somebody wanting to grab something and take it off to a “desert island.” You’ll see I’m right.)

No, these are just the ones that somehow or other, some time or other, cut deep enough to chisel me into a different shape than I would have been otherwise.

I’ve put them roughly the order of personal impact. That is, not necessarily the order I heard–or even loved–them, and certainly not the order in which they were released.

I only included albums when it was indeed the album that truly made the impact rather than an individual cut or two.

I’m not providing the usual links. Ya’ll know how to use YouTube if, by chance, you want to hear most of these. Otherwise, no deep thoughts. Maybe a comment here or there on a road map to a life I’ve learned to be grateful for.  Feel free to share a piece of your own map, especially if it’s nothing like mine!

And, okay, down at the very end, I might–might–provide one link to one record.

If I do, it will be the one I heard on the day I stopped running because hearing it meant my life was no longer at stake.

Without further adieu–1965–2016. Just the records:

“Downtown” (Petula Clark)
“500 Miles” (Peter, Paul and Mary)
“Ode to Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry)
“Brother Louie” (Stories) (I see you Brucie, sitting in your Daddy’s car, playing the radio. Wish you were here.)
“I Won’t Last A Day Without You” (Carpenters)
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” (Stylistics)
“Then Came You” (Spinners w/Dionne Warwick)

GREATEST HITS (John Denver) (The first album I bought with my own money.)

“December, 1963” (Four Seasons) (My record habit begins.)
“You Sexy Thing” (Hot Chocolate)

STORY (Four Seasons)

“All By Myself” (Eric Carmen)
“Kentucky Rain” (Elvis Presley)
“Do You Believe in Magic” (Lovin’ Spoonful)
“Oh Me, Oh My” (Lulu)
“Lizzie and the Rainman” (Tanya Tucker)
“Part Time Love” (Elton John)

THE BEATLES 1962–1966

“Any Way That You Want Me” (Evie Sands)
“Turn, Turn, Turn” (Byrds) (It’s 1978 and Selective Service doesn’t even exist yet. But it’s graduation day and I can feel it coming.)
“Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly)
“Bring it on Home to Me” (Sam Cooke)
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Righteous Brothers)
“I Get Around” (Beach Boys)
“California Dreamin'” (Mamas & the Papas)
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (Shangri-Las)
“Refugee” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS (Byrds)

“Pressure Drop” (Toots and the Maytals)
“Train in Vain” and “Death or Glory” (Clash)
” Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Can’t Stop the World” (Go-Go’s)

GREATEST HITS (Tanya Tucker–Columbia)

CHRONICLE (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

THE COMPLETE HOT FIVES AND SEVENS (Louis Armstrong) (Note: This is not the old Joker International vinyl box I have, but I couldn’t find an image of that one on the internet. The music is very much the same.)

“I Feel Like Going Home” (Charlie Rich)
“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (Them)
“Listen to the Lion” (Van Morrison)

BICENTENNIAL NIGGER (Richard Pryor)

FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS (Elvis Presley)

HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (Bob Dylan)

“Take It On The Run” (REO Speedwagon)
“Don’t Look Back” (Temptations)
“God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday)
“I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (Kinks)

THE VINTAGE YEARS (Impressions)

TEN YEARS OF GOLD (Aretha Franklin)

“The Love I Saw In You (Was Just a Mirage)” (Smokey Robinson &
the Miracles)
“We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and “It’s My Life” (Animals)

DIRTY MIND (Prince)

“Alabama” (John Coltrane)
“Beneath the Blue Sky” (Go-Go’s)
“Born In the U.S.A.” (Bruce Springsteen)

TWO STEPS FROM THE BLUES (Bobby “Blue” Bland)

“Cold Sweat” (James Brown)

PARTY (Beach Boys)

FATHERS AND SONS (Various Artists–Gospel)

“Oliver’s Army” and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and
Understanding?” (Elvis Costello)
“Meet on the Ledge” (Fairport Convention)

THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG STORY VOLUME FOUR (Louis Armstrong)

“Rock and Roll Lullabye” (B.J. Thomas)
“Piece of My Heart” (Big Brother and the Holding Company)

BEST OF (Sam and Dave)

CHIRPIN’ (Persuasions) (My favorite album cover. The miracle was that the music inside lived up to it.)

DUSTY IN MEMPHIS (Dusty Springfield)

“Gee” (Crows) (Heard this for the first time on the radio when I was driving home from the hospital the week my mother died. Knew every word. Never have been able to remember the words ever since.)
“Papa Don’t Preach” and “Live to Tell” (Madonna)
“Never Again” (Shangri-Las)
“This Time” and “Walk Away” (House of Schock)
“Buffalo Stance” (Neneh Cherry)
“Gimme Shelter” (Rolling Stones)
“Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday)
” Money Changes Everything” (Cyndi Lauper)

ROOTS (Everly Brothers)

THE “KING” KONG COMPILATION (Various Artists–Reggae)

BELLE (Al Green)

“Lost Highway” (Hank Williams, Sr.)

17 GREATEST HITS (Five Royales) (Still the best way to get used to them before you try to take it on all at once.)

“Turn the Beat Around” (Vicki Sue Robinson–12″ version) (Back around the turn of the millenia, I once heard a youngish black rock critic make an argument for the seventies being better than the sixties by saying “Vicki Sue Robinson.” That was his entire argument. He didn’t even have to name the record and he looked at the rest of the panel like they would have to be pure idiots to even contest the point. None of them did. And I kind of know why.)

GREATEST HITS (War) (I don’t know if the seventies were better than the sixties or, for that matter, the fifties. I wouldn’t want to do without any of them. But this is the purest, deepest soundtrack of the seventies. That I do know.)

RADIO CITY (Big Star) (Unless maybe this is.)

“Rank Stranger” (Stanley Brothers)
“One Night Stand” (Janis Joplin)
“The Message” (Grandmaster Flash)
“Maybe It Was Memphis” (Pam Tillis)
“Midnight Train to Georgia” (Gladys Knight and the Pips)
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (Santa Esmerelda–12″ version)

BEST OF 1956-1980 (Brenda Lee) (One of these days I’ll write at length about how mind-blowing it was to finally sit down and listen to her all at once. I’ve been saying I would do this for five years now. Maybe this will be the year. I hope so, because I won’t be complete until I get it out of me.)

“Runnin’ With The Devil” (Van Halen)
“God Will” (Patty Loveless)
“Copperhead Road” (Steve Earle)
“Ghetto Bastard (Everything’s Gonna’ Be Alright)” (Naughty by Nature) (“How I’m gonna make it? I won’t, that’s how.” Timelier by the year. Goodbye us.)
“Masters of Revenge” (Body Count)
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes)
“Stay With Me” (Lorraine Ellison) (Too cute, I know, coming right after the one above. But it happened that way in my head. Just like that. Really. I swear by the blood below my feet.)
“There’s Something I’ve Got to Tell You” (Glenda Collins)
“I’m Gonna’ Be Strong” (Cyndi Lauper)
“Paradise City” (Guns N’ Roses)
“All Along The Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
“For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)
“One” (U2)
“Ohio” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
“Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd)

RUMOURS (Fleetwood Mac) (Timelier by the year. Goodbye us.)

