One of the most important songs in American popular music is Otis Redding’s “Respect”. Most know it as an Aretha Franklin song, which adds to its importance.
In 1965, Black men were seen by white society as entertainers and criminals. (Has anything changed?) They had not yet become prominent in “white” sports. (I will defer to others for that history, interesting and complex as it is.) Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs had just arrived on the scene. The Black Power movement was in its early stages. The Black Panther Party did not yet exist.
Black men were not respected in the workplace or in society. Otis Redding’s “Respect” was a Black man’s plea for respect in the one place it might be attainable – at home.
While Black men could entertain us, they could not lead us (i.e. were not accepted as leaders.) Booker T and the MGs were an outlier. Booker T. Jones was a Black man, keyboard player, and bandleader. He fronted a mixed band with Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass (replacing Lewie Steinberg in 1965), and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums. Black and white men figured equally in the band’s music, with Cropper and Dunn proving that white men can have rhythm. (Cropper was co-writer on some of the great soul hits, including “Knock on Wood”, “In the Midnight Hour” and “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”.)
Women in general, and Black women in particular, fared no better. Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was published in 1963, ushering in the Second Wave of feminism in the US. The movement was still in its infancy in 1967 when Aretha Franklin released her interpretation of “Respect”. It was in 1964 that Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) infamously said, “the only position for women in SNCC is prone”. While defenders indicated the statement was made in jest, it did reflect, with notable exceptions, the position of women in regards to leadership at the time – and that it was considered by men to be a joking matter.
It was in this context that Aretha released her interpretation of the song. It was (too widely) accepted that “a man’s home is his castle” and that for whatever power a man lacked in the world, he could assert that power over a woman at home. Aretha, in a classic call and response from the idiom of Black gospel music, answered Otis’ call for respect at home with one of her own.
When we hear “Respect” in either of these great versions we are hearing the state of “race” relations in the US and the state of gender relations as well. While we mostly hear them as great songs, they are bigger than the three minutes of a pop song. They capture a moment in our history; a moment that has gone on too long.
While it has been years since I read them, my thinking here was undoubtedly influenced by the work of Craig Werner in “A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America” and “Higher Ground: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and the Rise and Fall of American Soul”.
Football metaphors at work. When we opened a new hospital, the new head honcho over there didn’t have a “business plan”, he had a “playbook”. This was supposed to tell us that he could relate to us because, of course, everyone in Wisconsin is a Packers fan.*
We no longer have “meetings”, we have “huddles”. First a huddle was differentiated from a meeting because it was supposed to be quick and at the start of a shift – plus it wasn’t held in a conference room, which required a reservation and for which (I think) our department had to pay rent to the corporation. But we don’t have a “department”, we have a “team”. We aren’t “employees”, we are “team members”. Now all meetings are called huddles.
And, of course, due to the pandemic, none of those huddles are held in person. Our computers lack cameras and microphones and the phones we are issued don’t work well enough to use for a meeting, so we use our personal phones. We can listen on a computer, but then we need to type our questions. We don’t use Zoom, but a different platform. Nonetheless, CR asked me to find a way to work this into a post, so here it is:
I just learned that I will soon no longer have an office (even one that I share with 10 – 20 pre-pandemic – others). I will have a “touchdown workstation”. A more apt metaphor would be touch and go landings for pilots in training. Or a deli where you take a number to see when you will be served. Or maybe a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, try to find a computer to do your documentation.
Since we’re using football metaphors, I’m going to call a couple of penalties. There were two fouls on the play: encroachment, by the clinic taking over our space; and unsportsmanlike conduct, by the $10 million donor and senior management. Neither penalty will be enforced.
I carried two boxes of stuff home from work Saturday, since I will soon have no place to put it. Walking out, I felt like someone being fired. Next, I’ll take down the family pictures and anything personal, as there will soon be no place to put them. Maybe I’ll remove the nametag above my desk and replace it with a 1980s-style generic sign that says
Remember these great 80s products? (Images from justbeerapp.com, stragegyonline.ca, cbc.ca) Consumer prices were rising rapidly so Loblaw, a Canadian company, introduced a line of generic products in generic packaging. Were they good? The point was they were cheap.
Football metaphors are the current fad. Several years ago we had “Colorful Communication”, a workshop in which we had to answer a questionnaire to determine our communication style: green for analytical, brown for authoritarian, blue for people-pleasing, red for anti-authoritarian. I came out striped.
