An American Odyssey in Song: New York – Boroughs, Bridges and “Feelin’ Groovy”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

It’s quite some time since I continued on my American Odyssey in Song and that would be because I developed a severe case of Odyssey block! After struggling somewhat to identify any songs at all for the New England states, once I hit New York there were just too many. I have started this post on numerous occasions but always gave up half way through. This time, as The Drifters sang in 1961, it’s going to be different, this time I’m going to stay (with it)….

New York.jpg

No time for lengthy paragraphs about the state itself this time though as loads of songs to get through. Suffice to say it must be one of the most diverse states in the whole of the US as not only does it have Long Island, whose “Hamptons” are where rich New Yorkers go to spend their summers, but it also has the wilderness areas to the north where hunting and fishing are the pastimes of choice. The state borders Canada and two of the Great Lakes but at the foot of the triangle there is one of the most iconic and culturally rich cities in the world, New York.

Time to get this party started then and it’s not going to be pretty – Via “a stream of consciousness” is how I’m going to tackle this one. Everyone will have different songs that they associate with New York but these are the ones that have come to mind over the last few weeks. Ready, steady, go….

There can’t be many people who are not familiar with the sights of New York City but just in case, here’s a whistle stop tour courtesy of MGM and those three sailors who had a whirlwind 24-hour leave back in 1949. Ok, ok guys, we’ve got it – “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, the people ride in a hole in the ground”.

You can’t have failed to notice that Mr Francis Albert Sinatra plays one of the sailors in that clip and I’m sure it’s expected that his version of the song New York, New York will feature here, but that would just be too obvious, so unusually for me I’ll enter the 21st century and share Empire State of Mind by Mr Shawn Corey Carter (otherwise known as Jay-Z). 

JAYZ
Jay-Z, Rapper and Businessman

Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys:

Lord knows I’m not usually a fan of rap but I was truly blown away by this “song” (if that’s what it’s called) when it came out in 2009. Some fantastic lines in there referencing Sinatra’s New York, New York but also Afrika Bambaataa, the Bronx DJ who became known as the Godfather of hip-hop. The rap part on it’s own I probably wouldn’t have warmed to that much (although I don’t know), but with the inclusion of Alicia Keys vocals it became something really special. The pair are both from NYC and the song’s main writer, Angela Hunte, grew up in the same building as Jay-Z – 560 State Street, Brooklyn, an address mentioned in the song.

Something that comes across loud and clear from the lyrics of Empire State of Mind is that NYC is not just the island Manhattan as I had often thought as youngster. Oh no, NYC is made up of five boroughs – Brooklyn and Queens on the western end of Long Island, Staten Island which nestles up against New Jersey and The Bronx, north of Manhattan. Manhattan itself only becomes an island because of that tiny sliver of water linking up the East River with the Hudson.

5 boroughs

New York City, despite being made up of these five boroughs is very much centred on Manhattan, so how is it all linked up? Why by ferries and bridges of course. I am reminded of the scene in Saturday Night Fever where John Travolta’s character tries to impress his potential love interest with his knowledge of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, that double-decked suspension bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Another iconic bridge is the one that featured in the opening sequence to one of my favourite TV shows from the early ’80s – Taxi starring Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch. Whenever I hear this theme song I am right back in my student room, my little white portable telly perched precariously on the edge of my desk, just in the right place for the aerial (coat hanger?) to pick up a signal. It would have been mid-week and I was probably having a break from all those laborious hours spent writing everything out in longhand (no computers in those days). A flatmate might have popped in for a coffee whilst we watched the show. Sometimes those memories are the best, ones where nothing in particular was happening, just normal everyday life but hearing that theme reminds me of the scene. A beautiful piece of music called Angela by Bob James.

Angela (Theme from Taxi) by Bob James:

Of course I had to do some research after rewatching that clip to find out which bridge it actually was that came up every week in the titles – Joy, oh joy, it was none other than the Queensboro Bridge – So what I hear you ask? The alternative name for that bridge is The 59th Street Bridge and considering this whole series was inspired by the Paul Simon song America, it is fitting that his song about the bridge be included in this post.

feelin groovy

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Simon and Garfunkel:

Paul Simon said that he’d spent most of 1965 in England but after coming back to the US, and having success with The Sound of Silence, life became really hectic for a while and he found it difficult to adjust. One day, going home to Queens over the 59th Street Bridge, he kind of started to snap out of it as the day had been a really good one, a “groovy one” – Once home he started to write the song subtitled Feelin’ Groovy that went on to appear on the 1966 album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” recorded with musical partner Art Garfunkel.

But enough about bridges, in the New York of 1977 the phenomenon that was disco had started to really make its mark. Manhattan had Studio 54 where Liza, Michael, Mick and Bianca were regulars but across the Brooklyn Bridge (oops, more bridges), they had a local disco called 2001 Odyssey and every Saturday night, aforementioned John Travolta (playing the character Tony Manero), temporarily left his monotonous life behind and became “king of the dance floor”. Watching him now, the dancing doesn’t look quite as impressive as it did when we first experienced Saturday Night “Fever” and the parodies have been ruthless, but I still have fond memories of going to see that movie when it first came out in the UK in 1978. As someone who has been known to “do a John” over the years and clear the dancefloor, it can be an exhilarating feeling (and not showy-off at all of course!).