“Angie” (Rolling Stones)
“The Ballad of Curtis Loew” (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
“Roll Um Easy” (Linda Ronstadt)

PRETENDERS

and LEARNING TO CRAWL (Pretenders)

“They Don’t Know” (Tracey Ullman)
“Rock Me on the Water” (Linda Ronstadt)
“Shame” (Evelyn “Champagne” King–12″ version)
“Wake Up Everybody” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes–12″ version)

YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN–Soundtrack (Doris Day with Harry James)

“Nottamun Town” (Fairport Convention)
“Trapped” (Jimmy Cliff)
“Where I’m Bound” (Patty Loveless)
“Brown Sugar” (Rolling Stones)
“Daisy Chain” (Go-Go’s)
“Go Where You Wanna Go” and “Safe In My Garden” (Mamas & the Papas)

That’s the journey thus far. I note that the distance from “Go Where You Wanna Go” to “Safe In My Garden” is roughly equal to the distance from “Downtown” to “500 Miles.” Maybe we just move in circles after all. Stay in our circumscribed round places so to speak.

Now, should I play that one song I mentioned?

Sure. Why not? Believe me, without it there would be no list. Because without it, even if by some miracle I was still here, there would still be no me. Have to write about that some day, too.

Can’t wait for the New Year.

Let’s hope it’s a good one, fear and all.

I HAD A DREAM…

Now that I’ve recovered from my recent illness, I’m happy to say that I’m able to pinpoint the exact moment when I reached bottom…and then began to bounce back.

Things had gone very far south when, after several days of being on a fast track to the bathroom every time they showed a cheeseburger on the TV screen, which I couldn’t turn off if I wanted to take my mind off my misery (endless images of face-eating zombies or spiders crawling from black holed skulls were not a problem…the sight of grilled meat was an eruption bringer), I found myself pulling into the parking lot of a seedy looking motel in Decatur, Alabama.

To my knowledge I had never previously visited Decatur, which is somewhere up around the north end of the state. It was late in the evening, maybe past midnight. A rather nondescript clerk (short, dumpy, swarthy, grumpy) took my information and grunted a room number while he handed me a key.

I didn’t catch the name of the place.

Exhausted, I stumbled to the room and fell on the bed without really paying much attention to my surroundings.

At eight o’clock the next morning, I awoke, amazingly refreshed. Best night’s sleep I’d had in years.

When I looked around the room, I found that it wasn’t really so much a conventional motel room as a sort of lounge, not unlike the one my dad and I slept in the second year we traveled back from North Florida to paint the Orlando-Seminole Jai Alai fronton in the summer of ’76.

Lots of open space. A sort of lounge couch which I had slept on. Some books and CDs and stray articles of clothing strewn about.

After I oriented myself, I started gathering up the stuff, which all seemed to belong to me, though I couldn’t imagine why I was traveling with it, or why I had spread it all over the room like that. I was in the process of doing this when a chubby, Jheri-curled black kid in a janitor’s uniform peeked in through the front door, which I suddenly realized was made of see-through plate glass. I waved for him to come on in, figuring maybe he needed to clean the place, but he just smiled and waved back and then walked away.

Nonplussed, I went about gathering my stuff. In the process I realized one of the CDs I had brought with me was this one:

cmayfield1

I looked around to see if the room had a CD player, and, naturally, this being a flea bag motel in Decatur, Alabama, with a flickering sign and a half-paved parking lot, they had a state of the art one. Standalone. With built-in speakers that beat anything I have at my house.

I immediately set about trying to discern how it worked, and, in no time at all, I had the Impressions blasting loud and strong.

“It’s all right, have a good time, say it’s all right…”

I kept gathering up my stuff, still in a humming, singing mood, though getting a little bit frustrated because it seemed the more I gathered, the more stuff there was. Eventually, I found some plastic bags and dumped as much in them as I could and started transporting stuff to my car, which was parked right outside the plate-glass door.

For a while, as I carted the endless bags, I noted that mine was the only car in the parking lot.

Somewhere in there, my eye fell on one of those clock/calendar things (Was it on the front of the CD player? An electric sign by the street? The memory hazes.) and I discovered that the reason I felt so good was that I had slept through an entire day and night and awakened on the morning of my second day at this little establishment.

“I’m so proud of be-ing…lo-o-oved by you…”

Very soon after that, I cottoned that this might be a problem, because I had no cash and, though I had enough gas to get home, I knew I only had enough money in my bank account to pay for one night at the motel with my debit card.

True, I couldn’t remember asking how much the room was. But I was sure it had to be more than twenty dollars a day.

The thought of calling someone to wire me the money crossed my mind, but I knew that, realistically, all my friends and family are even broker than I am, and, anyway, I didn’t remember any of their phone numbers and didn’t want to ask the office about phone usage, so that wasn’t really a good option.

After that, it was pretty clear that I had to make a getaway.

I’d send ’em a check, of course, once I was safely home and, you know, out of the state of Alabama.

I certainly intended to check the name of the place before I drove off. I had no intention of cheating anybody!

I would have headed straight out, but first I had to retrieve my Impressions’ CD from the state of the art standalone player that was still blasting away in my room.

“You must be-li-e-e-ve me, no matter what the people might say, you know, it just didn’t happen that way…”

Back inside I went.

There I found that the CD player had transformed itself into a cheap cardboard box that couldn’t possibly play anything, not even when I took the cover off and found a fake reel-to-reel tape player inside.

“But the music’s still playing,” I thought.

How could that be?

Because I had transferred the disc to the CD player in my car. That was how!

“A-a-a-a-men…A-a-a-a-men…”

Back to the car!

Only the car wasn’t there.

The music was still playing…the Impressions were moving right along through the sixties. “People get ready, there’s a train a’ comin’.” But my car was gone.

In its place was a monster pickup which was hauling an Airstream trailer that stretched across the whole parking lot. I had to walk around the back end of it to see the office and whether or not my car had been moved in that direction.

It had not been. It was gone.

Just then, a man with a long red-haired pony tail came around the side of the pickup and I asked if he had seen my car.

“Little black one?” he said.

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Oh yeah, I moved it down to the other end there.”

Right about there, things started to get a little strange.

I wasn’t worried yet. Just a little disoriented. It didn’t seem like that parking lot had been so big that I would have missed my car if it was there.

But, sure enough, when I walked back around the Airstream, I saw that the rest of the “parking lot” was lot bigger than I had previously imagined because the end of it ran off into a sort of half-hidden junkyard, not unlike a few I visited back in the late seventies when I was scavenging parts for my ’71 Maverick.

Well, that wasn’t too intimidating. Surely, my car wasn’t so old that it wouldn’t stand out amongst all those junkers.

“I’ve been trying…to understand why…can’t I be your only man…”

So I set off to track down my car. The music had gotten really loud and I started wishing it was a little softer, because then it wouldn’t sound like it was coming from all directions and once and it would be a lot easier to locate my car via the CD player.

I kept thinking about that a lot as I searched fruitlessly through the ever-expanding junk yard, which turned out to have a lot more than cars in it, but nothing resembling my car.

Before I got too involved, I went back up and fetched Pony Tail, who professed bewilderment in the snatches of conversation we were able to exchange over the volume of the music–“The woman’s got soul and everybody knows”–which was now so loud we could hardly hear each other.

