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.

Otis Redding Day

It was 55 years ago today that Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays were killed when their small plane crashed into the icy waters of Lake Monona in Madison, WI.

They were en route from Cleveland to a gig at The Factory in Madison. The opening act was to be The Grim Reapers, two members of which went on to form Cheap Trick and eventually join Redding in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It was a cold and foggy day. The cause of the crash was never determined definitively. I had always surmised that the pilot came out of the fog and saw a clear and flat area ahead, thought it was the runway, and descended too early; then was unable to regain altitude.

I have since read that it is thought that the wings had iced up and the engines struggled against the added weight. At any rate, we lost Otis Redding that day.

Otis Redding in front of his airplane. Photo courtesy Zelma Redding (Zelma Redding/Otis Redding Foundation), downloaded from

My sister was waiting in line outside the club when the news came through. I was in confirmation class and our carpool dropped someone off at his home near the spot where the plane went down. According to historian Stu Levitan, two neighbors, Bernard Reese and Chris Dickert, made their way by boat to the wreckage to attempt a rescue after calling police. I recall another neighbor claiming he tried to get to the wreck via snowmobile but the ice was too thin. (I never saw his claim in media coverage. It might have been made only to fellow high school students on Monday.)

Otis had just finished recording “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”, which was released posthumously and became his greatest hit. Six months earlier he had electrified the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival, backed by the amazing Booker T and the MGs.

Soul singer Otis Redding (Otis Redding Foundation via

Redding may have died that day but his music and legacy live on. He provided educational funding to kids during his life and his widow established a foundation in his name after death to continue to provide opportunities to kids.

We won’t forget you, Mr Redding. We’ve been loving you too long to stop now.

If you could have dinner…(redux)

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would that be? What if you could get a small group around a table?

While cleaning our adopted highway, I thought of two such groups. The first has already been published here . I realized that all of the participants were dead men.

Sugar maples – sap for syrup in the spring, gorgeous color in the fall…

For my second, I thought about women in music. The Women’s Music movement of the 1970s changed how we saw women in music. Women like Carole King helped to make that movement possible.

Carole King (1942-) King got her start as a songwriter in the famous Brill Building in New York. Among other writers there were Leiber and Stoller (about whom I have written before), Burt Bacharach and Hal David (multiple hits for Dionne Warwick, movie themes for “What’s New, Pussycat”, “Alfie”, and “Casino Royale”), Doc Pomus, Jerry Ragavoy, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil…). She wrote “Up on the Roof” for The Drifters, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” for The Monkees, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles, “One Fine Day” for The Chiffons, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for Aretha Franklin, among many others. In 1971 she released the seminal album “Tapestry” which spawned numerous hit singles for herself and others, spent 15 weeks at #1, and earned 4 Grammys. The Singer/Songwriter movement of the 70s (James Taylor, Jackson Browne, etc) owes much to Carole King. In 1994 she appeared on Broadway. She appeared as a guest on The Gilmore Girls and is mom to singer/songwriter Louise Goffin.

There isn’t a weak song on “Tapestry”, and what happens when the songwriter sits down at the piano and plays her own work after others have interpreted it just sounds special.

June Millington (1948-). Millington was lead guitarist in the band Fanny. Treated as a novelty act by the industry, Fanny was an all-woman band, active from 1970-74. They weren’t a novelty – they could play! In 1970 they opened for The Kinks and Procol Harum in LA. They were apparently more appreciated in the UK than the US. In a Rolling Stone interview, David Bowie said of the band, “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.” In 2021, the film “Fanny: The Right to Rock” opened in limited release. June and her sister Jean began playing in rock bands in 1965. Millington was one of the founding mothers of the Women’s Music movement of the 1970s and contributes lead guitar work to many albums of the era.

This session, recorded warts and all, features Fanny on Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”. The song starts at about 1:45.

Since that video can’t be embedded, here they are covering “Badge” by Cream.

If you still doubt that women can play rock and roll, here’s one more.

Cris Williamson (1947-) The Women’s Music Movement encompassed many styles. Some artists appealed to a small niche audience, others had more mainstream success. Cris Williamson came out of Deadwood, SD, recording her first album at age 16 and becoming a local sensation in Wyoming after moving there. In 1973 she was instrumental in the founding of Olivia Records and her 1975 recording “The Changer and the Changed” became Olivia’s top seller and was the first album to be produced entirely by women. Her most recent album “Motherland” was released in 2017.

From the same album, but with a different sound featuring banjo:

Diedre Buckley – For the local angle, we look to Diedre Buckley. Buckley is a classical and jazz violist with an MM from The San Francisco Conservatory and a DMA from The University of Wisconsin. She is in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and the Madison Opera Company. She has played at the National Women’s Music Festival and worked with various jazz ensembles. She has performed jazz with Hanah Jon Taylor and Jane Reynolds and maintains an active teaching schedule. Buckley has performed for Steven Spielberg, George Harrison, and Studs Terkel. Her doctoral dissertation was on jazz singer Betty Carter.

Diedre Buckley image from

Here is Diedre playing Arnold Rosner’s String Quartet No 5 in D minor, Op 66, with the Ad Hoc String Quartet (Mark Ottesen is a guest on a duet with Diedre on this album. She is the violist here):

For a change of pace, here is Douglas Hill’s “Blues in E” with clarinet, viola, bassoon, piano, and bass.

