Patriotic Music

Today we celebrate the declaration of freedom of one group of white, male, landowning imperialists from the tyranny of another group of white, male landowning imperialists. (I’m writing this on 4 July, but you won’t see it until the 5th, since everything goes live at midnight. As usual, if you just read your email you won’t see/hear the music links, so click the title and open the page.)

Samuel Johnson has been quoted (by Boswell) as saying that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Our current president hugging and kissing a flag immediately comes to mind.

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

In the 1960s, the people who were the equivalent of Trump’s base today had a bumper sticker that said, “America: Love it or Leave it”. Soon another bumpersticker appeared reading, “America: Love is not Enough”. The triumvirate concluded with, “America: Fix it or Fuck it”. I wrote an essay in high school in which I chose the third and concluded, “In my life, I want to be the fixer.” The elderly version of me would say, “I don’t trust any philosophy that can fit on a bumper sticker.”

I have seen other blogs listing “patriotic music” we should listen to today. As I rambled through 50 miles of countryside this morning, a few patriotic tunes ran through my head, so here is my contribution to the day. First, a potential alternate national anthem. I am far from the first to suggest that.

Much music has been written for “important” people. Aaron Copland decided it was time for a fanfare for the common people. (The imagery in the video seems to have been chosen by someone who had a totally different idea of what Copland meant.)

When I heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee perform this song I had a new appreciation for the song and the harmonica, and of the benefits of growing up in a college town so I could see and hear them.

Even presidents who accomplished great things in their tenure can ultimately fail. I always liked this intro, even though the song had nothing to do with LBJ. With a band name like “The Electric Flag” (with the subtitle “An American Music Band”) I had to squeeze them in, with their rendition of this Howlin’ Wolf tune.

Bob Dylan had to make this posting, and this one, while always timely, seems especially so again, with a new generation taking the lead.

Too often in Dylan’s shadow, Phil Ochs was a genius in his own right. It’s hard to pick one song, but this is one that those who don’t listen closely can misconstrue (kinda like “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen).

Richard and Mimi Fariña sang of (not) testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). A live version was recorded at the Newport Folk Festival. I have it on vinyl (the posthumous album “Memories” – beware – the CD version is not the same) but all other versions I can find are a vastly inferior recording, so this is the original studio version, since digitizing my album is beyond my capability. The album was a Christmas present from my sister, who heard it playing at a record store. She told me that if I didn’t want it, she’d keep it. No way was I going to let her have it. It grew on me quickly and I still have it 53(?) years later.

Antonin Dvořák showed that European classical composers can be influenced by the US, not just vice versa. And who can resist a piece that opens with viola?

Much is made of the American Dream. I grew up learning about America as a melting pot; a rich stew enlivened by new additions. But the longer the stew steeps, the smaller the influence of those additions. My kids learned a song in elementary school that told them “My town is not a melting pot/My town is a salad bowl” – that our identities are lost if they are melted together. Folksinger Charlie King taught me that America truly is a melting pot – “The scum rises to the top and those on the bottom get burned.” (One might conclude that we have to stir things up every now and then.)

We tend to forget that “America” includes a huge land mass stretching from about 70 degrees north latitude to about 55 degrees south latitude. The United States is but a small part of America. In Spanish there is a term for people from the US – “estadounidense”, roughly “United Statesian”. English lacks such a term which encourages us to forget the rest of America and think of ourselves as Americans and everyone else as Other. And we conveniently forget that people were already here when it was “discovered”. Not to mention that many think of American as meaning “light-skinned and of European origin”.

Whose version of that dream will be realized? Whose version is snuffed out too soon? Los Lobos asks the question.

Early readers will miss the next link. I forgot it yesterday when I got home. Leadbelly sang of hypocrisy and segregation in “Bourgeois Blues”.

Before hip hop there was Gil Scott-Heron, who taught us that “The Revolution Will Not be Televised”. Sitting back and watching is not enough.

Now that I’m home and can look things up, this list could keep growing. I realize women are under-represented. But I will stay true to the theme (this being a bike blog, not a music blog) of what I thought of and sang on today’s ride – with this one exception. What if we had a president who sang along with the Freedom Singers instead of retweeting White Power? (Oh yeah, we did once.)

I don’t know which should close – Gil Scott-Heron or Sam Cooke – but it’s gonna be Cooke. He started as a gospel singer, became famous to white folks as a pop singer, but I think this was his greatest achievement. It continues to send chills down my spine.

