Bein’ Cool

“Cool at the Union” by Bill O’Brien (Album released 1980)

A song about a guy trying way too hard to be hip.

(Chorus) I’m bein’ cool at the Union1
I’m bein’ groovy on the mall.2
I’m wearin’ Cecil’s sandals3
And I’m readin’ FreeForAll.4
And I’m carryin’ ’round Spinoza
And other heavy shit.
I transferred from Engineerin’
Into English Lit.

Well I’m sittin’ here at Ella’s5
But I don’t know what to do.
For I’d love to make a waitress,
But she said balling’s not too cool.

Well, I got rid of all my Mac Davis6
And all my Bud T-shirts.
I bought some brand-new Frye boots7
And rubbed them in the dirt.

Now I’m sittin’ on the Terrace8
Pickin’ up things to help me more.
Like how to really act stoned
And the right way to say “For sure”9.

Well, I tried it out on some friends
To see how they all felt.
But they said I’d never make it
With a calculator on my belt. 10

(Chorus and instrumental out)

1 The Student Union, where all the cool kids hung out, especially in Der Rathskeller, better known as “The Rat”.
2 The Library Mall, where you could wade in the fountain. Later, The Pail and Shovel Party would take over the student government after promising to convert student fees into pennies and fill the fountain, issuing each student a pail and shovel to collect all they could.
3 Cecil was a cobbler who became famous for making sandals in the 1960s when it was hard to make a living repairing shoes.
4 FreeForAll was an underground/community newspaper in the 70s. It arose from a split in the staff of the newspaper “Kaleidoscope” after the editor went to jail for contempt when he refused to divulge his sources for a story.
5 Ella’s Deli was a favorite hangout of the cool kids, especially the New York lefties.
6 Mac Davis was a pop singer.
7 Frye boots were what the cool kids who had money wore when it was too cold to wear their sandals; but you didn’t want them to look new.
8 The Terrace is behind the Union facing the lake, where you could sit and have a beer, since the drinking age was 18 then. It was much cooler than the KK (Kollege Klub), a bar frequented by high school students with fake IDs.
9 “For sure” was the cool way to say “yes” for a while.
10 Engineering students carried their pocket calculators everywhere. The terminally unhip had a holster on their belt to carry it so it would be ready at any time. This was after slide rules and before cell phones.

I can’t believe I’m annotating this song but, if you’re not from here and of a certain age, the references make no sense.

Bill O’Brien: composer, guitar and vocals
Gary Zappa: bass
Clyde Stubblefield “The Funky Drummer”: drums

Clyde Stubblefield was “The Funky Drummer” in the James Brown Band. He “retired” to Madison, WI where he fronted a band, led a weekly jam, filled in whenever someone needed a drummer (he could play anything with anybody at any time and sound like he’d always been in the band), and did session work even though Madison, WI is not where you’d think of making it as a session musician. (Though Madison was home to Smart Studios, where KilldozerThe Smashing PumpkinsL7TadNirvana, and Garbage all recorded.)

Continuing our trip down Memory Lane, here are The Tayles, recorded live at The Nitty Gritty in 1972. The Gritty was second home to Luther Allison and became immortal when The Jefferson Airplane showed up there after a performance and played ’til dawn after they closed the bar. No one needed alcohol.

Bob Schmidtke of “Captain Billy’s Whizband” at the Sound Storm Music Festival in 1970. He later went on to play guitar with The Tayles and is the guitarist on the cut above. Image from the WI Historical Society. Photo by Robert Pulling. The festival was headlined by The Grateful Dead and also featured Luther Allison and Rotary Connection. (Rotary Connection’s lead singer was Minnie Riperton, mother of Maya Rudolph.)

I can’t find any decent recordings of Oz, a trio locally famous for their song “Cowboy Woman” (which included the theme from “Bonanza”). I once saw them in the Crystal Ballroom of the Lorraine Hotel. But another band that did survive on vinyl was the Mendelbaum Blues Band, featuring Chris Michie on guitar and vocals. Michie, like anyone here who wanted to make it big (Tracy Nelson, Boz Scaggs, Steve Miller, Ben Sidran among them) moved to San Francisco. He was best known for his work with Van Morrison (playing on Beautiful Vision (1981),  Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1983), Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984), A Sense of Wonder (1985) and  No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (1986). The band also included drummer Keith Knudsen who went on to join the Doobie Brothers.

Other people get nostalgic with Christmas music at this time of year. I’m not sure what came over me. It may have been Dr Who coming to visit and taking me back in time.

The TARDIS. Dr Who was camera shy; or maybe because he arrived as a 17 month old child we chose not to post his picture.

Okay, one more. I stumbled on this after scheduling, while looking for something else. This is one of the greatest bands ever. If you’ve ever used the phrase “just the house band”, this may banish that from your repertoire. I’ve posted them here before. Booker T and the MGs backing Sam & Dave and Otis Redding, recorded on tour in Germany in 1967.

Respect redux

Since you just heard him (if you clicked on the YouTube video); to continue the discussion from recent posts about Otis Redding, you have probably seen numerous traffic stop videos – via dash cams, body cams, or cell phones. I know I’ve seen more than I care to.

I’ve noticed some commonalities. When the officer is a white male and the subject is as well, the officer tends to address him as “Sir”. When the officer is a white male and the subject is a Black male, the term of address often switches to “Bro”.

What’s up with that? Is the officer showing us how hip he is by addressing the Black man as “Bro”? Does he think he is establishing rapport by showing he is a “man of the people”? Or is he demonstrating that he is the oppressor, that he doesn’t need to show respect to a Black man? Does “Bro” sound more like “Sir” or more like “Boy”?

An ice day for a bike ride

The New Year’s Morning bike ride was conducted almost entirely on ice this year, thanks to a New Year’s Eve mix of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. I would not have wanted to be out in a car on this, but the studded bike tires did their stuff. To commemorate the first day of my first full calendar year as a retired person, I rode to work, right up to the front door and the bike racks. There were two bikes parked there, one even looking like it had been ridden to work. After checking out the bike rack and the fancy new entrance thanks to a deep-pocketed donor with her name filling up one wall, I headed back to the lakeshore path to check out the fishers on the rotten-looking ice. I thought of Marvin and Lloyd singing:

“Twelve beers in a twelve pack
Twenty four hours in a day
Fifty two cards in a Bicycle deck
Have another beer
Hey what the heck.”

Stop the presses!

Late additions after publication, from someone who was there:

I do believe I have the Fly By Night Bonding Company Blues Band on cassette, though no way to digitize said cassette recording to upload here.

Thanks to Big Bro, bassist in FBNBCBB.