Monday, December 29, 2008

Freddie Hubbard (1938 - 2008)

Never the notoriety and drama and siz of Miles, but what a beautiful sound. First heard this on Milt Jackson's glorious "Sunflower" album. Freddie passes on today in Los Angeles.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy CassandraFest

Not so hard to find, after all. After the song ends, it's just the image. I'd just fire her up again...and again...and yes, again...


Friday, December 26, 2008

Heron Child


Whose Birthday?

Driving ambling around Tres Leches today, in our wondrously wintry 81 degrees Fahrenheit, I stumbled onto KRTU's lunchtime jam celebrating jazz diva Cassandra Wilson's "birthday." I invert those commas, my brothers and sisters, because it has long been my impression that CW's birthday in JacksonMississippi was December 4, 1955. This has been tattooed inside my skull for two reasons: I adore Ms W's smoky husk and December 4th is the day after mi bambino's December 3rd birthday. Every time I heard the dj reiterate the December 26th (and no, this was not an archived show) celebration, my lint collector brain sparked in minor umbrage. Such is my penchant for lowbrow drama. Yes, I did indeed email KRTU with my contrasting information, but I also took the occasion as reason enuff to also become, finally, a member of this very fine jazz station. If I'm gonna complain AND enjoy an awesome CW set, I might as well pay for the privilege.

And what a privilege. Pulling into the Whole Foods parking lot, Mr. Aaron Prado laid down a gorgeous track: Cassandra's cover of Joni Mitchell's already gorgeous "For the Roses."

Happy Birthday to us all. The world just got reinvented.

Twice this year, Ms Cassandra reinvented my worlds: this lovely cover and, earlier, as I was scouring the site, and stumbled over her seminal version of Jimi's "The Wind Cries Mary" (you know how many levels that's gonna hit me on). God is good, my brothers and sisters.

Ms Cassandra and I go back to my conversion with her New Moon Daughter CD, and I wish I could say we went back even further. You see, as I was first snarfing up as much CW info as I could find ten years ago, I discovered that we went to high school in Jackson at the same time; I graduated a year before she did. I wondered, I did, in my bemused, self-absorbed head, if I "might have been her President," referring in my goofiness to having been the Callaway High School Student Body President in 1970-1971. Alas, no: Ms (then) Cassandra Fowlkes graduated across town from Murrah High School the following year.

While I've been writing this, CW's "For the Roses" has replayed several times on my newly installed Amazon MP3 player (installed just so I could nab this beauty with some extra Amazon pennies I had left over from Sister Laura's birthday present to me). I wish I could share the "power and the glory" of the sunseting smoky cicada husk that is this glorious voice, but I ain't figured it out just yet. But, go to the song ye must: Rhapsody's got it in their database; sadly, does not (unless I can now upload it: we'll see). For another slice of Cassandra nirvana, Paschal's Playlist in the blog margin has her "WInd Cries Mary."

I suggest you run, don't walk. Your head will be aching until you do. CW will do the hand-laying.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

"When the weary mind is rested..."

If it ain't already a Christmas song, it should be:


Bitterroot: A Story Excerpt

Monday morning, Ben was up before dawn. He warmed up some of Traci’s coffee leftovers and sat out under Victor’s awning, listened to the morning wake up. The morning train lumbered by, after a fifteen minute shunt back and forth at the Basse crossing. Two buses crossed the intersection, one northbound on McCullough, the other westbound on Basse. Two or three sleepy passengers on each.

Ben took his mug of coffee and walked around the big Optimist diamond, then onto its derelict neighbor. Shaggy infield, empty advertising boards along the sagging outfield fence. Rickety bench in one dugout, none in the other. He sat down in a rusted folding chair behind home plate and looked off at the duplexes beyond center field. Blue television screen through the window of one. Next door, a woman in a nightgown walked to the curb and picked up the morning paper. Walked back and sat on the front stoop. A girl Vanessa’s age walked out on the porch, handed the woman a mug, and took the paper back inside. The woman sat on, crossed her legs, careful to the rearrange the gown over her knees. Ben was cold in his jacket, couldn’t fathom how the woman sat on in her gown.