Got to be here, he kept saying, as he led me through a maze of ever more industrialized wastelands, which began turning from junk yards into chop shops. Not chop shops for cars so much as spaceships. Spare parts anyway.

I kept thinking, Jesus, if the music just wasn’t so loud, we could at least figure out if we’re going in the right direction.

“I’m trying hard to forget, that you been cheatin'” was making my ears bleed!

Pony Tail finally ran off with some dudes who were playing football with a small, metallic spare spaceship part that developed a second skin while it was being thrown. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the second skin but it was clear Pony Tail’s new friends didn’t want me to play and were starting to kind of sneer at me in that “We’ll at least we ain’t lost” manner that you sometimes find in hillbilly places when you are looking for your car in a junkyard where you clearly don’t belong.

I did some calculating and managed to find a path back to the parking lot. I had to step across a pile of dry manure and wedge myself between a wire fence and a concrete wall, but the roaming band of rough boys who were patrolling the outskirts of the more conventional open field approach gave me the proper incentive and I soon found myself back in my room, which had now been taken over by a group of middle-aged cleaning ladies who called me “Hon” and swore they hadn’t seen my car either.

I asked if I should maybe call the law. They gave me a very sad look that said I definitely wasn’t from around there and fully qualified as a certifiable Poor Thing.

I could still hear the music, but it wasn’t as loud.

“I can’t satisfy, your love…”

I could almost hear myself think again.

Well, whatever happens, I thought when I was back in the parking lot, still wondering if it would be worth tackling the junk yard again, “I’m gonna need to know the name of this place.”

Hey, my car had to be there somewhere. I mean, “We’re a Winner” was starting to pound.

I walked around the other side of the office and finally found the motel sign.

Ladiez41NightOnly it read.

Just then I looked up and saw an Alabama Sheriff, complete with broad-brimmed hat and mirror shades, approaching with the clear intention of making polite inquiries into my status in his town.

He was just about to speak, when it hit me.

Oh, Thank God, I thought. This has GOT to be a dream!

And when I woke myself up, this was playing in my headphones…

…just as it should have been if I’d drifted off to sleep with The Anthology playing half an hour earlier.

Look, this used to happen to me about three times a week. These days, it takes sixty loose bowel movements in seventy-two hours to make me dream this way.

I call that progress.

And I note that the music had kept me sane through it all. So it was kind of a metaphor for my entire life.

I started getting better from that hour.

Regular blogging to resume soon.

A QUICK UPDATE…

I want to thank everyone for your random acts of kindness in support of the blog. In the last two months I blew past every pre-existing record for views, visits, comments, etc. In the four-plus years of the blog’s existence, this has happened every year or so, but I want everyone to know that I never, ever take it for granted.

And I know I often take a curmudgeonly stance, which, oddly enough is somewhat at odds with my basic personality (I’m way-y-y-y more laid back than my writing would indicate). But it’s a mean world and I’m happy to have found this outlet for dealing with it while having a little fun now and then.

Keeps me sane. Your participation keeps me saner.

THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO…(Summer, 2016 Edition)

And what I heard this time (just for fun…and because I feel a round of lists coming on)…

10) Time Life Ultimate Seventies: 1976 (1989)

1976image1

Driving around music. I could have done better by 1976 myself (it was the year I started listening to the radio). But even an collection of middling taste beats any hour you could spend listening to anything on the radio in my market these days. Best segue: “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (closely linked to me being nearly thrown out of my one and only true rock concert experience which naturally took place in a Jai Alai fronton) into “Sara Smile” (closely linked to my dad’s car being stolen at an amusement park and the FBI giving him the heebie jeebies later that summer at self-same Jai Alai fronton, which was all way-y-y-y more interesting than it sounds). Pick to click: Spinners’ “Rubberband Man,” which I barely heard that year and is one of the most mind-blowing records ever made.

9) Gino Washington Out of This World (1962–68) (1999)

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Essential to any collection. Gino was a rock and roll Martian. There were a few of them hanging round back then. He started as a Frank Guida knockoff maybe, who didn’t happen to record for Frank Guida (like Gary U.S. Bonds and Jimmy Soul) and therefore didn’t make as much noise on the charts as he should have. But “Gino Is a Coward” gave the concept a whole new way of being, and nothing, certainly not the soul sixties, could lay even a touch of slick on him. Listening this time did what it always does. Made me smile a lot.

8) The Corin Tucker Band 1,000 Years (2010)

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I keep circling Tucker’s principal band, Sleater-Kinney, without quite being able to land. I’m really not sure why. I doubt it’s anything rational. It could be that her strong similarity to Belinda Carlisle’s timbre and phrasing (though she puts them to quite different and original use) just causes my natural “they’re-the-Go-Go’s-and-you’re-not” response to kick in with extra-super strength.

That said, I’m also not quite sure why my response to this, which I just started listening to a few weeks ago, is so strong. It might be because it temporarily solves punk’s (for me) existential problem, which is my lack of conviction that angst-ridden, collegiate white people need their own version of the blues. But this does sound like a unique, modern version of the blues–not in form but in feeling. It’s haunting and immediate, odd but free of quirkiness-for-it’s-own-sake. Whether I’ll like it even more or a little less once I figure out the words, I have no idea. There’s no one pick to click. It’s of a piece. But “It’s Always Summer” does as well as any for an introduction.

7) The Mamas & the Papas A Gathering of Flowers (1966-68) (2013–originally released, 1970)

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I wrote about this a little when I first acquired it. Nothing’s changed. The Real Gone re-release is the best sounding collection of their work to date and there is no act where getting the sound right is more important. In recent years, I’ve probably listened to them more than any sixties’ group except possibly the Stones. The distance between those poles isn’t nearly as profound as I (and many others) once assumed. Yes, there’s a piece in the works. Pray for me kids.

Granted, I’d still rather listen to whole albums or box sets, where their roiling ethos is on fullest display. But, every once in a while, I just have to throw this on and smile the smiled of the contented. No pick to click. Too many to choose from. But, as of now, there’s no better place to appreciate a “minor” track like “Did You Ever Want to Cry” (even if you can only really appreciate it on a proper player, with headphones).

6) The Rolling Stones Hot Rocks 1964-1971 (2002 CD release)

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And when I listen to the Stones it’s rarely this standard set, which has been derided by plenty who think it too obvious, too square, too perfectly representative of what people latch on to when they aren’t real deep-dyed Stones’ fans and only want to stay on the surface.

Okay, I confess that I can’t play most of my Stones’ CDs from this period right now because, for some reason, the ancient player I have hooked up to my main receiver won’t accept the versions I own. It won’t take my Kinks’ CDs either. I need a new player!

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great collection. About half of this never-quit set is from truly great albums, but, by my lights, about half of it isn’t. And “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women” aren’t on anything but comps–this being the best. Besides, what’s better than having the hits, the hits, and nothing but the hits (or at least signature tunes), roll over you, one right after the other? Never understood the “if you don’t like the Stones, this might serve as a sampler” mindset (Christgau, but he spoke for plenty of others). No one pick to click, of course, but for fun facts, you can’t beat the “Honky Tonk Women” being Doris Troy and Reparata and the Delrons (watch those “Diamonds in the Shade” updates folks!).