*Though it is presumptuous to think everyone cares about American football, everyone in Wisconsin has at least one reason to be a Packers fan. The Green Bay Packers are unique in the professional sporting world. They are a community-owned team, with more than 360,000 shareholders. A billionaire owner will never move them to another state. Green Bay is a city of just over 100,000, by far the smallest city with a professional sports franchise in the US – and the team has been there for 100 years.
Spring may have arrived today [Monday, May 13]. Two weeks ago I cleaned snow off the windshield. Today it was pollen. [Is that what I get for not driving for two weeks?] Nothing says “new life” more irrefutably than pollen. The sun is shining. It is 65 degrees (18 Celsius).
Our annual Mother’s Day walk through the lilac gardens at the arboretum was a bit anti-climactic. While the lilacs are behind schedule, the redbuds are in bloom, as are irises, tulips, and grape hyacinths. Apples are beginning to bloom.
It is Stevie Wonder’s 69th birthday. My sister introduced me to him when I was ten (Stevie had just turned 13 when the single, recorded when he was 12, was released), with this song:
In honor of Stevie’s birthday I saw the Aretha Franklin movie “Amazing Grace” today. Almost enough to give a non-theist religion. It is also the birthday of Professor Craig Werner. Who’da thought a guy who wrote his dissertation on James Joyce would end up as a professor of Afro-American studies and write numerous books on African American music, including the seminal “A Change is Gonna Come“?
While Stevie started as a prodigy, he really came of age with “Songs in the Key of Life”, an album which showed his breadth and depth as a songwriter and a musician. No single song can encompass that, but one of my favorites is “Sir Duke”:
Time flies and it is now Thursday. Last night’s ride began the warmup for the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, the midwest’s answer to The Death Ride – but on a midwestern scale – instead of five passes, you climb “40 significant rises” in the words of the organizers.
Our warmup included the (in)famous Mounds Park Road. The third of four climbs for the evening, it starts with a 5½ mile lead-in through a slowly rising valley. It’s mostly flat, but you don’t stop pedaling the whole time. With a tailwind, it might be a way to warm up your legs. With a headwind, you might wonder if you’ll have jellylegs before you even start climbing. For those of you in Alpine County, CA, it’s sort of like climbing up through Woodford’s before you even get to the climbs to Carson or Luther Pass.
You finally turn off the county highway and get teased by a brief downhill, then a few gently rolling hills and you wonder what all the fuss is about. Someone was nice enough to spray grade markers on the road. You approach the first and see “6%”. Not bad, just your average mountain road and a whole lot shorter. Then you see the ramp ahead and the “13%” painted on the road. You ride through various 12 and 13% markings and see a spot where it “levels out”. A rest, you think. A mere “9%” is painted on the road. Now you know why people talk about this road. The respites are the single-digit sections, and “single digit” means “9%”.
Still, it’s fun…and then you remember that the Horribly Hilly climbs it once at 6.5 miles, and again at 120 miles. No sweat; today is only a 30 mile ride, and there is only the final and beautiful climb to Brigham County Park after this. You never actually reach the top on this ride – when you get near the top, you turn left onto Ryan Road. If you were thinking about sitting up, catching your breath, and taking a drink of water – think again (or do it fast). Before you know it, you are screaming down a 40 mph curving and shaded road. You better pay attention.
It was also the first post-ride potluck of the season. Like everything else, the rhubarb is behind schedule. Luckily I froze some last year so I was still able to make a rhubarb pie – 4 cups of frozen fruit from last year, and a cup of fresh was all I could muster from this year.
By the way, the rest of you can read this. Curtis was a friend in LA; the last person with whom I kept up a snail mail correspondence. Were he still alive, I’d have written something like this as a letter to him. Since he’s not around to read my letters, that falls to the rest of you.
I can’t get away without acknowledging that this is posting on Syttende Mai (17th of May), Norwegian Constitution Day.
Today we’re arriving at Devil’s Tower. As anyone who has seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind knows, this is where the aliens landed. If anything like this happens tonight, I’ll try to keep you posted.
It is also my wife’s birthday. Our first date was to see Los Lobos at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. Since I’ve already posted links to two Los Lobos songs, she gets this instead:
The first live music I ever saw in a bar was BB King playing with a local pickup band in a club called Dewey’s. I was just 18; it was a school night. That’s another story. For copyright reasons, I am linking to a poster for that night rather than reproducing it here. Tickets were $3.50.