Two doors down, a woman walked out with a child in her arms and two more spilling out into the yard. The woman was dressed in heels, a skirt, and a tailored jacket. The two older children were in play clothes, the babe in her arms still in red feet pajamas. She set the little one in the back seat and then spent a good five minutes corralling the others into the car. She had to run in her heels to nab the middle child, a rambunctious urchin intent on anything but an early morning car ride. Smacked him on his bottom, no force behind it, just one more harried mother with no time for such foolishness. The hair she’d pinned up to match her smart look had come down in wisps around her face.

An old man with a long stick came walking up the street from the east. Stout, tottering, surely out on doctor’s orders. Boozer’s red face, Ben imagined him circling the street back to a well-earned breakfast—shaking double shot jigger held over a big tumbler, shot dumped only after the jigger overflows with amber JB, splash of water, sit down to the blond fools on the morning news, interviews of suburban heroes and the latest cavity-stuffers for your Thanksgiving turkey.

Ben tossed his coffee dregs and walked the outfield fence line. Stumbled in a hole covered by tufted yellow grass, nicked his hand on the piece of fence he grabbed hold of. He looked across the fence line to the woman on her porch, but she was gone, just her mug on the top step.

From the outfield, he walked a block west to San Pedro and ordered two breakfast tacos at a twenty-four hour burger joint, wincing at the thought of Rose catching him at such pedestrian fare. No one behind the counter from last year’s six weeks at the lot, no surprise. Two chorizo and eggs, fired up with tolerable hot sauce, but what would he know?

Pink stripes in the east back at the lot, Ben walked carefully through the standing trees as if eyeing paintings in a gallery. He skipped the Scotch pines and lingered among the firs—Douglas, Fraser, and Noble—feeling the needles with both hands, stroking them like giant sprigs of rosemary. He circled the candidates three times, before coming back to a towering Noble fir; Clay had it marked for a hundred and seventy-five. Ben hefted it over to the trailer and tied a “sold” tag on it.

Mr. Hildebrand pulled up in his gray Cadillac at eight-thirty. Tall thin man, dressed like the English professor he once was—navy slacks, blue Oxford shirt, bow tie, camel hair sport coat. Snappy from a distance, but up close it’s a threadbare look. More tremor in the handshake than last year.

“How you been, Ben?” he said, in a languid Virginia accent.

“Fine, Mr. Hildebrand,” said Ben. “I’ve got your tree right here. Just picked it out this morning.”

“Good value, I hope. The goose is not quite so fat anymore, you know.”

The goose had been lean for four years now. Dan Hildebrand’s patronage of the lot ran back long before Clay took over from the bumbling Optimists. Every year, the same ritual: eight-thirty the Monday morning before Thanksgiving, biggest tree on the lot, money no object, big tips all round. Only things changed four years ago. Same time, same cheery bravado, only this time with whispers on the side. A bit of a downturn this year, Ben. Maybe something on your lower end. That first year of the downturn, his face was unshaven, eyes were bloodshot, food stain on his blue shirt. Tears in his eyes when Ben asked after Mrs. Hildebrand. Passed away in October. No, no, it’s okay—how would you know? Thus began the new tradition after Ellen Hildebrand’s death. Ben found the finest Noble fir on the lot, the choice Dan Hildebrand had always made, tied it to the roof of the Cadillac, charged him fifteen dollars for it, declined any attempts at tips, lied that no tips were accepted anymore. That thing, Dan? One of our throwaways. Great budget tree—looks like a Noble at a fraction of the price. No one else on the lot, he could say whatever he needed to. Just to keep things square with Clay, he threw in the difference from tips and his first pay.

Another tradition those first Mondays. The crew showed up at nine, just in time to take over for Ben as he climbed into the Caddy and drove the half mile to Dan’s house on Mandalay. Nice imposing two story limestone from the outside, but a shambles on the inside. Ellen, twenty years his junior, had died of cancer. After it devoured all of her health benefits, the Hildebrands had spent every cent they could get their hands on—all of Dan’s retirement money, and anything they could get for a house full of antiques and family heirlooms. Still not enough, and more wouldn’t have saved her. She died one morning sleeping in her bed on the second floor screened in porch. Mercifully at peace, said Dan. The university sent flowers and condolences, put up a plaque in the chapel, turned out at the memorial service, but maneuvered past all Dan’s requests to take up teaching again, just to try to make ends meet. Forty year history with the place, ex-chair of the department, half a dozen times honored as University Professor, but not a word in response. The English Romantic poets wanted a sexy boy from Harvard these days, not some stodgy old retiree with stains on his bib. A lamentable request best left unacknowledged—save face for the old boy. The first Christmas after Ellen’s death, a foxy forty-year-old frosted blonde in red cashmere from University Development dropped by, sat down in the remaining sticks of furniture in the living room, declined tea before it was offered, knows for a fact that as a devoted friend of the university Dan would want to make a sizeable contribution to the building drive, she would be happy to accept his check for ten thousand dollars…