5) Patty Loveless Sleepless Nights (2008)

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This was one of those instances where it took me a while to catch up. It’s a “covers” album from what now looks like it will be the tail end of Loveless’s career. I took it for a good solid effort when it came out. As usual, there was more there than met the ear (I first began to suspect when I heard one of the “lesser” cuts in the middle of some fifties’ era honky tonk on an oldies country station we used to have around here…it fit so perfectly it took me half the song to even place it). Back then it was just another good Patty Loveless album. Now that it looks like there aren’t going to be any more, it cuts deeper. Bone deep sometimes. Pick to click: a complete re-imagining of the Davis Sisters’ “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know.”

4) Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors (1977)

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Skynyrd and Patty are such natural traveling companions (I never take a long driving trip without them) I end up listening to them in tandem at home quite a bit. No better way to appreciate how much country was in Ronnie Van Zandt’s singing (or how much Southern Rock was in Patty’s). You could miss it otherwise when “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell” roll over you straight out of the gate. All of the original band’s albums are great and I’m not sure they were actually getting better just before the crash. But there was no sign they were wearing out, the way even bands as great as War or Led Zeppelin were at similar points in their careers. We’ll never know what all we missed when that plane went down, but they were still searching for something. Try “I Never Dreamed” for something beyond the obvious.

3) Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons Jersey Beat (1962-1992) (2007: Box set)

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This was finally assembled after the smash success of Jersey Boys on Broadway. Before that improbable event, it had become all too easy to forget how big they were, how deep the catalog was, how logical they seemed without being the least bit repeatable. (“I protested the war in Viet Nam,” Jersey Boys script-writer Marshall Brickman told Bob Gaudio when they were brainstorming. “When you’re  writing this,” Gaudio said, “Just remember my audience were the ones fighting it.” There was a reason waitresses and beat cops and other middle-age working class types paid Broadway prices to see the resulting show twenty and thirty times over. That reason is here.)

Everybody knows the big hits. After Jersey Boys, most people even started to remember just how numerous they were. Now that the world is preparing to forget again, I’m extra glad this exists. I can’t say I listen to all four CDs all the way through very often. But when I do, I’m always reminded this is the best insurance against all future memory holes. Except for a couple of late so-so sides at the end of the fourth disc, this doesn’t even come close to quitting. Among several dozen obscure and semi-obscure gems, I especially recommend “Girl Come Running,” which might be the most perfect song ever written and arranged for Valli’s multiplicity of voices.

2) Natalie Merchant The House Carpenter’s Daughter (2003)

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In which she finally reveals herself as Sandy Denny’s long lost daughter, all grown up.

I’ve only had this a little while and, to tell the truth, I have to be in a particular doomy-but-not-too-doomy mood to throw it on. When I do, it weaves a spell. In some world that offered unlimited time and space, I could imagine obsessing on it. As it stands: a mood piece for a very particular mood.

For a pick to click, try “Diver Boy” But I warn you, that’s her fast one. Dead Girl Poetry and the Bo Diddley Beat, they do not mix.

1) Dion King of the New York Streets (1958-1999: Box Set)

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A wanderer on a journey. This set covers forty years of that journey so it’s bound to be a little disjointed. At three discs, It’s too broad to deliver the deep focus several different phases of his career deserve, and not broad enough to keep the transitions from jarring. Plus, no “Sonny Boy” and no “I Knew the Bride” so it can’t be definitive in my book. Plus, there’s now a whole post-millennial phase which I understand has brought him back to the blues obsession he first started exploring in the mid-sixties (and is hinted at by a few cuts at the end of the disc one here).

It’s still the best overview out there,especially if you want to find out whether the post doo-wop career is worth your time (which it certainly is). Pick to click for the coming summer is 1971’s “Sanctuary” which is not currently available on YouTube. Somebody must know something. Just for fun, then, close it with this, which could maybe be dedicated to Corin Tucker if you’re brave enough.

UPDATE….

Sorry for the somewhat meager posting this week. It might continue for a few days. I had a fender bender (actually a “wheel rim bender”) a couple of weeks ago and what at first appeared to be a minor and straightforward repair has morphed into Claims Adjustment Hell. Each day brings new adventures. It’s been difficult to get my mind around anything complicated whilst gnashing my teeth. Anyway, for a nice little break, here’s a fun, if brief, look at Joel Whitburn, invaluable assembler of Billboard (and, lately, Cashbox) statistics. Wish I knew what his hundred point system was. Maybe in the next day or two I’ll reveal my own thirty point system (twenty-five, you’re in!). It’ll happen if I can make it easy enough!

Meanwhile, Speakeasy’s “Villains” Blogathon is a little past the halfway point, so there’s lot’s of good reading over there which I encourage all my readers to partake in.

Just oh-by-the-way, I’m on track for a record shattering month, so I once again issue my periodic heartfelt thanks to all who visit, read, comment and/or spread the word. Your satisfaction is my only reward and it’s what makes everything here worthwhile. Here’s to you….then…

and then…

TEN THINGS I REALLY BELIEVE

No, really…

(1) I am the reincarnation of Charles Hardin Holley.

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This was revealed to me some time ago and normally I wouldn’t buy it with a three-dollar bill. But the burning bush was very convincing.

(2) Raymond Chandler’s plots were great.

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I mean, just because you don’t know whether the Spirit of Carmen Sternwood, Los Angeles or the American Dream killed the chauffeur…

(3) Not unrelated: Nearly all great prose fiction to date was produced by the Victorians…..

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or the Pulps…

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That’s Mister James and Mister Hammett to you!

(4) The truest definition of rock and roll is as a musically and culturally aspirational train that left the station the first time Antoine Domino’s left hand, a piano and a recording device were put in a room together.

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(5) The second truest definition of rock and roll is as a corrosively nihilistic trainwreck that, unfortunately, did not simply end the day this sad young man, in what an entire collapsed culture had by then taught him was an act of courage, blew his brains out.

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(6) Not unrelated: “America” is now in the past tense. Sorry, folks, it was an idea whose time had not yet come after all. No pictures available. But there is news at 11:00….Every night!

(7) I don’t believe there was/is such a thing as “The Great American Novel,” but if forced to both convert and choose, my top three contenders in the stretch would be The Deerslayer, The Long Goodbye and True Grit, with The Man in the High Castle coming up on the outside and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sneaking up on the rail.

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True confession: I’ve read most of the crit-approved contenders, but I’ve been saving Moby Dick for either old age or “next month” for about thirty years now.

(8) The most abused quotation in the history of quotations is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “There are no second acts in American lives.” I went into the reasons here.

(9) Not unrelated: The greatest line in American fiction was uttered in a movie called The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which also happens to contain the second most abused quotation in the history of quotations (“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”) That one gets all the ink, perhaps to keep us from thinking too hard about this:

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“Look at it. It was a wilderness. Now it’s a garden….Aren’t you proud?”

Well, aren’t we?

(10) If it turns out this is all we were, we did have some things to be proud of…

…so saith the burning bush.

NOTES FROM A HOSPITAL BED

This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but certain things can’t really be appreciated, vis-a-vis the world around you, until you are flat on your back for five days in a hospital room where the only entertainment is television, the combination of physical discomforts and necessary treatments and checkups don’t permit you to sleep more than two hours at a stretch, and your powers of concentration don’t extend much beyond attending to the two-minute sound bites on the “news” channels.