Dewey’s was just a couple blocks from The Factory, which is best known as the club that Otis Redding was going to play in on December 10, 1967. His plane crashed in Lake Monona that afternoon. My sister was waiting in line to get in when she heard the news. “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” became a posthumous #1 hit. It was his last recording before he died.
The show was to be opened by The Grim Reapers, a precursor to Cheap Trick. The poster was designed by William Barr. If you zoom in, you will see the word “tenderness” in the image on the right. The image was Barr’s attempt to illustrate Otis’s song “Try a Little Tenderness“. The song was actually first recorded in 1932 by the Ray Noble Orchestra.
(I couldn’t resist linking to both the single version of Otis’ interpretation and a live version. I will restrain myself from another aside about Booker T and the MGs, arguably the best house band around.)
(For another aside, Aretha Franklin recorded this song years before Otis, though he is the one with whom it is identified…only fair, since he wrote “Respect”, which everyone identifies with her.)
(Dewey’s has been torn down. The Factory is now A Room of One’s Own Bookstore.)
Crash, bang, boom
Friday was one of the best and worst days I have ever experienced on a bike.
After the torrential rain of the night before, everything was dry – the driest it has been on this trip. The grass was dry. The tent was dry above and below – usually both the rainfly and the ground cloth are wet when I pack up. There was no sign of the night before.
We started out on a quiet road, slightly downhill, and with a light tailwind. The morning was still cool. We saw deer and pheasants. One deer lay in the grass maybe ten feet off the road and just looked at us as we rode by. About a dozen calves ran alongside us for about a hundred yards – it looked like they were doing it just for fun.
We stopped at a tiny bar in the middle of nowhere, having covered 40 miles before 9 AM. Coffee and cherry pie, and we were on our way again.
It was now hot and windy. Two miles before lunch I hit a rock and heard a pop and a hiss. My front tire was flat. A quick change and we were in to lunch. Rechecking the pressure with the shop pump, I blew a second tube. After the third one blew, I gave up, we looked at the tire again and found a cut, and it was time for a new tire. Now both tires are new.
We rode in to the “town” of Spotted Horse. Our route planner said he had stopped in the bar the day before and they weren’t too friendly. We bought ice cold bottles of water. (I’m not usually a fan of bottled water, but this was a worthy exception.) After we guzzled water the owner brought us a big bowl of sliced watermelon. I guess she just didn’t like Dan.
By now the temperature was in the 90s. Our route was a 103 mile semi-circle, starting north, turning east, then turning south. We turned south into a nasty headwind. Had I been alone, I might have just sat at the side of the road and cried. Instead, we pressed onward, trying to stay cool and hydrated. There was no shade to be found.
At mile 90 I made the mistake that leads to today’s subhead. I couldn’t find a link to Jessica Harper’s song “Nora’s Room”, which contains the refrain “Crash, bang, crash bang boom/something’s going on in Nora’s room”.
The good news is that helmets are cheap. The bad news is that I needed one. Early in the day, Steve had said he doesn’t ride in pacelines and what should he know. I said the most important thing is not to touch the wheel of the rider in front of you. You will go down hard and the other rider may not even notice.
I can now say that experience proves me right. The good news is that I have very little road rash. The bad news is that that is because I led with my head.
I lay on the shoulder and took a quick inventory, deciding it was okay to sit up. I did another inventory before I stood. I then asked myself orientation questions – I knew the day and date, where I was, where I had started, where I was bound, who I was riding with, where I had stopped and what I had consumed in those places. I decided to get back on my bike.
Someone from the local senior center stopped and offered me a ride in to town. When he said he ran the senior center, he quickly added that he didn’t mean to imply anything. I let him know he was welcome to make the implication, as it is true.
He asked how my bike was. I realized that I am more of a trauma therapist than a bicyclist, as I had not yet cared about the bike. I wanted to make sure the patient was OK. I gave serious thought to accepting the ride, but wanted to get muscles moving again before I stiffened up, finding out what else hurt. Something had to hurt. Bike and rider were okay. We’ll see how the rider feels in the morning.
One of the vans passed us about five miles later, as we made our way through the industrial wasteland of the outskirts of Gillette. I tried to hail them, ready to give up on the day and get a ride to a bike shop for a new helmet.
I couldn’t get their attention and finished the ride. Then I got a new helmet and tried to award the old one (tonight was awards night) to Steve and Kevin, who stuck with me through thick and thin (and even thinner). Instead, it is in the trash.