The spacious living room Ben walked into that first time was cold and musty, dark from all its curtains still drawn. It looked as if Dan lived in the room—clothes and towels on a card table, unwashed dishes beside an overstuffed chair, stacks of books and magazines on the floor as well. Through the kitchen door, Ben could see piles of unwashed dishes.

He opened the curtains on the big front windows and set the tree up in front of them. Picked up the dishes on the floor near Dan’s big chair and said, “Have a seat, Dan. How about something hot to drink?” Walked into the kitchen, put some hot water on for tea. Found an old tea pot on a top shelf, took it down and washed the dust off, inside and out. Tea cups, sugar bowl, creamer, all rummaged from the shelves and washed. Set them all on a painted wooden tray from Bavaria. Dan was dozing in his chair when Ben walked back into the living room. He set the tray down on the table and turned on a small clock radio, tuning it to the classical station, thankfully no martial sturm und drang, just quiet cello adagios. He left that to fill the room and went back to the kitchen, an hour to clean it up, put everything back in its place. While Dan dozed on, he picked up the living room, did what he could to bring some order to the room. In the corner, he found three boxes full of Christmas decorations. He set those down in front of the tree, refilled the tea pot with a fresh round and sat down on the sofa with a cup. An oil portrait of a woman with auburn hair and radiant porcelain skin hung on a wall in the foyer. Her hair was up and the painting was very much in the manner of Manet—rich oil, lush texture, dark tones. The woman was in an elegant black dress worn off her shoulders. A quiet face, the painter had captured something inward about the woman’s eyes. Ben assumed without ever asking that the woman was Ellen. On a glass table beneath the painting, a white votive candle burned.

Ben sat on in the room until Dan woke shortly before noon. Demurred to the unnecessary apologies, said he was happy to sit on in the morning quiet. Asked if Dan would like him to help decorate the tree, and then spent the next hour doing so, the two of them like an old couple cooing about this and that ornament around the tree. When they were done, Dan pronounced it quite lovely, then did not take no for an answer and went into the kitchen to rustle up some lunch. Ben sat in the breakfast nook while Dan prepared grilled cheese sandwiches with sliced tomato. Added some chips to their plates and then poured two glasses of old port wine.

Ben declined the offer of a ride back to the lot, said that the walk back would do him good. Dan tried to press money on him for all his help, but Ben declined that as well. He finally accepted a bottle of the same port. Ben extended his hand at the front door, but Dan pulled him close into an embrace, held on and wept. Ben promised to check back in during the six weeks he would be in town and several times he did, but Dan never came to the door.

Thus did the ritual of the throwaway tree continue through the years, complete with the tea, cleanup, tree decorating, grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, and departing gift of port. Always the intimacy of the hug at the door, but never more, never any talk of the losses both men had borne. And despite the yearly promises to visit again, the door on Mandalay was never opened after the ritual Monday mornings.

Ben usually saved the port for Thanksgiving, a day he invariably slept in late. He’d declined the invitations of both Victor and Jacinto to their family gatherings, preferring his own lazy puttering. He woke around one in the afternoon to the hush of the neighborhood. Featherclouded sky outside his window, cold enough for a sweater, nothing more. He poured himself a mug of port and sat under the awning; left the trailer door open, listened to a tape Brooke had made him—Baez, Dylan, Van Morrison, Waterboys, Greg Brown, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Alison Krauss. What a sweetheart the little Goth was. Tears came to his eyes as Alison sang an old Dan Fogelberg tune—Stars fall every time a lover has to face the truth / And far too many stars have fell on me.

Late in the afternoon, he walked down to the corner store on San Pedro. A chill had set in, but nothing the port couldn’t handle. He bought a packaged turkey sandwich, a big bag of potato chips, and a few bars of chocolate. At the outside phone, he called Melanie’s number.

Brooke answered: “Hey, Dad.”

“How’d you know it was me?”

“Hey, Rip—wake up to the technology. Caller ID. Who else is gonna call from Texas?”