You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees:

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time. How Deep Is Your Love is the song that appears in the closing scenes of the movie as we watch a desolate Tony ride the New York subway late at night. It is one of my all-time favourite love songs (which is probably why it became the choice for my Valentine’s Day post).

So far we’ve checked out the geography of New York and talked about the bridges and the nightlife. What about the people? I read an article recently about the flamboyant octogenarian fashionistas, who cut a dash on 5th Avenue – Way to go ladies!

Of course New York has long been known for its flamboyant characters and Sting sang about one of them, eccentric gay icon Quentin Crisp, in his 1988 song Englishman In New York. Another “character” commited to song was when Rod Stewart wrote and recorded  The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II) in 1976. This story song tells the tale of a young gay man who became successful and popular amongst Manhattan’s upper class – He was “the toast of the Great White Way”, which is the nickname given to the Theatre District of Midtown Manhattan. Georgie attends the opening night of a Broadway musical, but leaves “before the final curtain call” and heads across town. He is attacked near East 53rd Street by a gang of thieves and one inadvertently kills him. The song was apparently based on a true story about a friend of Rod’s old band The Faces.

I have waited a fair amount of time to feature Rod Stewart in this blog as it seems to be universally accepted that by the late ’70s he had sold out and his albums just weren’t up to the calibre of his earlier ones but hey, I was a mere 16-year-old schoolgirl at this time and was a big fan. This song especially, combining the melancholy and sombre Part II with the more popular Part I has long been a favourite of mine.

The Killing Of Georgie (Part I and II) by Rod Stewart:

We’ve spent an awful lot of time in New York City so far in this post but what about the rest of the state? Back in the early sixties before kids started heading off to Europe on holiday they used to go with their parents to resorts such as Kellermans in the Catskill Mountains. This is where “Baby” Houseman spent the summer of 1963, and fell for dashing dance instructor Johnny Castle. Dirty Dancing was a low-budget film that had no major stars but became a massive box office hit and was the first film to sell more than a million copies on home video. It has some great dance scenes and the soundtrack is full of classic songs from that early ’60s era such as Be My Baby, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Love Is Strange and this one, Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs.

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Kellermans in the Catskills, the setting for Dirty Dancing

Stay by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs:

There are some great scenes in the movie where the landscape of the Catskills is kind of the star. I must admit to having become a bit of a fan of this movie in my later years although didn’t really take much heed of it when it first came out – I think it’s down to the nostalgia element, the music choices and the sadness that comes from the realisation that my days of dalliances with a young Johnny Castle are well behind me. Whatever, I’ve ended up writing about songs from it three times now (Be My Baby, Doomed Romances and Summer’s End) and they take the prize for being my least viewed posts – Sacre bleu!

Another song that makes me think of Upstate New York is Woodstock, written by Joni Mitchell but made famous in 1970 by Matthews Southern Comfort. The irony of course is that Joni Mitchell hadn’t even made it to the infamous festival which took place on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm, but wrote about it after having watched it from her hotel room in New York. The lyrics tell the story of a spiritual journey and make prominent use of sacred imagery, comparing the festival site with the Garden of Eden. The saga commences with the narrator’s encounter of a fellow traveller, a “child of God”,  and concludes at their ultimate destination where “we were half a million strong”.

Iain Matthews of Matthews Southern Comfort was actually from Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire but he had previously been with the band Fairport Convention who were at the time heavily influenced by American folk rock.

Well I don’t know about you but I’m exhausted – This post has been a long time coming and I’m sorry it’s so wordy, but I for one am now just pleased that it’s “in the can” so that the journey can continue. Next time we’ll be passing through the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey so as ever, suggestions for that state are more than welcome. Unlike with the New England states I have a feeling that it’s now going to get a whole lot easier.

A final clip before I go however – One of my all-time favourite movies is Manhattan directed by Woody Allen. I was given the soundtrack album by the boyfriend of the day after going to see it, as I was just so bowled over by George Gershwin’s compositions. They were all performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and somehow I now always think of Rhapsody In Blue when I see the New York skyline.

manhattan

Rhapsody In Blue by George Gershwin:

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) Lyrics
(Song by Paul Simon)

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

Hello, lamppost, what’cha knowin’?
I’ve come to watch your flowers growin’
Ain’t’cha got no rhymes for me?
Doot-in doo-doo, feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