A real American – an oak tree on this morning’s ride

Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day, a turning point in the French Revolution of 1789. If you’re in Madison, WI, it also marks Le Fete de Marquette, which is already in progress.

Some days I forget this is a bike blog and not a music blog, but Bastille Day calls for some French music. Here is Jacques Brel, in a performance that inspired my son to sing this with the the UW Black Music Ensemble, under the direction of the incomparable Richard Davis.

More specific to Bastille Day, from the play Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss, a medley by Judy Collins, which was my introduction to the work.

On a more personal level, it is my 25th wedding anniversary. More of you know my anniversary as September 11, but I got married twice (in the same year, to the same person – it’s a long story that has to do with the US healthcare system [if you can call it a system, but that’s a topic for another blog]).

As I mentioned on her birthday, our first date was to see Los Lobos at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. I was impressed by how urbane she was when she said we should take a cab home, not something a small-town boy like me did very often. I was impressed again when she put two fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-splitting whistle to hail a cab. It worked.

La Fete de Marquette inexplicably features Los Lobos this year, so I have another excuse to link to them:

At our wedding, my friend Keith sang my favorite wedding song, by one of my favorite singer/songwriters (along with Keith himself), Kate Wolf.

And today my niece is getting married, so this song is for Abby and Dustin, too. Mazel Tov! Since I’m about 500 miles short and in an earlier time zone, I probably won’t make it to the wedding. Maybe they can Facetime me so I can be there.

I forgot I had this post cued up, so today’s ride notes are separate. Due to the weaknesses of the phone version of this software, I can’t seem to combine the two posts – and connection problems make me fear I’d lose it all trying. So you will see two posts today. The other one coming in 5 minutes.

Happy birthday! (and Welcome E.T.)

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.

OtisDewey’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 B0F0185D-8074-4383-BAAB-053E738F3AA6in 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.2714C8A4-951D-4B7B-B3F3-8FF71FA43414

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.

David

Since I mentioned two lifelong friends from school, a memorial to David Okuma is in order. This has nothing to do with bikes.

David, like Curtis, was an LA native. He grew up in East LA and was buddies with some guys who later formed a band. He introduced me to that band when I stayed with him on a subsequent visit to LA. I liked the album so much he gave it to me. Later he introduced me to them literally, as he got us backstage passes when they opened for the Grateful Dead at Laguna Seca raceway near Monterey CA.

David was a rock ‘n’ roller, though not a musician. He worked in record stores all his life. He introduced me to a lot of music, some that I would never have listened to without him. He had to cull his record collection periodically so it would fit in his house. When he came to Madison I took him to hear the UW symphony and hiking in Parfrey’s Glen. I hope he forgave me for that.

EPSON MFP image
David and Kiyoshi (who is now at least 40)

When I asked David about Disneyland he told me it was only for tourists; he’d never been there. When I visited him in Pasadena, his first words were, “Do you want to go to Disneyland?” as he whipped out a pack of tickets from the entryway table. I reminded him of what he had told me ten years earlier. He said now that he had a child he had discovered Disneyland and they went there all the time. It was great. He figured his parents had told him that it was only for tourists because they couldn’t afford to take him there. He was not going to deprive his son that way. We went to Disneyland, which was overrun by Iowans, as this was December 30 or so and Iowa would be be playing in the Rose Bowl on January 1.

But back to that band he introduced me to: two of the greatest rock songs ever written appeared on the same album. The links below are to those two songs. The album opens with a lament about the death of dreams – a woman struck down in a drive-by shooting, a child killed by a reckless driver, a woman who gave up her life to be a wife. The other song is also about dreams – searching for a meaning to life and wondering about the answers you get – whether a seeker climbing to a mountain top, or an immigrant worker slaving in a sweat shop and wondering “Is this all there is?” The band, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is Los Lobos.

David died June 1, 2015. I’ve been told that Los Lobos were at his bedside for his last week.

P.S. Two people asked last week that I write about training. I thought that would be boring but was told “don’t make it boring”. So there are two posts scheduled for the week before the ride starts. I plan to update them periodically, since they currently contain only the first couple months of training.

P.P.S. I’m two steps closer to going on this trip! My passport arrived yesterday (the trip goes into Canada and my old passport expired 10 years ago) and so did my new phone. I’ve taken another step into the 21st century -first a carbon fiber bike, now a cell phone. Next thing you know, I’ll be using emojis!? This postscript was written on the phone with the add-on keyboard – you’ll hear more about that in the future.