To wit:

–It ain’t news and it sure ain’t journalism. Until you’re exposed to it 24/7 for a few days running, and your spice-of-life variety consists entirely of switching between Fox, CNN and MSNBC, there is no possible way to comprehend the true awfulness of modern journalism. That so many anchors and guests would be able to master the combination of ignorance and arrogance required to repeat comfortably numb talking points ad nauseum and pretend that they are pearls of Socratic wisdom, freshly minted, which must now be patiently explained to the great unwashed (meaning everyone who isn’t either working in “news” or, having been carefully vetted, found safely worthy of being interviewed by same) is truly staggering.

–It is only in the context of this intellectual and moral collapse that the depth and breadth of Donald Trump’s appeal can be comprehended. Whatever else he is or isn’t, he is generally unscripted. In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man really is king…even if that one eye is reptilian. Or, if you like, in the Kingdom of the Mute, the Man With a Voice is King, even if all he does is blather.

–If Trump does somehow win the Republican nomination, he’ll have overcome truly staggering odds. In Florida–the state that will truly make or break his run to the nomination–anti-Trump ads are outnumbering pro-Trump ads something like fifty-to-one. I saw several segments on Friday where entire commercial breaks were taken up with as many as four consecutive anti-Trump ads, all of which were vicious and effective, none of which promoted any other candidate. I’m in the Tallahassee market, but I assume it’s the same throughout the state. I haven’t witnessed anything remotely like this in my lifetime of living in a generally hotly contested “swing” state.

–The clearly related and heavily coordinated attempts to pretend that Marco Rubio (a man with no discernible convictions and a thirty-something approval rating in his own state) is somehow a viable candidate with a recognizable base anywhere outside of Puerto Rico’s inmate population is mind-blowing. It’s now apparently a job requirement that anyone who works for the Wall Street Journal, in particular, be prepared to challenge you to a duel if you suggest, even mildly, that Rubio  a) won’t be the last man standing against Trump and b) won’t then proceed to clean his clock. If you try to point out that, outside of a four-day window between the Iowa caucus and Chris Christie eviscerating him in the New Hampshire debate, Rubio has never been anything remotely resembling a serious candidate, their heads actually explode. If we still had real news organizations in this country, “Journalists’ Heads Explode” would be a big story right now.

–If Mitt Romney had not decided to remind me, I really believe it would have been possible for me to forget what an act of pure contempt it was for the Republican “establishment” to push him on their own party, let alone the rest of America in 2012. Running against a sitting president whose basic message to a drowning middle class was “Keep treading water!” Romney’s own message was “Hey, let’s throw some chum in there!” Thanks Mitt, for not letting me forget your basic vileness.

NOTES FROM AN ACTUAL BOYHOOD….

[NOTE: A little while back Neal Umphred posted an essay on bullying which I highly recommend reading. (If you search “bully” on his site, he has some other interesting pieces on that and related subjects as well).  The following is in part a sequel (in the sense that I probably wouldn’t have thought of visiting this memory without reading Neal’s post), in part a prequel (to a long memory piece I’ve been developing for a while and which is nearing completion) and in part a response to my continuing push-back against Boyhood, which is a well-acted, supposedly hyper-realistic movie about a good-liberal-fantasy construct who, unlike any kid I ever met in real life, is interested in exactly nothing, and which I wrote about here, though I would now add that director Richard Linklater may well have simply inserted a fantasy of what he wished he himself had been. Anyway….]

To be honest, I was never actually bullied.

The line got pretty thin at times.

I wore glasses and read books and had what you might call a generally quiet nature so of course I got called the usual names now and again: Four-eyes, Faggot, Sissy, Pansy, Pussy, etc.

None of it stuck, though. None of it got under my skin and, more importantly, none of it acquired the degree of repetition or intensity that made it any sort of problem I had to ever seriously think about or otherwise deal with.

There were reasons.

For one thing I was a big kid who was reasonably good at sports (more about that in a minute).

For another, though I was often mistaken for being not merely quiet, but shy (not caring to speak and not being able to speak being generally considered the same thing by people who like to talk and, especially, by those who are looking for targets to pick on), anybody who leaned in close generally found themselves dealing with a mind that moved faster than their own and, in any case, never moved slower.

These two qualities combined to create a certain hesitancy in potential bullies.

What really sealed the deal, though, was something I intuited and which I found out much later had served Tom Wolfe well when he was a straight-laced, ice-cream-suited, conservative reporter, dealing with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.* That is, I wasn’t a fake.

If some kid wanted to make fun of my glasses, I smiled. If he wanted to try them on, I let him. If he said something like, “How can you see through these things,” I said something like “I’m blind and you’re not,” and I tended to say it in such a way that you could just about see him asking himself if he wanted to find out the answer to the next question.

Usually, he did not. He wasn’t yet forced to admit he had made himself look pretty stupid. But who knew where it would go if he kept it up?

It was a strategy I lucked into. I wasn’t exactly trying to be a psych major. But I had the sense to figure out what worked and to stick with it.

For instance, If a kid called me one of those other names, I usually just laughed. This wasn’t a strategy either. I just laughed because I thought it was funny–the same way I just said what I thought when somebody asked me stupid questions about my glasses because that was how I thought and I knew it wasn’t a time for keeping my thoughts to myself.

And laughing–genuinely laughing–always drew a puzzled look.

Something along the lines of Who is this kid anyway?

And again, it helped that I was usually bigger and was known to be able to hit a baseball, etc.

But the main thing was, I didn’t fake it.

Which was good, because I also noticed that a lot of kids who did get picked on would try to fake something or other (maybe just their ability to win a fight), and never once did it fail to make their situation worse.

So the upshot was that a lot of kids called me a lot of names once or twice but they didn’t keep it up.

And they didn’t try to pick a fight with me.

Except for this one kid. In the eighth grade.

Because, you know, every rule has an exception.

*   *    *   *

The way it started was the first six weeks of eighth grade Phys Ed we played volleyball.

Volleyball happened to be a sport I had never played before. I didn’t even know the rules and explaining them was not part of the class. So, for a week or two, I struggled.

That was Part One of the equation.

Part Two was that there was a kid on my volleyball team, named James, who had obviously played volleyball before and was pretty good at it.

Part Three was that one of the other two teams–who we, of course, played every other match against–consisted almost entirety of James’ buddies, otherwise known as the Cool Kids.

Part Four was that the cool kids, like cool kids everywhere, never missed a chance to mock anybody, but especially never missed a chance to mock one of their own.

Part Five was that James was a hothead who had an especially thin skin. (Part 5A was that his buddies knew it.)

Part Six was that James decided, in that first week or two, that I was the logical source of his infernal suffering because I was the reason we were losing to his buddies every single day.

Part Seven was that this already dubious narrative was not dislodged from James’ brain by my rapid and vast improvement or the fact that we kept losing because three or four other kids on our team did not, shall we say, improve, rapidly, vastly, or otherwise. In a way, by improving, I made myself a bigger target. Eventually, as his mind roamed far beyond logic (it happens a lot with natural bullies), I became somehow responsible even for James’ own mistakes.

So, for the rest of the school year, in Phys Ed or elsewhere, a certain part of the world narrative at our junior high was all down to me and him.

Or it would have been, except for Part Eight of the equation.

Part Eight was I didn’t want to play.

I used the same tactics on James I used on everyone else.

