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.


One of my jobs is English-to-English translation, as people always seem to have trouble understanding each other.

While I am home recuperating from surgery, I thought I’d explain a few medical terms for your edification.

Public Service Announcement

  • “Minor surgery” – anything done to someone else.
  • “Procedure” – surgery that your insurance won’t fully cover.
  • “Outpatient procedure” – surgery that even Medicare won’t fully cover.
  • “This won’t hurt a bit” – It won’t hurt me to do it to you. I can’t say what it will feel like on the receiving end.
  • “Just a little prick. It’s not really painful.” – The President is just a little prick, too; but he causes plenty of pain.
  • “This may cause a little discomfort.” – Yeah, doc, let me do it to you and then tell me about discomfort.
  • “Deductible” – Don’t even think about using your insurance before you’re broke.
  • “Co-pay” – You think you’re insured, but we think that unless you have a little skin in the game, you’ll actually try to use your insurance. This’ll make you think twice.
  • “Co-insurance” – Ha! After you satisfied the deductible and made the co-pay, you thought insurance would cover the rest – sucker! Now you get to split the rest of the cost with us!
  • “We’ll just run a few tests.” – We bought this new (and really expensive) machine. The only way we can afford it is to use it a lot and bill you for it.
  • Bonus! Want to save on medical expenses? The TSA scanners have an uncanny ability to detect injuries! My most recent scan found a cavity before I went to the dentist. That’s not to mention the other injuries they have found.

Worker’s Compensation

The popular myth about Worker’s Compensation Insurance is that it is there to protect workers from unsafe working conditions. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story: Worker’s Compensation Insurance is (also) there to protect employers from lawsuits by employees. If you are hurt on the job, you can’t sue your employer for damages. You can file an insurance claim and hope the insurance company (which works for the employer, not you) will agree that your injury was caused by your job and pay for your medical care and a portion of your wages while you are unable to work. More likely is that they will dispute your claim, asserting that you had a pre-existing condition or that your injury was caused by something you do in your spare time. To collect the benefits you are owed you may have to hire an attorney to represent you even though you can’t sue.

Another popular myth is that workers fake injuries in order to collect benefits. Since benefits are set at a fraction of your wages, you have to be pretty stupid to get only a portion of your wages (unless you have some other lucrative job you can perform while collecting benefits, a rarity indeed) while living on savings or scrimping to get by. The insurance company may spend more on surveillance (hiring private investigators to follow you around and film your activities) than the cost of compensation for the injury. An article in the Journal of Social Research (Tennyson, 2008) asserts that industry estimates of fraud are grossly exaggerated (by a factor of 10) and that surveillance activities decrease trust and lead to increased fraud.

In The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Spieler and Burton (2012) cite more than a dozen reasons for under-reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses and cite conclusions from other studies including ” at least 80% of all medical costs caused by occupational diseases were missed by workers’ compensation programs.” (Leigh and Robbins, 2004)

So are workers ripping off the system in large numbers, as popularly believed? Or is the system ripping off workers in large numbers, as the evidence suggests? The evidence suggests that workers fail to report work-related injuries for multiple reasons including fear of retaliation, and that insurance companies fail to pay for work-related injuries for multiple reasons including asserting that doctors can’t prove that the job was the sole cause of the injury or illness. The evidence also suggests that insurers will go to great lengths to discourage claims and to reject those that are filed.

What do others think of US Healthcare?

Most of the world has a healthcare system. The US has an insurance system. Why does it not strike us as odd that we have a “system” centered around an industry that makes its money by withholding care? The more premiums we pay and the fewer services they pay for, the “healthier” the system is. Take a few minutes to watch the video above and hear what people who have a healthcare system say when asked what they think about the cost of care in the US. Our leaders and our media want to convince us that we can’t afford a single-payer system. The rest of the world recognizes that we can’t afford not to have one.

Human Resources

Resources have value based on the cost of extracting them versus the value added to the product. A few years ago, when the fracking boom hit, western Wisconsin was found to have the best frac sand around. A new industry appeared. They blew up fields to mine sand and built new railroad lines to haul the sand to natural gas wells. A few years went by, and they decided sand in Texas was cheaper, closer to the gas deposits, and good enough. The Wisconsin sand mining industry went bust.

If you are a highly skilled widget maker with 20 years of experience and know things, like where to bang on a machine to restart it when it freezes up, and you make great widgets, and you pay attention so that you know stuff that no one else in the company knows, you get paid well. But maybe they do some calculating and decide that a newly-trained widget maker, who gets paid a lot less, will do most of the time. When the machine goes down or they don’t know where to find something, maybe they figure the lost time will be made up for by the lower wages. Now it’s time to get rid of you. Having Security walk you out of the plant may be bad for morale. What to do, what to do?

Maybe they can make it unpleasant enough that you’ll take early retirement to avoid the headaches. What if they suddenly start making mistakes on your payroll? Or maybe change your family health insurance plan to a single plan without telling you? Maybe your pension contributions get messed up. Maybe, if you notice the mistakes and complain, they’ll get fixed eventually. Or maybe you’ll just get fed up and leave, allowing then to bring in a lower-paid worker. Nah, that would never happen, right? But if the cost of extracting your value becomes greater than the value added to the widgets, start watching those paystubs carefully.

Weather and Climate

We’ve talked about weather and climate before. We’ve linked to data on the freeze/thaw cycles of one Wisconsin lake that has been studied for more than 150 years. While this year’s weather should not be mistaken for climate, in October we were ice fishing. In January we could be swimming, though it would be a bit chilly. October’s ice is gone. The lake is liquid again and the temperature is pushing 50. Since 1852, this lake has melted and re-frozen in the same season six times. Five of those have occurred since 1977.

The preview is old. Don’t try to tune in on the date mentioned.

In case you’ve been wondering where we’ve been, we’re around – we just had nothing to say for a while. Now we can’t ride a bike for a while, so…here we are! Comments welcome. Watching TV is going to get old fast, so let’s talk.

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Photo credit: John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal 01/07/2020