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.

Busman’s Holiday

Not really, but that sounds better than a “working vacation.” The British coined the term in 1893, referring to a bus driver taking a road trip for a holiday, so it was much like work.

My job includes paid vacation (not a big deal outside of the US). We used to be allotted our vacation at the beginning of the year, to use at any time. If we left the job before the end of the year, any pay that we had used before earning it would be withheld from our last check.

That system worked pretty well, which is why they had to fix it. Now we can’t use vacation until we earn it, so the year starts at zero. If we want to take a winter vacation, we have to save time from the prior year. And, we have a “use it or lose it” system now. If we accrue too much vacation, we stop gaining any new hours until we use up enough hours to get below the ceiling again – a definite incentive to go on vacation.

The pandemic has not been conducive to taking vacations, so last fall I realized I was going to have to use some hours this spring or lose them. I took a week in March for no specific reason. I often take a week in May to work on a home repair/maintenance project. This year the project is my own body.

It was a cold, dark, and wet April – not just by gut sense, but by the numbers. I spent much less time on a bike than planned. My dry erase board calendar for this week says “Ride” and “Ride more”. With six weeks until the coast-to-coast ride begins, there is work to be done. The “working vacation” means riding every day. As I haven’t ridden long distances yet this year, I clearly haven’t ridden long distances on back-to-back days.

At the age of 69, I’d be a fool to think I can “ride into shape” on the transcontinental tour. The 105 mile third day would ride me into the ground, not into shape. This week’s focus is on riding, not numbers. As such, I will start the week with no Garmin, no Strava, no bike computer. (Then again, since I don’t own a Garmin and I’m not on Strava, 2 out of 3 are no change from any ride.)

Sunday 55 degrees (13 C) and cloudy. It being Mother’s Day, I stayed home with family.

Monday 80 (27 C) degrees, bright sun, 25 mph wind gusting to 40. I was glad to have the weight of a steel bike under me so I didn’t blow away. My first day of the year over 50 miles, which grew to the first day over 5 hours of riding. Soles of my feet burning by the end, just like old times. Tailwind for the last 10 miles, which saved me.

Tuesday I met a friend for coffee to tell her about my retirement party and ran a few errands, so by the time I was on my bike it was 90 degrees (32 C). The wind was down to 15 mph. Late enough in the day to settle for an old classic – the Paoli Ride. The ride to Paoli was a classic when I first rode it 48 years ago. The A&W Two-Tyred Wheelmen rode there regularly. They were sponsored by A&W and met at a local root beer stand for their rides, enjoying a frosty mug at the end. While I never rode with them, I adopted the tradition and often rode to root beer stands – once I rode 60 miles for a root beer. When I told them they were the first root beer stand in 60 miles, they were unimpressed. Sometimes while riding to Paoli we would stop at the old Same place for pizza, served by Tim and Kathy Same in their gazebo after the ride.

Driveway to the old Same place

In the hardware store I saw a guy with a t-shirt that said “I like my puns intended”, so I told him about the standup comic I saw with a monologue of puns. He was desperate for one of his jokes to get a laugh, but no pun in ten did.

I rode through the arboretum, where we usually go on Mother’s Day to see the lilacs. Mother’s Day was early this year and the blooms are late. The magnolias are dropping but the crabapples (which bloom before the lilacs) are just beginning to bud. These sandhill cranes seemed to find plenty to eat. I also saw a few turkeys – the birds, I mean.

Wednesday The air conditioning is on. How many days ago were we needing heat? The “windows open” season was really short this year. I hope it returns. Over 90 degrees. Wind down to 15-20 mph. Rode the Wednesday Night ride with friends. Heat stroke for one, but he made it to the end.

Thursday It dropped below 90. Too cold for a ride 😉 Began gathering tools and parts for the trip, making a list and checking it twice. Actually, I was wrong. My indoor/outdoor thermometer stopped responding. It was hotter yet.

Friday Today was supposed to be an early ride. Replace the chain, adjust the front derailleur cable, and head out on the bike that is going on the trip with me. I’ve been riding the other bike for weeks. I was derailed by unforeseen problems. It wasn’t a cable problem, it was a shifter problem. I disassembled the shifter (which required removing the bar tape I thought I had saved earlier this spring, so I could remove the lever). Putting everything back together, the cables (both front derailleur and brake) magically became too short. This was not the quick job it started out to be. It is now over 90 degrees again, I feel like an idiot, and my whole house is shaking due to the huge machine out front tamping the sand back into place after replacing the sewer main and laterals. This is the third time the street (I use the term loosely, as there has been no pavement for weeks) has been dug up. We are getting new gas, water, and sewer lines, then new pavement, curb, gutter, and sidewalk. They are not burying the power lines because that is somehow too expensive. Since power lines are smaller and more flexible than the other three, and the ground is already dug up, there is a logic here which escapes me.

Surprise! The bar tape that I like so much (but whose brand name I don’t know, having gotten it somewhere on sale) is so good that, after removing it to take the shift/brake lever off, I was able to rewrap it. Being late enough to decide not to go for a ride, I started packing.

Saturday A beautiful day. Still under 90 degrees when I got home from a long ride. After 4 days of record highs and record high lows ( a datum that I didn’t even know they kept), today was a day to wander in the countryside and sing along with James Brown:

Sunday A week of firsts for the season: first ride over 50 miles, first ride over 5 hours, first consecutive days of long rides, first week over 200 miles. First time I feel like I can make it across the country. When I no longer go to work 5 days/week, will I still have a Sunday Feeling?

A humbling experience. Forty miles into the ride I was feeling worn out. I briefly considered a shortcut home, then realized that, any other time, a shortcut would be reasonable. But with five weeks until I’m supposed to be strong enough to ride across the country, I opted to stop for lunch instead. I made it back but “fun” would not be the word for the last 20+ miles. That paragraph above about feeling I can make it across the country? That was written early this morning. At least I have five more weeks to be ready.

Wisconsin (as I’ve said here before) used to have the best system of secondary (county) and tertiary (township) roads in the country. With thousands of small dairy farms needing milk picked up every day, roads had to be maintained for the tankers. With the consolidation of the dairy industry and general decay of our infrastructure, the roads are no longer impressive…but today I must have encountered a township flush with cash. Instead of potholes filled with gravel (as I encountered later in the day) , or slapdash chipsealing, or ribbons of squishy tar-filled cracks, I rode on several miles of new asphalt. I was in bicycle nirvana this morning.