Smile and ignore him.

Don’t fake it.

Move on.

Somewhere along the way, he evidently got the idea that the unthinkable had happened.

That I was–however quietly, however improbably–mocking him.

I say that not because I ever really understood his thinking, but because it was pretty obvious he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box (whatever his insider status with the cool kids depended on, it wasn’t brains, and I should add that about half of them were sons of NASA engineers, i.e., rocket scientists, so it wasn’t one of those cases where brains weren’t respected), and I have to assume that, like a lot of not-so-bright people, he had an active imagination when it came to spotting slights and enemies.

Too bad.

Because I wasn’t mocking him.

I just didn’t think he was worth engaging.

Even in eighth grade, life is sometimes too short.

Anyway, his anger and resentment grew. I could tell he was on a slow boil and that he was waiting for an excuse to put me in his sights.

And, since we weren’t put on any more Phys Ed teams together and we didn’t have any other classes together and we didn’t exactly hang out in the same social circles, the excuse never came.

Until finally, in the spring, a month or so before school let out, it sprang from nowhere.

His big opportunity.

Just his bad luck that it was on the basketball court

 *   *   *   *

It set up this way.

We had a “free day” in P.E. Once in a while, the coaches would roll out some balls and everybody split up and played with and against whoever they could make a game with.

That particular day, the balls they rolled out were basketballs. Outdoor courts. Half-court. Make it, take it. Take the ball back past the foul line if a miss hit the rim. Lay it in if it didn’t. Play by twos. First team to twenty. Have to win by four.

Here’s the funny thing.

His team won: 20-16.

But he still got humiliated.

Sometimes, in an actual boyhood, that’s how things work out.

 *   *   *   *

Six of us went down to the far court, furthest from the coaches.

These things aren’t entirely worked out by accident.

My friend David and I were a natural pairing. James and his friend, Tommy, were a natural pairing. Tommy and David were friendly enough to make the two natural pairings another natural pairing. James and Tommy’s friend, Monty, tagged along. So did this other kid, Kevin, who was sort of part of their circle but, by virtue of being our Junior High’s resident drug dealer (by 1974, every junior high around there had one), he was mostly his own circle. His best friends were the shoplifters, but one of those happened to be James’ brother, Jerry (they were in the same grade so I assume they were nonidentical twins). That was probably why he gravitated to us as the sixth needed for a game of three-on-three.

The only problem then was that we had a natural pair against a natural four, so somebody had to switch sides.

You can guess who got the drug dealer.

There were negotiations to be sure. Pretty fierce actually.

It happened that Tommy and James were on the basketball team. But David and I took Monty aside and David assured him it would be a fair fight if he came over with us. “Trust me,” David said. “John’s really good.”

Monty had never seen me play but he seemed to take it into consideration for a bit. Then he finally looked back at James and Tommy and said, “Yeah, but there’s two of them.”

It’s amazing, sometimes, what matters in a schoolyard.

Monty opted for James and Tommy.

I should mention here that Monty had been in a serious dirt-bike accident a month or so earlier and could barely walk. He was literally dragging his right foot on the concrete because he was wearing a heavy brace and couldn’t lift it off the ground.

That’s how badly we didn’t want Kevin the drug dealer.

Not that we had never seen Kevin the drug dealer play basketball. But he had a couple of qualities common among eighth grade drug dealers. He was sort of crazy. And he didn’t exactly play well with others.

Once he threw up his first shot–from about twenty-five feet in a gusting wind, he only missed by about eight–we had our other suspicion confirmed. He sucked at basketball, he was determined not to go quietly, and we were essentially playing two against four after all.

But, before that, another interesting thing happened.

Tommy took the ball in hand and chucked it out to me for first possession and then turned to James and said, nice and casual, “Hey James, you check Ross.”

And I have to say this surprised me a little because Tommy was a much better basketball player than James was. I had assumed that he would check me for this reason and this reason alone. Meaning I had assumed the fact that I had spent the first half of the seventh grade smoking him on the indoor courts in little games of two-on-two (or the same year of Little League hitting line drives off his pitching), would not affect his decision.

I assumed wrongly. Whatever his reasons, he insisted that James check me.

James, all unawares, clearly relished what he thought was not going to be much of a challenge.

Finally, he had his chance to humiliate me. He was on the basketball team, by God. I had stepped into his wheelhouse at last.

I should mention here, as an aside, that I took no particular pleasure in smoking him, especially when the drug dealer was busy throwing up air balls which allowed the other team to convert uncontested lay-ups for about fourteen of their twenty points. That I would win my personal battle with James wasn’t really a question in my mind. He was on the basketball team, after all. All that meant was I had seen him play.

I’m not saying I took no satisfaction, but it was tempered by losing–no matter that the outcome had been decided by Monty siding with his buddies and sticking us with the drug dealer, who David and I ended up playing concrete football against, trying to wrest the ball from his hands before he could shoot again–and by one other factor.

I was raised in church. I don’t mean I merely went to church, or even that I practiced Christian ritual, though that was true enough. I mean that I embraced–and still embrace–not only the faith, but its core messages, among which none is more resonant than, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

So the only real satisfaction I allowed myself–that I believed I was permitted to allow myself, though even that may have been a stretch–was not that I had bested the boy who had been itching for a chance to ream, humiliate, gloat over me since way back in the fall, but that I had not allowed him to best me.

His team won the game. Nobody walked off thinking his being on the basketball team made him anywhere near as good a basketball player as I was.

Oh, he went right ahead and carried it to the locker room where, hilariously, he tried the “he’s a hot dog” angle on Monty, specifically referencing a couple of behind-the-back passes that set David up for lay-ups (in those days, before age and diabetes set in, my four eyes had 270 degrees of peripheral vision). Monty, son of one of those practical-minded rocket scientists who regarded hot-dogging as the worst sin known to man, just shrugged and said, “It looked to me like everything he did worked.”

I just smiled.

And, right then, not before, I truly thought it was over.

God knew he was never going to like me, and, faith or no, I was never going to like him (I was trying to be a Christian, I never aimed for sainthood). But I figured he would let it go. That there wouldn’t be any more half-sneers when we met in the hallway. No more furtive snickers when there were at least two of him and no more than one of me. I mean, what was the point?

The only thing that could take it any further now was a fight.

I didn’t think he was any way that stupid.

*   *   *   *

I still don’t quite know whether he was or not.

Only that it did seem to cross his mind.

I can only guess, in retrospect, that I had upended his brain’s natural order. That he couldn’t quite get past the idea that he was supposed to be able to bully me. I still wore glasses. I still read books. I was still his idea of a four-eyed-sissy-faggot-queer-hot-dog.

Or something. God knows what he would have thought if he had grokked that I was a Christer (which, to tell the truth, made me more of a target than all the rest combined, working class females being especially hard on anybody who thinks he’s better than everybody else, which was a working assumption with a lot of them that I was usually able to dispel if given the chance, though I frequently wasn’t.)

Just how he intended to work all this out in his own mind I don’t know.

I only know what happened next, meaning what happened last.

What happened next and last was a classic junior high lunch-room confrontation, like you never quite see in the movies–maybe because the versions you see of him are always exaggerated to villainy (instead of being portrayed as one very real side of “boyhood”) and you don’t see any version of me (though, as I hope I’ll make clear in my next piece on this subject, I was far from being a loner).