“The tape is great. Thanks.”

“You get all misty on that Fogelberg?”

He misted up again. Took a moment to reply.

“Sorry,” she said. “I knew you would. You’re such a sap.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Touché. You wanna talk to the little man?”

“Please.” The phone shuffled on the other end.

“Hey, Daddy. You eat your turkey sandwich?”

“Got it right here.”

“Barney’s a vegetarian.”

“I doubt that. I think he eats all the kids when they get too old for the show.”

“Dad! That’s disgusting.”

“The truth hurts, little man.”

“Not yours, Dad. Your truth is just goofy. You wanna talk to Mom?”

“No, that’s—”

Melanie came on. “Hello.” Death grip in the voice.

“Hello, Mel. Kids giving you a break?”

“Hardly. Van’s out of his mind—daddy this and daddy that—and Brooke’s her usual pain in the ass. And Nessa’s over at LaMotte’s.”

“You’d think she’d want a break from all that mess for the holidays.”

“That what you tell yourself, Ben? Your annual bail out—”

“Melanie, —”

“Here, talk to Brooke—”

“Sorry, Dad.”

Fuck telling him you’re sorry, in the background. A door slammed.

“Forget it. I’m sorry to stir it all up.”

“It’s okay. She was actually pretty good until you called. We did Picadilly’s for lunch, Van was on his best behavior. We got home and decorated the house in preparation for the tree tomorrow. We were playing crazy eights when you called—Mom was laughing at all of Van’s crazy rules.”

Not crazy!, from the background.

“It’s a bad time to call.”

“Nonsense. You’re as entitled to call as Mom is to her moods. Don’t play your little guilty trump card. I love you.”

“I love you, too, B. And thanks again for the tape.”

“Just what exactly is this annual holiday exile all about anyway?”

Brooke was fourteen. He’d actually been expecting this question since she was eleven. He knew she’d been giving him three years worth of slack.

Too many beats before he tried to answer. She bailed him out again, as was her wont.

“Oops. Too much trytophan. Bad time for self-reflection. Don’t get all weepy on me, old man.”

“Too late,” he said, gulping and trying to laugh through it.

“Dad, I love you. Enjoy the tape. And call anytime. Hurricane Melanie’s nothing we can’t handle. Here’s baby.”

“Dad, who’s your favorite Sesame Street? Mine’s Super Grover.”

“Cookie Monster. He’s a true gourmet.”

“He is not. He’s a pig. Just like you, Dad.”

“That I am, Mr. Baby. That I am.”

“I love you, Dad. Bye.”

Off before the pig could say the same in return.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Well, we're in shorts and tee shirts down here, so this'll have to do:

Hey, Vermonters, take note of the poster destination...

Feliz Natal. Yes, I'm a sappy goob...


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #142: Late: The Last Time

Lately, I been thinkin', How much I miss my lady - Amoreena's, in a cornfield, brightening the daybreak...

Saturn called, we rolled right in, preparatory to late night Nick's on Tulane. Nick's after midnight, pousse cafe, you better be prepped: the fire ain't right, you going downtown before you know it, doesn't matter how many colors you have in you.

We'd been over to Dooky's, Leah did us up right, gumbo, slake-baked oysters, remoulade like it was an ice cream float. I marveled at the octogenarian beauty, lithe as Miss Horne, her gorgeous praline skin, her smile the true river of warmth in that Crescent City.

Original Sundogs on the box when we walked in, I thought they'd died with the Drifters, Susan Cowsill and Holsapple with their blithe abductions: we'd all seen better days, some better than others, but Saturn didn't call to the young at heart. Black dearth was her drug, the bodyflesh of the reeking aged was food aplenty.

No rings round this planet: must have been the place Bobby blew in for his blue entangles, I stopped in for a spell...No spells available, as far as I could tell, dimmed fever in the corners, anviled death in the backstreets. V and Ray shimmied a booth; I settled for cracked red vinyl for my ass at the bar.

She slid the scotch my way, passed on my shekels, blew smoke across the three feet down the bar.

"Hummingbird, right? The last time?"

"Farther back than last time, chum." Serpent hiss, more than speech.

"Velocity couldn't keep up."

"You always did fancy yourself. April was a heavy wind that year."

"I wasn't choosy in those days."

"I see you've raised the bar." Her eye on Ray and V in the back.