An American Odyssey in Song: Connecticut – Ben Folds and “Kylie From Connecticut”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we visited the State of Rhode Island which means this time we will be entering the southernmost state in the New England region, Connecticut (another tricky one to spell because of the silent “c”). I for one am quite glad we’ve reached this point, as when I decided to start this trip in Maine, New England I hadn’t really considered that there would be slim pickings when it came to songs associated with that region. I am starting to think that settlers to those states perhaps did not have such a rich musical heritage as those who took up residence in the Southern or Appalachian Mountain states, but we’ll find out a bit more about that when we get there.

connecticut

The whole of Connecticut’s shoreline faces Long Island so rather than looking out to the open Atlantic, the large “sound” created because of that particular geography, makes it an ideal strategic location for submarines. Long Island Sound is therefore the Submarine Capital of the World. Although fairly rural to the east of the state, the southern and western parts are very much part of the New York metropolitan area. The main industries are Finance and Insurance and the state has the highest per capita income and median household income in the country. To use UK counties as an analogy, it sounds like the Surrey of the USA.

Difficult to write anything quirky or interesting about Connecticut at all however, as it just sounds so damn affluent and respectable. Perhaps a look into figures from popular culture will inspire me. It was where spoilt little rich girl Rachel Green from the TV show Friends hailed from. It was also the setting for the satirical thriller The Stepford Wives, where a spunky young photographer mum, played by Katharine Ross, begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive and beautiful housewives in her idyllic new Connecticut neighbourhood, may actually be robots created by their husbands (she was right). It also seems to be a state where many from the acting profession were born, or were residents, and maybe it’s just me but I can’t help thinking there is something similar about them all…….

Not much music so far and again I didn’t have any ideas of my own for this state. A thorough peruse through the various pages of the world wide web hasn’t really helped either, but fortunately last time a few suggestions came in from friends of this blog. The Swede from Unthought of, though, somehow seemed to remember that Judy Garland and Bing Crosby once recorded a song called Connecticut which turned out to be correct. Listening to the lyrics, it was apparently “the place to be”.

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Bing seems to be making a bit of a regular appearance on this journey as he also featured last time in his guise as Dexter, the (middle-aged) beau of Grace Kelly in High Society. And, this song called Connecticut immediately reminded me of a film starring Bing that I must have watched decades ago, as a child, called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The film was based on a book by Mark Twain who was himself a long term resident of Connecticut and at one point lived right next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe so not just a place for blonde-haired actors it seems, but also a place for authors of the “Great American Novel”. Here is a clip of the trailer for that film from 1949 – Yep, they just don’t make ’em like that any more.

When thinking about other possible musical associations with Connecticut, it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would feature something by The Carpenters who were also from this state. I featured them recently in another post (link here) but had been building up to doing so for some time, as although they became one of the best-selling acts of the 1970s producing cleverly harmonised, melodic pop of the Easy Listening persuasion, they could never have been described as “cool” or edgy, and however many times we say there should be no guilty pleasures in song, it still takes a brave man (or woman) to come out and say they are indeed fans of that genre.

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This Masquerade by The Carpenters:

Older brother Richard was the creative force behind the duo and was a gifted composer and arranger, but of course it was Karen who had that wonderful deep voice that communicated the words of whatever she sang in such a melancholy way. It is only recently that I’ve been able to start listening to Carpenters albums again, as I still find it really upsetting that she died so young from the illness anorexia nervosa.  We knew so little about that particular illness back then but it just goes to show that however perfect things look on the outside, there can also be all sorts of inner turmoil – This Masquerade that can be life.

And so this leads me on to the final featured song. It has been quite some time since I’ve written an American Odyssey post and that was partly because I really struggled to find something to write about this state at all. I do hope that any residents of Connecticut who stumble upon this blog do not take offence, but the vibe I get from this state is that it may well be the most affluent place to live, and it may have a great university and great jobs in banking and finance BUT behind closed doors, is all well with the residents of Connecticut? Throughout our fairly lengthy marriage, Mr WIAA and I have actively tried to avoid living in an area (and every town has them) where it REALLY matters what car you drive, how often you renew your kitchen and the quality of your glass and china. These superficial trappings are really not important in the grand scheme of things and we are lucky to live beside some very like-minded souls, who have no illusions of grandeur and care not a hoot about such material trappings. Just like in this blog, where I often have to reign it in a bit as I do tend to over-share at times, we have no secrets from our friends and neighbours and seem to muddle along swimmingly. I cannot say the same for the parts of town we have actively avoided living in and I suspect large swathes of Connecticut would be out of bounds for the likes of us!

ben fold

A song suggested by both C and Rol in my last American Odyssey post was Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds. I have to admit, as is often the case, I wasn’t familiar with this song until having it pointed out but I am now a great fan of Mr Folds so thanks guys. Although this song is about a message left by someone from Connecticut, it reeks of all I have been writing about above. Here is a marriage where there are obviously secrets and the listener is left to interpret the Kylie mystery for themselves – Behind closed doors, all is not well. Since starting this blog, and following other music blogs, I have taken a far keener interest in the lyrics to songs than I ever did in my younger days and what a joy that has been. Ben Folds is an American singer-songwriter who was originally inspired by Elton John and Billy Joel but is someone I was really not that familiar with so will definitely have to investigate further. It also seems that Mr Folds has been married many times, so there may well have been a few messages from a “Connecticut Kylie” over the years which may have muddied the waters of domestic bliss. Just sayin’.

Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds:

Next time we will be heading into New York City and to be honest there are probably more songs about that city than about any other place on earth so goodness knows how I’m going to handle that one. Still would be interested to hear of any personal favourites however, so don’t hold back.

But finally, this has been a bit of a dull post in many ways, so what better way to end it than with a large slice of Mystic Pizza. This is just the kind of film I loved watching back in the late ’80s whilst sporting my big, permed hair and large dangly earrings – ‘Twas the times. Mystic itself is an old fishing port on Connecticut’s easternmost shoreline and was the setting for the film but is now more of a tourist centre for visitors, with many living history museums and the like. In case you’re a little peckish, the restaurant is still in business – Anyone up for a slice of heaven?

See you in New York!

Kylie From Connecticut Lyrics
(Song by Ben Folds)

It’s just a thought, but where did it come from
What does she do with it if it comes back
A note from his assistant is there by the telephone
She wonders again as she turns out the lights

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
She says you’ve got the number
It says Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she closes her eyes

She believes there are things you shouldn’t know about
When you’ve been married for thirty-five years
And her heart belongs to a man that she hadn’t seen
Since a magical night when the children were small

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s probably nothing, yeah nothing at all
Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she’s reading old letters
That she left in the closet with the pictures she cherished
She never told a soul for the last thirty years
Now she closes her eyes

An American Odyssey in Song: Rhode Island – “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we visited Massachusetts (tricky to spell but that’s probably the last time I’ll have to do it) so we are now heading west towards New York, first passing through Rhode Island. This tiny state, only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long is made up of islands, inlets and peninsulas but also what appears to be chunks of mainland America plucked from Connecticut and Massachusetts (drat had to spell it again). The name came about because the Italian explorer Giovanni Verrazzano thought that the large pear-shaped island sitting in Narragansett Bay looked like the Greek island of Rhodes. The official name is actually the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the plantations part being an archaic name for “colony”.

Rhode Island

And now for the part I am coming to enjoy most about this series – The random fact element. Rhode Island is also called the Ocean State and due to its geography has a long history of sailing. The America’s Cup, offered up as a prize by the British Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851, was first won by a boat called America which is how it got its name. The cup has spent much of its time in Newport, Rhode Island ever since and poor Britain has never won it back. The MGM musical High Society was set in one of the many fully staffed mansions that littered the state back then and one of the most memorable scenes was when Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly took a trip on the True Love which in turn inspired the song for the movie. I do remember being troubled by their age difference when first watching it as a child – Having just looked it up, Bing was 53 and Grace 27 when the film was shot, but not unusual amongst wealthy Rhode Islanders back then I suppose. In fact the mansions, or “cottages” as they were called, were originally built by rich plantation owners in order to escape the heat of the Southern summer. Later on rich Northern families started to do the same as the Gilded Age of Vanderbilts and Astors reached its staggeringly opulent zenith. Never had so much money, been made so fast, by so few, and much of this wealth was reflected in the Cliff Walk properties of Newport, RI.

But hey, as usual I am being side-tracked, for this is supposed to be a music blog. Not many obvious contenders for this state but last time both CC and Rol came up with the suggestion Sweet Rhode Island Red by Ike and Tina Turner. A good one but not my featured song for this post as although most of us who are not even au fait with the world of poultry farming have heard of the Rhode Island Red hen (the state bird), the song is not about the hen or even set in the state. Also, although I really enjoyed Tina’s output during her reincarnation of the 1980s, I’m not so fond of the songs she recorded with Ike (or Ike), especially Nutbush City Limits, but we’ll come to the reason for that another day.

ike and tina

But not everyone in Rhode Island lives in mansions and owns yachts. Some of you will know of the animated sitcom Family Guy created by Seth MacFarlane. The series centres on the Griffins family who have an anthropomorphic pet dog called Brian. Seth MacFarlane is not only a talented actor, writer, singer, film-maker but is also (I think) extremely good-looking and it turns out he is even descended from one of the original passengers from The Mayflower (grrr…). He studied animation at the Rhode Island School of Design so not unusual to have set the show in the fictional city of Quahog, RI. I give you the Road To Rhode Island by Brian and Stewie!

All this talk of the Gilded Age and opulent mansions however has made me look into it a bit more and has inspired my choice of featured song for this post. One of the largest “cottages” was Hammersmith Farm owned by the stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier, Hugh D. Auchincloss. She of course went on to marry John F Kennedy and their wedding reception was held there. The property was also used as the setting for the 1974 film version of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. I have a feeling that Grace Kelly may well have also “graced” the terraces of Hammersmith Farm at some point, perhaps not in High Society as that appeared to be a film set, but perhaps in her role as Princess Grace of Monaco.