Too bad about that, because it would make a great scene for somebody:

It’s a couple of weeks after the basketball game. Haven’t seen much of James. One day I’m late to lunch (I don’t remember why) and the lunchroom is nearly empty. The mini-aisles are blocked by chairs pulled back as kids left and didn’t push them back under the table. Negotiation to your table to be managed by main-aisle circuits only.

I get my lunch. I pay for it. I leave the serving counter and start looking for a table. I move along the wall next to the counter and turn the corner to the main part of the lunch room, prepared to move down the aisle next to the wall that runs at a right angle to the counter’s wall.

And when I turn the corner, scanning the room, I see a couple of my friends sitting at the far end, on the far side, and begin to head towards them, straight down the right angle wall.

I’ve been vaguely aware that there’s a kid standing in front of me, blocking the aisle, and that he’s talking to someone seated at the end of the nearest table.

It’s only after I take two full steps down the aisle that I become aware that the kid is James. And that he’s standing there talking to his smoking hot girlfriend Celeste (who doesn’t know me from Adam).

I look down the aisles between the tables.

Chairs pulled out everywhere.

Not an option.

I consider how it will look if I back up, walk practically to the other end of the lunch room, cross over the center aisle, then walk all the way back down to where my friends are sitting.

Not an option.

It’s not a matter of inconvenience.

It’s that if I do that, he’ll think I’m a coward. Not something I would normally mind, actually. But there’s too much undecided between us. I know this because I can see, in an instant, that he has no intention of moving out of my way, and that Celeste, not knowing me from Adam, has no idea what is going on and will not be in any position to influence him towards reason, even if she could (doubtful) and would (probable but likely futile).

And because this silliness has been lingering between us for so long, I know in an instant that if he gets the mistaken impression I’m a coward, this no-longer-quite-so-silly thing will go on…and on….and on.

That was another thing I had learned.

Don’t let a natural bully smell weakness. Not even the weakness of hesitation.

So I walk on, without breaking stride.

I come within a couple of steps of where he’s standing.

I say “You mind?”

He gives me the exact same sneer he’s been giving me for six months. Backed by a little snigger, not quite all the way under his breath.

He doesn’t say a word.

I get within a step.

He tenses. He’s not even looking at me. Except for the sneer and the snigger he’s acting like I’m not even there.

He’s not talking to his girlfriend, who is looking sort of puzzled.

He doesn’t move either, though, which means he has left a foot or so of space between his butt and the wall.

I lift my lunch tray over my head.

I turn sideways.

I swivel-hip, quick-step past him and go on my way.

I don’t look back.

I don’t have to. I have 270 degrees of peripheral vision.

That means I can turn my four-eyed head a couple of inches and have a clear view of what’s going on behind me–like Bob Cousy on a basketball court.

Which also means I can see that he has turned to follow me.

One step. Two steps.

I don’t turn around.

His right foot goes back.

I don’t turn around. I keep walking.

His right foot swings forward.

I don’t turn around. I keep walking.

Neither faster nor slower.

I let him take his chance to kick me in the rear end.

I know if he connects I’ll have to turn and fight him. Right here, right now. The only decision is what I’ll need to do with my lunch tray first.

I’m thinking I’ll throw it at him. High. Towards his face. Distract him while I wade in and take the only advice my father ever gave me about fighting, which is try to end it with one punch. The temple, the nose, the solar plexus. Whatever avails itself first. Forget everything else.

I’m not going to worry about my glasses. Or a looming suspension for fighting. Or explaining it to my parents.

Every once in a while, for just a minute or two, those things can’t matter so much.

So I’m walking on, neither faster nor slower, balancing the lunch tray.

Good hard puke-green nineteen-seventies’ junior high Space Coast plastic.

Neither slower nor faster. My head turned just an inch or two.

Just enough to know his foot is taking the full swing, ending well above his waist.

Just enough to know he doesn’t miss by more than an inch or two.

But he does miss.

And I haven’t turned my head.

That makes all the difference.

By the time he makes up his mind about whether to give it another try, I’m long gone.

By not turning back, I missed the aftermath, like, for instance, how his girlfriend reacted, which might have had a lot to do with how the next time went–how much it might have meant to him–if there had been a next time.

At this distance, I’m sorry, in a way.

To this day, I don’t know whether he missed on purpose. Whether some piece of him decided at the last minute that he didn’t really want it to come to a head after all.

I’m sure I would have found out, if fate hadn’t intervened. If school hadn’t let out a week or so later, before anymore sudden, unexpected confrontations could occur. If my father hadn’t decided to become a full-time minister that following summer and moved us to another part of the state in the fall so he could attend a bible college.

I’m sure if we had stayed, I would have found out something when we got to high school, away from even the modicum of supervision–the kind that had miniature drug dealers running around the boys’ locker room, openly assuring you that the first batch was free and if you didn’t like it you wouldn’t owe a thing!–that existed even in junior high back then.

What that something would have been–Honest miss? Slight miscalculation? Attempt to impress his girlfriend (and was she or wasn’t she)? Loss of impulse control, followed by the rapid reassertion of ruling self-interest that so often marks the bully, but also the bully wannabe?–I’ll never know.

So it was, in the fall of ‘73 and the spring of ‘74. So it remains. A little incident frozen in the time and space of an actual boyhood.

It’s the little things that make us.

And one other little thing I’ll never know is whether James, too, moved away.

I never checked. Life’s too short.

But I like to think he did.

I like to think he moved to Los Angeles and went to high school with Vicki Peterson.

I like to think that, eventually, she wrote a song about him….Not for me, so much, or even for her, as for all the poor misguided Celestes running around loose in the world, so many of whom never learn better until it leaves a scar….

But surely that’s too much to ask. Even if he was made for it.

(* I saw an interview with Wolfe many years later in which he mentioned that those who weren’t really invested in the Pranksters’ lifestyle, but tried to “fit in” by faking it, were mercilessly mocked and ridiculed, while he was basically left alone. The upshot was that they may not have liked him but they respected him because he wasn’t trying to put them on. I’ll have to take Wolfe’s word for it because I wasn’t there, but it jibes with my own experience. Every “in” group hates a fake worst of all.)

MEMORIA (Everything I Really Needed to Know, I Learned From Rock and Roll: Lesson #2)

“Do you think it’s really the truth that you see?
I’ve got my doubts, it’s happened to me.”

(The Byrds, “Artificial Energy,” 1967)

The morning after the Challenger explosion, the 106 students in Psychology 101 (“Personality Development”) at Emory University filled out questionnaires on how they had first heard of the disaster. That established a baseline for their memories within twenty-four hours of the event itself in January of 1986. Then, in October of 1988, the forty-four of 106 students still at Emory were requestioned (only 25 percent remembered the original questionnaire!) and their two answers compared. Finally, in March of 1989, follow-up interviews were given to the forty students willing to participate in the final phase of the experiment. Here is one example of two questionnaire answers from the same subject:

Report of Memory
after 24 hours (Jan. 1986)

I was in my religion class and some people walked in and started talking about [it]. I didn’t know any details except that it had exploded and the schoolteacher’s students had all been watching which I thought was so sad. Then after class I went to my room and watched the TV program talking about it and I got all the details from that.