"Kettle of fish you swimmin' with, Reena?"

Grim smile, gold tooth. I remembered the fight, Toulouse and St. Ann. "Uptown convent, sugar. Lady of Prompt - "

"Spare me."

"Even Lady Rice gone over, child. You never caught the Virgin?"

"Never caught, never been caught." It pained me to say it.

"I saw that."

She did. Fifteen years later, continents of time spanned, tectonic plates suborned, she saw right through me. I didn't stand a chance.

"I didn't come - "

"I know you didn't. So don't even try. See if you can live in the afterlife, D. I got no time for what we burned down all to hell. Save that for your little tattle-tale loves."

My guts ran to black roux. I stood to go, whistled for V and Ray in the back. Talons gripped my arm.

"Greenwood Cemetery. All the way in the back."

"You shouldn't - "

"Fuck shouldn't, D."

At the door, I turned: "Red camellias?"

This time she didn't bother.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

"At the heart of every storm, there's a quiet night..."

Bears repeating:


Friday, December 12, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #141: E=Most of the Time

I knew instantly that time was irretrievable and that the underwear she was wearing was not the Spandex DeLorean wingtips I had dreamed. I knew that life was crashing around her, even as the permeable Venta-hood—my life—was more than ample inspiration for the next two Rocky movies, without Stallone, but still set in Philly, and still schlepping it up the steps of the Museum of Art. Life throws curves at you, but her curves were completely outside the realm of the bipartisan: Mussolini would have served tea himself to have even three minutes of post-Keynesian supply and demand with her, even as the panthers were thundering out of the south. You don’t walk by that kind of folderol: you can’t. If you do, if you even try to, the tiniest veggie-mite of fate will bite you in the ass. Even Albie up in his Princeton digs knew that, and he sweated out a few of his own, before the corduroys of smokeless passion lost their grip.

Yes, I knew instantly, but did I want to?


Gotta Love Sir Charles

BDL (Ball Don't Lie): Do you ever get tired of talking about basketball?

Barkley: I'd rather talk about more important things.

BDL: Like politics.

Barkley: I love [politics]. Like, I'm really disturbed about the gay marriage thing. Because I think gay people should get married, cause it's their own business. I was disturbed at the amount of black people who voted for that [amendment that would limit their rights]. Because as a black man, I think you've got to be against any form of discrimination. I do. I'm against any form of discrimination, and I think especially as a black person, who has seen a lot of racial [stuff] in my day, for us to jump on the bandwagon in some form of discrimination, it bothers me.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lady T

Good heavens. Sorry to go all googly and old skool on y'all, but come on, Lady T's voice is hard to beat. Coulda done without the Barry White crescendo at the end, but still:


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday's Basement Tapes

It's a hodge podge on this wonderfully warm Sunday afternoon. Mary Wells singing my old Supremes favorite from junior high, "Whisper You Love Me, Boy." You wanna comparison, YouTube's got Diana and Flo and Mary to serve up, too. I'd never heard MW's version way back in the days of Norma Torres; it would've been my favorite if I had:

Billy Stewart's "Sitting in the Park." Where was this song in my adolescence? Never heard it, not until about twelve years ago, in my parked Austin car, waiting for somethin', listening to - was it Twine Time on KUT? - and this beauty drops out. No clue who's singing, what the name of the song was, but the words STUCK (they usually don't), and I had a reference point through long years of waiting for YouTube (actually, I think first it was the downtown Tres Leches Starbucks HearMusic bottomless music database) to catch up to my lint collector brain and take me there again. When I first heard it, I thought it had that kind of laidback San Francisco Sunday in the park groove that War used to cook up: no doubt, Billy fed the barbecue to them:

Just because you have to. ? hasn't lost an ounce of righteous attitude, and who else could pull off apricot and cranberry together? "96 Tears." ? and the Mysterians, baby. And Barbie and Ken. He's on top now.

Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert album lived on my turntable (!) back in 1976, here in Tres Leches. YouTube thought I might like this,when I logged in this afternoon. They wuz right. Perhaps you will, too. Nuthin like the other three, but go with it. Keith Jarrett Trio and "My Funny Valentine." I think I've got a Chaka and a Rufus Wainwright version on Paschal's Playlist.