Some of you will know that Baz Luhrmann also made a dazzling version of The Great Gatsby back in 2013 and the song Young and Beautiful was specially written and recorded for it by Lana Del Rey. It was perfect for the film as she has a deep, sultry voice and a look that is evocative of a much earlier time. Also, a song about “the young and the beautiful” was totally appropriate for the tale of The Great Gatsby. All of the people mentioned in the paragraph above were rich, young and beautiful but whether characters in fiction or real people, they all died prematurely or experienced tragedy in their lives. Again a very tenuous link to this state, and again from a film, but just reinforces the knowledge we all have that a life of wealth and privilege does not necessarily bring happiness.

Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Rey:

Having done a bit of research, it seems that Lana Del Rey adopted her exotic sounding Latin name and look after spending time with friends in Miami. She is however originally from New York and has a Scottish heritage. Her real name is Lizzy Grant which I find amusing as where I come from in the North-East of Scotland there are many older ladies called Lizzy Grant – Absolutely none of them look like Lana Del Rey!

So, a longish post about the smallest state. Heading into Connecticut next and drawing a blank myself for that state at the moment, so again, any suggestions more than welcome. I can think of a couple of siblings who came from there and whose songs I have featured in this place recently, so may well go down that route. We’ll see, but in the meantime, I think I’ll have another listen to the haunting and sombre sound of Young and Beautiful.

Until next time….

Young And Beautiful Lyrics
(Song by Lana Del Ray/Rick Nowels)

I’ve seen the world
Done it all
Had my cake now
Diamonds, brilliant
And Bel Air now
Hot summer nights, mid July
When you and I were forever wild
The crazy days, city lights
The way you’d play with me like a child

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

I’ve seen the world, lit it up
As my stage now
Channelling angels in the new age now
Hot summer days, rock ‘n’ roll
The way you play for me at your show
And all the ways I got to know
Your pretty face and electric soul

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?

Dear lord, when I get to heaven
Please let me bring my man
When he comes tell me that you’ll let him in
Father tell me if you can
Oh that grace, oh that body
Oh that face makes me wanna party
He’s my sun, he makes me shine like diamonds

Will you still love me
When I’m no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me
When I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will
I know that you will
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?
Will you still love me when I’m no longer beautiful?
Will you still love me when I’m not young and beautiful

Postscript:

Because I mentioned the film High Society a fair few times above, I feel I should share this excellent clip of the inimitable Mr Louis “Satchel Mouth” Armstrong giving us a potted version of what is to come. Yes, this was high society Rhode Island-style, back in 1956. Enjoy.

An American Odyssey in Song: Massachusetts – Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers and Roadrunner

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Well, I seem to have enjoyed my time in Vermont so much I stayed there for over a week! Time to move on again though and this time we’re heading down into Massachusetts (tricky to spell as was pointed out last time), named after its indigenous people.

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The random fact element of this post will have to be brief this time as more songs to get through than has been the case to date. Suffice to say it was where the Pilgrim Fathers settled after arriving on The Mayflower in 1620. They formed the Plymouth Colony and after a tough first winter, with the help of the local Wampanoag people, learnt how survive by growing corn. They then held a three day Thanksgiving event to celebrate their first harvest and that celebration of course still goes on today.

The island of Nantucket, more famous now for its beaches and holiday cottages, was home to the whaling trade back in the 18th century and the tale of Moby-Dick was set there. That infamous Tea Party occurred in Boston, but being British I’ll gloss over that one. I am reminded however that our own Alex Harvey put that story to song in 1976 with his version of The Boston Tea Party.

The Kennedy compound was at Hyannis Port in Massachusetts, presided over by dad Joe and mother Rose. Education is big business in Massachusetts and the city of Cambridge is home to both Harvard and the research institute, MIT. In popular culture the film Jaws was set there, mostly filmed on Martha’s Vineyard.

But which song to feature this time? I know that everyone expects it to be this one and it would be remiss of me not to include it, but not one of my favourite Bee Gee songs, and at the time of writing it they had never even been to Massachusetts. It was 1967, the year of The Summer of Love, and the hippies were all heading west to San Francisco so it felt as if here on the East Coast it was time to switch the lights out, as everyone had left. I remember well watching them perform this song on TOTP as a child but didn’t realise until later that the twins Robin and Maurice were aged only 17 at the time. So young but already so prolific.

Massachusetts by The Bee Gees:

Thanks go out again to my blogging buddies who offered up suggestions for songs associated with Massachusetts (links to their blogs on my sidebar). Rol came up with Feelin’ Massachusetts by the Juliana Hatfield Three and Massachusetts Avenue by Amanda Palmer. Both he and Lynchie came up with the Steely Dan song The Boston Ragalthough to be fair Lynchie decided that he was allowed to call them simply The Dan as he had been a fan right from the beginning.