So why this particular group of women? You’ve heard their music. The connections are probably less obvious than the previous dinner party post. I want to hear Carole King talk about writing music at a time when the industry was dominated by men (as though that weren’t the case now 😉 and how she made the transition from writing for others to performing her own work. I want to hear June Millington talk about being a woman in rock and roll and the transition to the women’s music movement; about the barriers and the sense of fulfillment in each; and about how music influenced her adjustment to life in the US, arriving here at the age of 13 – not the greatest time to come to a new country and try to find your place. I wonder how Cris Williamson found a primarily urban movement when she went from an upbringing in South Dakota and Wyoming to Washington, DC (where Olivia Records was founded); and I wonder how it felt to be part of what was a profound movement and then to settle in for the rest of life after that wave crested. I want to ask Diedre about crossing the lines between classical music and jazz – one highly structured and one improvisational; and about making a living as a musician outside of the major cities for music. As well, Diedre crosses the line between performance by, with, and for women, and with mixed ensembles and mixed audiences. In a sense, we have come full circle. The women’s music movement and 1970s feminism created space for women in the mainstream.

Mostly I want to hear the cross-pollination. Here are four women, whose paths may have crossed and are clearly not parallel. Each was, in her own way, a pioneer; and each built on the work of the women before her, though all are more or less contemporaries. The Women’s Music Movement changed the way women thought about themselves in the music world. It showed that an industry could be developed by and for women. In the 1970s, the idea that women could produce an album without the involvement of men was revolutionary. The children’s book “Firegirl” (Gibson Rich, Feminist Press, 1972) talked about a young girl and her dream to grow up to be a firefighter. She was widely ridiculed because that was “men’s work”. It was the women’s movement of the 1970s that changed that. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (which had a 40 year run) was a women-only festival; planned, produced, performed, and attended only by women. I attended women’s music concerts in the 70s both in the audience and (for concerts that were held as women-only spaces) as part of the Men’s Childcare Collective, providing on-site childcare for the children of women in the audience. Clearly on the fringe, I want to hear what it was like in the middle.

Favorite Son

Busch Light can in its natural habitat. It will eventually assume its protective coloration. (The blue pigment fades to a pale green. The process has begun.)

A Busch Light can means the half-fast cycling club cleaned its adopted highway again. No further news on that front.

I never tire of this view. Sorry if you do. Look! No litter!
Madison’s Favorite Son, Joel Paterson (from a previous festival – I brought no camera this time)

Our neighborhood summer festivals were combined into one this year. We walked down to the park just long enough to see the set by the Joel Paterson Trio. Joel grew up a few blocks from here. He spent his teen years playing the blues at a neighborhood bar, then moved to Chicago where he plays in multiple bands. A self-proclaimed guitar geek, he plays swing, rockabilly, country, and blues (and a little Hawaiian guitar).

Joel on all instruments in a home pandemic recording
From his all-Beatles solo acoustic guitar album
Guitar and clarinet blues jam
The Western Elstons, his country band
And here’s a full set of his band Modern Sound, from a festival in Spain.

There’s lots more where that came from, including some Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitarist) and Chet Atkins tributes. I think he should be famous. Listen and see if you agree.

Yeah, I’ve been riding my bike a lot. Back-to-back weekends with centuries coming up in September, so 50-60 mile rides twice a week as well as daily commuting and Wednesday night rides. I haven’t ridden 100 miles in a day since 2019, so we’ll see if I still can.

Hot and humid Wednesday Night Ride

It’s tobacco season, so last week I rode past a crew out cutting tobacco, and this week rode past sheds full of drying tobacco. If you’re not from around here, you probably didn’t realize Wisconsin is tobacco country. Tobacco used to be grown here as cigar wrappers and is now mostly for chewing. It was once a major cash crop. A farmer got an allotment from the state, allowing a set number of acres to be grown. It was hard work (hand planted, hand cut, hand tied and hung, hand stripped from the veins after curing, and bundled for sale) but virtually guaranteed income. If you had an allotment, you grew tobacco. I had a friend who bought a farm with a small allotment and the neighbors thought she was crazy because she chose not to grow tobacco. The tobacco shed (a large barn with louvers that can be opened to increase airflow, and a network of framing from which to hang the poles with bundles of leaves draped over them) was used for storage.

COVID cases are on the rise again and I just finished another tour of duty on the COVID units. Most of my patients this week were not vaccinated. I was vaccinated in December and January. While it is true that I am now magnetic, that’s just my personality and I was that way before the vaccine;) If you have seen the videos of people purporting to prove that the vaccine makes one magnetic, they are either more ignorant than I think they are, or they just blatantly dishonest. The videos show people sticking non-ferrous metals to their skin and claiming it is because the vaccine made them magnetic. I have duplicated that with a penny, bobby pin, paper clip, money clip, button, and a Post-It note. Only one of those would have stuck were magnetism at play. Lest you think I did anything heroic this week, I was safer in this gear (and the sanitation process I go through as I enter and leave each room) than you are if you go into a store, restaurant, or bar (especially if you don’t wear a mask, or anyone else in there doesn’t). You don’t know if you are near someone who is positive. I do.