Friday, December 05, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #140: Transmissions

[Deere John]

100% Dyno-tested,
1993 Dodge Caravan,
Beloved white beast—
Subduer of all caution
Left and right:
Ran out on me she did, the day
Of the great Huebner climb,
To school I was a-going:
Bread to bake,
Money to earn,
Desires to slake,
Invitational tennis tourniquet
Of wisdom teeth:
Neurotic mishmash,
Vegetable jello,
The chasms of personal fire.
A debt unpaid,
A past unloaded, the visual
Equipoise of equestrian truss—
These are the days, these the inquisitions,
These the end of the days of
Infinite jest, the mysterious
flavor, corpus
delecti, after
The Wackenhut diadems,
This your variable
Transmission, your
In-executable vibe, your
Inexorable immutable crust.


Thursday, December 04, 2008


I'm giving myself 15 minutes: 7 Unusual Things About Me, complements of San's dodgeball:

1. My middle name is Murat; hence, my blog title. Joachim Murat was one of Napoleon's marshals; he and wife Caroline Bonaparte (Nappy's sister) were later named King and Queen of Naples by the little tyrant. Murat was later executed by the Italians. His last words, "Spare the face!" I come by the narcissism naturally.

2. As embarrassing as it may sound, one of my top 5 movies is "A Little Princess." The newer version, not the old Shirley Temple one. The descent into despair and re-emergence through the assistance of the Indian servant/sage breaks me up as much as Call on his lonely journey back to Texas to bury Gus in Lonesome Dove.

3. I've written two unpublished novels: Scarred Angels and Galilee.

4. My favorite PE "test" in the old skool daze was the shuttle run: quick dashing back and forth across the gym four times, picking up and depositing blackboard erasers. Speedy!

5. Though I chose to go to Harvard, I was offered (sight unseen) (obviously) a four-year scholarship to Mississippi College for Women (Eudora Welty's alma mater). The invitation was to Miss Pat Booker. Pat is my shoddy lifelong nickname for my actual first name of Paschal.

6. I have a bad habit of rooting for teams I should not root for. Here in San Antonio, I root for the Lakers (for Phil Jackson, actually). My graduate degree is from UT-Austin; I root for the Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Rivalry. Other sports fanatics consider this an indication of poor upbringing. I chalk it up to habitual contrarianism.

7. A niece suggested the name Pascal Picasso Sevart Booker for our son when he was in utero. I thought it a pretty cool moniker (yes, I was psychotic). After two weeks of this nonsense, Tina informed me that our son did not like the name, to which I replied, "You mean you don't like the name," which was true, but beside the point, the babe had telepathically passed the word and wanted something done about his fool for a father. My insanity subsided and we both independently came up with Walden (keeping the Sevart: "black rose" in Armenian; Karagulian is the Turkish-Armenian version of same). I say that he was named after a book; Tina says he was named after a pond.

Jump in, tag-ees, the water's fine...


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Librarian gams

Comes Ms Anno a-taggin', with bibliotecan gams a-flashin'. "Reading is sexy," quoth the bibliophile. (News to 80% of my urchins.)

The challenge is easy (I still owe Ms San a longer one; longer for me, anyway):
Nearest book (not, she sez, coolest, just nearest, cool or not), fifth sentence on the 46th page, then the next two to five sentences.

From Douglas Adams' The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

He ducked back in.

"Marvin," he said, "just get this elevator to go up, will you? We've got to get to Zarniwoop."

"Why?" asked Marvin, dolefully.

"I don't know," said Zaphod, "but, when I find him, he'd better have a very good reason for wanting me to see him."

Y'all jump on in. Nobody be grabbin' Finnegans Wake.


7:37 AM

On this date in 1998, this beauty came slowly into view, like a honey-swathed Egyptian god Mardi Gras float, awakening to his New World, so regal, so beautiful, and so fine...


Monday, December 01, 2008

The Summers of Love

So, here’s the gig: I assigned my College Prep class a Top Ten assignment—a meme, if you will. The “rubric”: make the list, include images, and then write 50 words (no more, no less) about each item and why it made your list. Relevance to one’s collegiate preparedness? Blogskills, of course. Teaching up and coming urchins the skill of writing pieces that are immediately transferrable to Blogtopia.