Before I get down to the actual featured song for this state, how would you like to come for a quick drink with me in a great bar I know called Cheers? It’s right here in Boston and for the guys who go there, it’s like their “blogosphere” – Nice to be in a place Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. 
Wouldn’t you like to get away? 
Sometimes you want to go 
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

So, lots of suggestions already, but for this post it could only really be the one that came in from both CC and C (no relation) – Roadrunner by Massachusetts natives Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, first recorded in 1972 but a hit for them in 1977, when all of a sudden their proto-punk sound fitted the “times” perfectly. I don’t know what I was doing during my teenage years but it certainly doesn’t seem to have been listening to the lyrics of songs properly as until CC pointed out the whole Jonathan Richman/New England connection when I started this series, the Roadrunner I remembered best from those days was this one!

roadrunnerNo matter, it has now clicked and the Massachusetts comedian John Hodgman came out saying that the song was, “Woven as deeply into the cultural landscape of Massachusetts as the Turnpike itself. It is the pulsing sound of the night and the future. It connects the midnight ride of Paul Revere with the dream of every Massachusetts teenager who has just gotten their license and is discovering the Freedom Trail that is Route 128 after the last movie lets out“.

Roadrunner by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers:

This song came out the summer I turned 17 and after a few disastrous driving lessons with my dad (who in every other walk of life was patience personified), I gave up. The boys who were the same age however did not, and one by one they passed their driving tests and acquired “wheels”. We lived in the country and just like Jonathan Richman and his buddies, these local boys became weekend roadrunners. They had no particular place to go but the radio was on and they just wanted to hang out with friends and burn some rubber. Needless to say, every couple of years or so there was a tragic car crash and some of them didn’t make it. Fortunately all my close friends did get through that phase unscathed but the village cemetery is littered with the graves of those who did not. This one is therefore for them. Dougie, Wendy and Neil – You are not forgotten.

Next time we’ll travel into the smallest of the 50 states, Rhode Island. I do have a song idea for that one of my own but definitely “tenuous” so again I would be really grateful for any other suggestions connected in some way to that state (you know where the comments boxes are). We’re still in New England but are now getting ever closer to New York where I now realise there will have to be a Part 1 and a Part 2. Songs about Rhode Island – not so much. Songs about New York – where does it end?

Until next time….

Roadrunner Lyrics
(Song by Jonathan Richman)

One-two-three-four-five-six!
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on
I’m in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it’s cold outside
And the highway when it’s late at night
Got the radio on
I’m like the roadrunner

Alright
I’m in love with modern moonlight
1:28 when it’s dark outside
I’m in love with Massachusetts
I’m in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
Helps me from being lonely late at night
I don’t feel so bad now in the car
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
That’s right

Said welcome to the spirit of 1956
Patient in the bushes next to ’57
The highway is your girlfriend as you go by quick
Suburban trees, suburban speed
And it smells like heaven, I say
Roadrunner once
Roadrunner twice
I’m in love with rock & roll and I’ll be out all night
Roadrunner
That’s right

Well now
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on at night
And me in love with modern moonlight
Me in love with modern rock & roll
Modern girls and modern rock & roll
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
O.K. now you sing Modern Lovers

(Radio On!)
I got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the car, got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the AM sound, got the
(Radio On!)
Got the rockin’ modern neon sound
(Radio On!)
I got the car from Massachusetts, got the
(Radio On!)
I got the power of Massachusetts when it’s late at night
(Radio On!)
I got the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts
I’ve got the world, got the turnpike, got the
I’ve got the, got the power of the AM
Got the, late at night, hit ’em wide, rock & roll late at night
The factories and the auto signs got the power of modern sounds
Alright

Right, bye bye!

Postscript:

I kind of ran out of space above for this little story but still worthy of inclusion I think. The family that lived next door to us in our Scottish village when I was growing up actually did the unthinkable and emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts (they had relatives there and it must have been a lot easier in those days).

They had a son around my age called Graham and it is weird now to think that he will have had a parallel life to my own but of the “American” variety. He will support the Boston Red Sox or the New England Patriots as opposed to our beloved Aberdeen FC. He will have had a Prom instead of a school disco, will have a Boston accent instead of a Scottish one and no doubt became a roadrunner after having “gotten his licence” as opposed to having “passed his driving test”. As a family we didn’t keep in touch, as it was just so far away in those days and communication methods were very primitive – Hope he has had a good life however and in the unlikely event he ever comes upon these pages, hello from Scotland!

1967
The humble author, aged 7 – Quick hide the ball!

An American Odyssey in Song: Vermont – Willie Nelson and “Moonlight in Vermont”

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Well, I’ve just spent a week in New Hampshire but it’s time to move on again and the next state we’re heading into is Vermont. The name comes from old French, meaning “Green Mountain”, and that pretty much sums up the whole state. There are indeed mountains, lots of forests and green, green pastures.

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Green pastures of course lead to daily farming and Vermont is where those quirky ice-cream makers called Ben and Jerry set up shop, wowing us with their wittily named flavours (Vermonty Python being one). Their visitor centre is the most visited attraction in the state. Vermont is also where those singing Von Trapps settled when they arrived in America. They built a Lodge in the picturesque Stowe which must have reminded them of their home in Austria. Climb every mountain indeed.