Report of Memory
after 2 1/2 years (Oct. 1988)

When I first heard about the explosion I was sitting in my freshman dorm room with roommate and we were watching TV. It came on a news flash and we were both totally shocked. I was really upset and I went upstairs to talk to a friend of mine and then I called my parents.

That case, as the researchers explain, was not unusual: “None of the enduring memories was entirely correct, and…many were at least as wide of the mark… [T]hose questionnaires revealed a high incidence of substantial errors” (Nesser and Harsch). One other student, for example, who later recalled hearing the news from a girl who ran screaming down her dorm corridor, had actually heard it in the cafeteria and been too sick to finish her lunch. Another student later thought she had been at home with her parents when it happened, although she had actually been on campus.

When those second versions were compared with first ones for accuracy and graded on a 0-7 scale for major (location, activity, informant) and minor (time, others) attributes of the event, “the mean was 2.95, out of a possible 7. Eleven subjects (25%) were wrong about everything and scored 0. Twenty-two of them (50%) scored 2 or less; this means that if they were right on one major attribute, they were wrong on both of the others. Only three subjects (7%) achieved the maximum possible score of 7; even in these cases there were minor discrepancies (e.g., about the time of the event) between the recall and the original report. What makes these low scores interesting is the high degree of confidence that accompanied my of them.”

Confidence in the inaccuracy is surely much more disquieting than the inaccuracy itself; and the visual vividness with which the inaccuracy was recalled was even more disquieting. The mean for accuracy was 2.95 out of 7, as I noted; the mean for confidence was 4.17 out of 5, and the mean for “visual vividness” was 5.35 out of 7! In the instance given above, for example, the subject rated the confidence of her 1988 memory at a 5 (“absolutely certain”) for location, activity, informant, others and at a 4 for time (2:00 or 3:00 P.M., rather than 11:39 A.M. EST). Its actual rating was 0.

In the follow-up interviews after the twin questionnaires had been compared, the researchers made another significant discovery. The subjects’ memories for their second-version accounts remained “remarkably consistent” between October of 1988 and March of 1989, and when the researchers tried to help the subjects recover their first-version accounts, they found that “none of [their] procedures had any effect at all” (Nesser and Harsch). Even when subjects were shown their own original reports, they never “even pretended that they now recalled what was stated on the original record. On the contrary, they kept saying, ‘I mean, like I told you, I have no recollection of it all’ or ‘I still think of it as the other way around.’ As far as we can tell, the original memories are just gone.”

(John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity. 1998)

“And you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!”

(The Clash, “London Calling,” 1979)

“Scientists spend their lives discovering what the poets already know.”

(Me, a few years back, dispensing folk wisdom to my brother, one of the very few scientists I knew would get a laugh out of it.)

R.I.P. to the Challenger explorers on the thirtieth anniversary of their deaths. I still wonder if it would have happened if my buddies’ dads hadn’t all been transferred to Grapevine and my old U.S. 1 neighborhood hadn’t been turned into a ghost town.

THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED….AND WHY I WATCHED THEM

I haven’t done any hard statistics on this, but the vast majority of my movie-watching these days is revisiting movies I’ve seen before and a fair amount is revisiting movies I’ve seen many times.

This habit has grown over the last ten to fifteen years and intensified a bit in the last year or so after I suspended (and ultimately disconnected) my television service. I might go a month without seeing anything new and I now tend to treat movies like music, so watching favorites is more like listening to familiar albums than, say, re-reading a novel.

Like albums, movies tend to draw me back for certain very particular reasons–the parts I never get tired of. Hence, the “why I watch” bit. I’m offering this up as a snapshot of the kind of thing I engage with and very rarely write about. And if I very rarely write about this stuff it isn’t because it’s not worth writing about, it’s just because there isn’t enough time in the world….So, for fun, in reverse order, ten days, ten movies:

Dec. 8–Scaramouche (1952, George Sidney, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Eleanor Parker; for the greatest sword fight in movie history; and for one of the sweetest and bitterest final scenes. Besides, it was my birthday (very early hours). I was also impressed this time around by the scenes in the National Assembly, which present the real fight boiling underneath the burgeoning French Revolution as one between the aristocrats and the wannabes. A timeless theme if ever there was one and hardly relegated to the French (let alone the Hollywood version of the French), though they’ve certainly made an art form of it.

Dec. 6–Life of Crime (2014, Daniel Schechter, 2nd Viewing)

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For Jennifer Aniston, who reinforced everything I said here, and, yes, still definitely should have played at least one of the female roles in American Hustle.

Dec. 5–Saskatchewan (1954, Raoul Walsh, 2nd Viewing)

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For the scenery; for the measured and reasonably complex view of both Native American politics and the White Man’s code of military honor; for some fine action scenes involving canoes, of which there can never be enough;and for the memories of happy days a good friend and I spent honing our “It-ain’t-really-a-western-unless-Shelley-Winters-or-Joan-Blondell-shows-up” theory, which, for those of us born within a certain time span, has turned out to be surprisingly durable.

Dec. 5–Wagonmaster aka Wagon Master (1950, John Ford, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For a cast that, even within the context of John Ford’s oeuvre, reminds me remarkably, almost painfully, of the vanished people I grew up among (and no, they weren’t Mormons). That, plus all the usual reasons for watching any of Ford’s numerous masterworks. To take just one such: The long, gliding scene that begins with Joanne Dru’s showgirl turning down an invitation, offered at a “squaw dance,” by one of the outlaw band who have hitched a ride with the Mormon wagon train, and ends with the man being tied to a wagon wheel and whipped by the Mormons while the stoic Navajo elders look on. I’d have to revisit my Shakespeare to be sure, but it might be the most remarkable piece of compressed narrative that exists in any form.

Dec. 4–The War Wagon (1967, Burt Kennedy, Umpteenth Viewing, though the first in a very long while)

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

For the memories; for “Mine was taller.”; and for Kirk Douglas finding all those different ways to jump on horses from every conceivable angle without, so far as I could tell, mangling his manhood!.

Dec. 2–7 Men From Now (1956, Budd Boetticher, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Gail Russell; for Lee Marvin (“I was wrong Clete. He wasn’t half a man.”); for Randolph Scott’s finely wrought study in stoicism; and for the peerless storytelling, delivered with haiku-level perfection.

Dec. 1–Star Wars (1977, George Lucas, Umpteenth Viewing)

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Just gettin’ ready.

Nov. 30–Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Rick and Ilsa and Frenchie. And to hear Dooley Wilson sing “As Time Goes By.” What, there are other reasons? Sure, but who needs ’em.

Nov. 29–An American In Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Leslie Caron, dancing or not, and for the glories of the vanished studio system.

Nov. 28–The Truth About Spring (1965, Richard Thorpe, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Hayley Mills, decked in denim; for more deathless lines than I ever found in a classic screwball (“Tommy, if you dare shoot Ashton, I’ll never cook for you again!”); for the evocation of every Florida kid’s dream-life; for “Here’s one they won’t get. Here’s one for freedom.”; and for a chance to tell the lingering shade of that lucky little so-and-so, Jimmy MacArthur, who got out of the last frame with Hayley once and Janet Munro twice: “I ain’t sorry you’re dead!” and half-hope he won’t be able to decide whether I’m kidding. Oh, yeah, and: “Of Catfish Key….Da-h-h-ling.”