I brainstormed a few ideas: Top Ten “Things”; Top Ten Songs for My Wake; Top Ten Gospel Songs (I don’t know ten of them by name, but I sure know ‘em when I hears ‘em); Top Ten Places; Top Ten Places in Tres Leches; Top Ten Movies (way too hard). I’ll spare you the urchin brainstorming I heard, other than the predictable Top Ten Guitarists (one urchin, cruising an online list: “Who’s Robert Johnson, Mr. Booker?”). I finally settled on Top Ten Junior High Love Songs (1966-1968). Goofy enough, but also serious enough to merit listing. What junior high Scorpio isn’t goofily, seriously in love, or seriously, goofily in love, I ask you?

I tried to set some parameters: must be slow-dance love songs; must not be breakup songs; must not be revenge songs; must be songs I actually danced to while in junior high. Many of the songs in the final ten fail on some count or another, but I can say that my surprising choice (even to me) for #1 song fit the bill on all counts.

One further note: for an old man as funkified as I am now, this list is shamefully white bread. Though Stevie Wonder was around in those years, it wasn’t until his string of genius albums from 1971-1976 that I climbed on that wagon. Chaka had not ascended yet and, let’s face it, my ears were just not tuned enough in those years. I was all about Sly, but his groove was more Agape than Eros.

Without any furthers, I give you, in descending order (as urchin KS-G reminded me the list should be), PMB’s Top Ten Junior High Love Songs (1966-1968). These were the days of “real” “junior high” “schools.”

PMB’s Top Ten Junior High Love Songs

10. “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Tommy James and the Shondells): This song would not make any other list of mine now, but I have to admit that tryin’ to get away into the night, well, that was what we all dreamed of, right? It captured the frenzy of nuclear vapors in bodies dying to explode, heart-throbbing at the very end.

09. “96 Tears” (? and the Mysterians): This song fails on all counts, because I HATED this song when it was out. Austin’s 1970s reggae Lotions revealed the evil genius of this song to me, with their bacchanalian 20-minute covers on stage at the beloved Liberty Lunch. Blame placement on ? himself; the song insisted on inclusion.

08. “Dedicated to the One I Love” (Mamas and the Papas): If memory serves, the moms and dads standing soaked in a swimming pool on the album cover. And speaking of “cover,” yes, they’re not the first, but I was a fool for it and them on this one. Choral out the wazoo, old-timey piano in the background, whispering and lovely.

07. “You Were on My Mind” (We Five): Way too damn fast to dance slowly (or at all) to, but it’s about as romantic-sappy as you can get in its bright shiny just to ease my pain yearning, its soaring vocals, and that breathless McGuinn-like Rickenbacker finish. Yes, I know they looked like frat boys and girl mascot.

06. “More Love” (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles): Learning to drive on FM 1049 in Uvalde County, this William H. Robinson beauty slipped onto the summer of ’67 airwaves; any time it came on, I’d crawl to 5 MPH to make sure I could hear the whole thing on the 1.5 mile drive from grandparents’ to uncle’s house.

05. “Today” (Jefferson Airplane; Surrealistic Pillow): We all remember how SP smashed our heads with Ms Grace and her shuddering “Somebody to Love” and hypnotic “White Rabbit,” but this is probably the most beautiful song on the list, from a most unlikely source. Imagine a junior high head blown by Ms Slick and then this follows.

04. “No Fair at All” (The Association): From their “flop” Renaissance album, which I contend is perhaps their best. I’ll take this beauty over “Cherish” and “Never My Love.” It may have been an American flop, but it was #1 in the Philippines. How’s that for marketing? I’ve never seen this side of you before—till now.

03. “Don’t You Care” (The Buckinghams): When I think of junior high dance parties, I think of the Buckinghams and one other group. I was probably responsible for the multiple playings. “Kind of a Drag” was vintage Chicago, too, but this one was had much more ache and moan and plaintive loss oozing out all over.

02. “How Can I Be Sure” / “A Girl Like You” (The Rascals): You had to be able to dance to show tunes to pull these off, but what a revelation they were during my lonely exile in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. My stepfather was an Army band conductor and even he could see how gorgeous these two songs were. Trouble’s gone, trouble’s gone…

01. “Whisper You Love Me, Boy” (The Supremes): Norma Torres. Beautiful brown coffee skin, draped in white jeans, white blouse, drenched in white moonlight. Not even, I believe, one of their hits, throwaway (throwaway?) Dozier-Holland-Dozier B-side. I think this one makes it on all counts, most certainly on the slow-danced to it parameter. Did I mention Norma Torres?