But what song to choose for this state, as again, a bit of tricky one? A few suggestions came in from fellow bloggers – Rol (from My Top Ten) came up with a couple that had the name Vermont in the title but not songs I’m familiar with (Long Vermont Roads by The Magnetic Fields and Just Give Me Moonlight In Vermont by Amy Allison). Another suggestion (from Rich at KamerTunesBlog) was that I use the Henry Mancini theme tune from the ’80s TV Series Newhart which was of course set in Bob’s Vermont B&B. I do remember that show and it seemed to come along just at the time American sitcoms started to get really funny, and ours became less so. If you want to see what it would be like to live in that green, green land, check out this clip. Very nice indeed.

But no, my last couple of song choices for states have been a tad tenuous so this time I’m going for a song that really paints a picture of the state – Moonlight in Vermont. There have been numerous versions of this standard from 1944, recorded by a variety of artists, but the one I have enjoyed listening to most over the last week was the one by Willie Nelson. Like Roger Miller, Willie is from Texas but no matter, when he decided to record an album of standards in 1978 called “Stardust”, he wanted this song to be on it. The song is considered the unofficial state song of Vermont and is frequently played as the first dance song at wedding receptions.

Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson:

Willie Nelson is one of the greats of country music and will turn 84 (god willing) later on this month. He was one of the main figures of “outlaw country”, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the restrictions of the “Nashville sound”. Willie has also acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, has been involved in activism and (not surprisingly) the legalisation of marijuana.

The phenomenally successful ballad Crazy, most closely associated with Patsy Cline, was composed by Willie as were many other country standards from the 1950s. After great success he retired in 1972 but of course that didn’t last long and he is still performing today, still sporting his trademark pigtails and bandana. His version of Always On My Mind, although made famous by Elvis, is still my favourite.

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But this post needs something else, a little heart-warming story, and whilst doing a bit of background reading about the State of Vermont, I make an interesting discovery. The blacksmith and inventor John Deere was born there and was responsible for giving us much of the agricultural and construction equipment still used today, specifically the large steel plough. My grandfather was not the “lineman for the county” but he was the “roads supervisor for the county” back in the 1940s/50s. The climate and landscape of the North of Scotland would have been similar in many ways to that of Vermont, so thank goodness for the large snow plough attachments that came across from America just at the time my grandfather was responsible for keeping the often snowbound, highways and byways of Aberdeenshire open. Back then, before the days of television, the wireless was the main form of home entertainment and I feel sure that my grandfather might well have listened to an early version of the song Moonlight in Vermont before heading out for a night time shift on one of those giant snow ploughs. He would not have probably realised however that the large steel attachment at the front, was all down to a man called John Deere, from Vermont.

So, next time we’re going to be heading down into Massachusetts, and although I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve, I would be very grateful for some more song suggestions connected to that state. We’re still in New England but are now heading back along the coastal states towards New York where the problem will no doubt be, that there are just too many songs to choose from!

Until next time….

Moonlight In Vermont Lyrics
(Song by John Blackburn/Karl Suessdorf)

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont

Icy finger-waves
Ski trails on a mountainside
Snowlight in Vermont

Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway
And travel each bend in the road
People who meet in this romantic setting
Are so hypnotized by the lovely
Ev´ning summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

An American Odyssey in Song: New Hampshire – Noel Harrison and The Windmills Of Your Mind

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we started our journey in Maine and our road trip inevitably now takes us to the neighbouring state of New Hampshire. This is a state that has very little coastline but it does have the highest peaks east of the Mississippi – The White Mountains cover about a quarter of the state and are part of the northern Appalachian range. Looking at a map of New Hampshire, New England you could be back in Old England as the place names are all very familiar to us. There is Portsmouth on the coast then slightly inland there is Exeter, Dover and Manchester. Yes when the founding fathers landed in the New World they took a lot of the old world with them.

new hampshire

The most distinctive thing about New Hampshire for me, is that it does seasons like no other state. Autumn, or fall as it is called there, is spectacular and in winter the mountain regions are covered in snow. Spring and summer look quite nifty too and again, although these are not travelogue posts, I’ll include a few pictures.

In popular culture, the Henry/Jane Fonda film On Golden Pond is set in New Hampshire and John Irving, a native of the state, wrote his best-selling novel about the eponymous Hotel. In both crime dramas Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, we have characters who successfully hide out there for long periods, in “cabins in the woods”.

But this is supposed to be a music blog so what song could accompany my post about New Hampshire? The suggestions were not as free-flowing as last time, mainly because there aren’t many well-known songs that mention place names from The Granite State although thanks to Jez for manfully coming up with his suggestion (The Shaw Brothers’ New Hampshire Naturally). Rick, a New-Englander himself, came in with a late suggestion (Tom Rush’s Merrimack County) and CC‘s generic pick (Jonathan Richman’s New England) is being kept for another state. Rol, who can usually be depended on for a multitude of suggestions, was even stumped in finding songs suitable for this blog – As he pointed out there are plenty of songs that refer to Manchester, Portsmouth and even Lebanon but just not the ones in New Hampshire. Time to bend the rules a bit then and this is where I made a wonderful discovery.

