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.


I worked my last day yesterday!
First song I remember learning to play on the harp
Never heard the lyrics – knew the instrumental version

You want writing? Hey, I’m retired. Few words today. Let me let this sink in. Off to Cannon Falls, MN to drop off my bike so it can meet me in Seattle. The bike is ready. Two weeks to get me ready.

PS: I got out just in time (I hope). Four more therapists are out with COVID-19.

Blue-eyed Soul

My friend Angie in Ireland (corrected from original) is a fan/student/blogger of classic rock. I’m just an old guy who was around then. If I could, I’d just send her my ideas and get her to research/write them; but I’m home from work early on a rainy day and this came to me on the ride home.

Homage/cultural appropriation/minstrelsy is a topic/continuum I won’t tackle here. Angie touched on it while writing about Led Zeppelin and others, Craig Werner delves into it in A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America. The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project published Wesley Morris’ essay on the topic. The Berklee School of Music offers a course on the topic. Some artists (e.g. The Beatles) openly acknowledged their sources and inspirations, others (e.g. Led Zeppelin) did not. Willie Dixon is credited with writing hundreds of songs, including some that Led Zeppelin stole. Dixon himself has been accused of putting his name on the songs of others. Picasso is credited with saying “good artists copy; great artists steal.”

Sometimes a great song (Willie Mae Thornton’s “Hound Dog”) gets turned into a novelty (Elvis Presley’s version) – though both versions were written by the white writers Leiber & Stoller, who weren’t afraid of a novelty tune. (They wrote “Poison Ivy”, “Yakety Yak”, “Love Potion #9”, and “Charlie Brown”. “Poison Ivy” isn’t so much a novelty tune as a warning about what might befall you if you”feed” that hound dog snooping around your door. )

Actual soul music would take a book, not a blog post. David Bowie referred to his music as “plastic soul”, but that didn’t stop him from making money from it. As for me, I just want a reason to listen to some old music on a rainy day.

Originally a BeeGees song; can’t get much whiter than that.
Steve Winwood when he was still “Stevie” as a teenager
While The Grateful Dead always mixed originals and covers, The Jerry Garcia Band gave Jerry an outlet for more covers, and he tended toward soul/R&B, having other bands to indulge other aspects of his roots and influences.
She wrote the song for Aretha and later sang it herself. A lot of R&B was written by white writers for black artists (e.g. Goffin & King, Leiber & Stoller, Mann & Weill), which makes the whole issue a bit more complex than just the simple notion of white singers stealing from black artists. Note that the teams that were mixed gender list the man first.
A cover of The Supremes hit
Delaney and Bonnie were better known for their “Friends”. They had quite a group of friends. You can find them playing with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Duane Allman, and many others. Check out Bonnie Bramlett and Tracy Nelson duets some time.
with the famously mis-heard lyric “You and me endlessly groovin'”, heard as “You and me and Leslie…” by folks who thought it was about a threesome. This video lacks their early gimmick of costumes from the Little Rascals TV show. (Now that could be another post, Angie – costumed bands, like Paul Revere and the Raiders.)
Tracy Nelson vocal, Michael Bloomfield guitar, song by Memphis Slim. (I can’t find an online version of her singing “Time is on my side”, which is what I wanted to post. I have it on cassette, which is hard to upload.)
featuring Dave Mason, the “other” singer in Traffic
1945 tune by Buddy Johnson
Like Traffic, more than one of them could sing lead.
From Charles Brown’s “I Want to Go Home”, to Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me”, to Van the Man, still going strong on this recording 53 years after his first charted single.
Where Blue-eyed Soul started for a lot of us. Two great voices and The Wall of Sound.

I’m a bike rider, not a music writer. This is not meant to be definitive, but it got me through a rainy afternoon.

The tyranny of numbers

My first Wednesday Night Bike Ride of the season is over. I can’t tell you how fast I rode, or how many watts I produced, or my maximum heart rate, or anything else you datameisters like to measure.

I can tell you I had fun, but I can’t quantify that. I can tell you that my heart and respiratory rates remained non-zero. I can tell you I rode enough miles to get back to where I started, and fast enough not to fall over. I can tell you that the winter wheat is bright green and makes a nice contrast with the pale spring greens of the tree blossoms. I guess that’s bad news to those who are allergic to tree pollens, but I’m not. It felt good to get out of town and on the road again.

The Wish Book

When I was a kid we looked forward to the arrival of the big mail-order catalogs from Sears and Spiegel. We referred to them as “wish books” and pored over them to figure out what Christmas gifts to ask for.

Nowadays (I never thought I’d be using that word) catalogs seem to arrive on a daily basis. Some companies (you know who you are) send catalogs every week.

Image from The Gahan Girls

I was looking for a suitable image (hoping to find a Norman Rockwell-esque image of kids lying prone on the floor, feet in the air, looking at a catalog) to go with this thought but, instead, came across the gift I wanted for years and never got (and it’s not a Daisy Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle). It was a fake car dashboard so I could pretend to drive – one with working horn, turn signals, and windshield wipers. My parents thought it inappropriate. Kids shouldn’t drive ’til they’re 16, and driving is not a game, but to be taken seriously. Funny that I hardly ever drive now.

Anyway, last week I found myself looking, not through Christmas catalogs, but through listings for cross-state bike tours. While I know it will be years (if ever) before I can ride across the country again, maybe a state or two would suffice.  A couple of riders from the Twin Cities last summer wore a variety of jerseys from South Dakota rides. South Dakota had some great riding, so I’m looking there. (Greg and Dawn, if you’re reading this, tell me what you think of some of those rides. Or were all your jerseys from Nebraska? You’ll have to do some fast talking to convince me to join you for that one.) The Finger Lakes and Adirondacks were great fun, so I’m looking at New York rides. One of these days I’ll do the GRABAAWR (Great Annual Bicycling Adventure Along the Wisconsin River) and I’m thinking about RAW (Ride Across Wisconsin), a one- or two-day ride across the state. And maybe it’s time to return to Cycle Oregon, which I rode in 1992.

My summer 2019 travel budget will be taken up by nieces’ weddings out west, so I’m already thinking about 2020, with 2019 spent on day rides around here. Of course, 2020 is also the next Cycle America ride, which I won’t be on, though I may either join them across Wisconsin or buy them all a beer in Baraboo. If you’ve had a great (or terrible) experience with an organized cross-state or regional ride, tell us about it in the comments.

I know I linked to this before, but it’s time again. In 2011, my friend Keith Greeninger wrote the song “Hop in the truck”. It is sung from the viewpoint of a contractor looking to pick up casual labor to build a wall. Since our president has announced that he would be proud to shut down the federal government if congress doesn’t allocate several billion dollars to build a border wall, the half-fast cycling club dedicates this to the man of orange (not to be confused with the man in black):

So this post was written a couple of days ago and waiting to go up tonight…I’m listening to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and realizing what this time was like musically 50 years ago – fall 1968 saw the release of “The Beatles” (AKA the White Album), “Beggar’s Banquet” by the Rolling Stones, “Memories” by Richard and Mimi Fariña, and the aforementioned “Astral Weeks”.  Oh, and “Electric Ladyland” by Jimi Hendrix. An embarrassment of musical riches. And that’s just off the top of my head from stuff I’ve listened to recently.

I have one standard for Christmas music – it has to be something I’d listen to even if it wasn’t Christmas. So I’ll leave you with this from David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas (not from 1968, but 1986):