On my long list of “posts pending”, which I have mentioned just a few times (I can’t keep up with it), I have the song The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison because it is one of Mr WIAA’s favourites. It was written for a key scene in the film The Thomas Crown Affair and wait for it, that key scene is set in New Hampshire where Steve McQueen’s character flies a glider over the little airport in Salem. It’s obviously not autumn because it’s all very green but we do, literally, get a bird’s eye view of the landscape.

The Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison:

This classic 1968 bank heist film needed an original song for that glider scene and the director asked French composer Michel Legrand, along with American lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, to come up with something that referenced the feelings of Thomas Crown as he calmly flies his glider, whilst experiencing the inner tension of preparing to commit a major robbery. To quote the Bergmans – “The lyrics were a stream-of-consciousness. We felt that the song had to be some kind of mind trip. I think we were thinking of that feeling you have when you try to fall asleep at night and you can’t turn your brain off because thoughts and memories tumble.”

I don’t know about you but I often find that I can’t turn my brain off (maybe why all this outpouring in a blog is so therapeutic) and this song does kind of conjure up images of what is going on in there. As for the film, I am actually more familiar with the very stylish remake from 1999 which starred Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo. The plotline was adapted somewhat to take account of the times but what I remember most about it was that Ms Russo, a lady of a certain age by that time, kept appearing in the most stunning outfits.

One of my many potential schemes for making money over the last decade has been to devise a wardrobe planning system for busy women. Out there in cyberspace, there is probably still a website called The Little Red Box Wardrobe Planner, although I can’t quite remember where. There were business cards and everything and I even had conversations with the Dragon’s Den TV Show people about it as my online pitch must have caught their interest. Nothing came of it in terms of earning potential (I am exceptionally good at putting in an awful lot of time and effort to that end) but it still works for me on a daily basis – My point being is that one of the things that really causes the windmills to work overtime in a woman’s brain is that eternal dilemma, “What to wear?”. Not so if like Renee Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair you have all your outfits carefully co-ordinated and selected for you, or, if you are the proud owner of a Little Red Box Wardrobe Planning System!

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Noel Harrison

It was of course Noel Harrison (son of Rex) who recorded the original version of The Windmills Of Your Mind and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1968. The remake in 1999 also featured the song, this time played during the end credits and performed by Sting who along with some other very serious-minded chaps seems to rarely pop up in the music blogosphere. Whatever, I do like his jazzy take on the song and it gives us a chance to revisit the autumnal New Hampshire landscape from that upgraded glider, and see some more of Renee’s great outfits (although in the still for this YouTube clip she seems to be in her birthday suit!).

Next time we’re heading across the state border into Vermont and any suggestions for songs associated with that state would be gratefully received. As you can see from this post it doesn’t necessarily have to be namechecked, just associated in some way. You know where the comments boxes are.

In the meantime, it’s not comments boxes I’m off to look at but Little Red Boxes of the wardrobe planning variety. Why have those windmills going round and round in your head all night when there is no need. Just sayin’.

Until next time…..

The Windmills Of Your Mind Lyrics
(Song by Michel Legrand/Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman)

Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind

Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said?
Lovers walking along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Is the sound of distant drumming just the fingers of your hand?
Pictures hanging in a hallway and the fragment of a song
Half remembered names and faces, but to whom do they belong?
When you knew that it was over you were suddenly aware
That the autumn leaves were turning to the colour of her hair!
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

An American Odyssey in Song: Maine – Roger Miller and King of the Road

Welcome to this series where I am going to attempt a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song – Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

First of all thanks to everyone who helped out with suggestions for getting this trip started. It may not happen in real life now (although never say never and all that), but I’m going to try and make sure it happens on these pages. I have planned a route map that means we take in all 50 states but never enter and leave the same one more than once. I won’t share the map with you until the end however as best to retain an element of surprise as to where we are going to end up next (although sometimes of course there will be only one contender).

After a bit of thought I have decided to start in Maine and end up in Florida as opposed to doing it the other way round. North to South makes more sense from a geographical point of view and we will build up to all those great songs from the Southern States gradually.

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So, we have just flown across the Atlantic from Scotland and are about to explore the State of Maine. This is not going to be a travelogue style series of posts so I will just include a few pictures and links, but suffice to say, Maine is the most northernmost state in New England, it has an awful lot of forests and coastline, its climate is warm and humid in summer but cold and snowy in winter, and it’s famous for its seafood cuisine, especially lobster and clams. The musical Carousel is set in Maine (songs from which I have written about twice on these pages here and here) and of course a certain amateur lady detective also resides there, in the fictitious Cabot Cove (the American equivalent of our Midsomer it seems). The prolific author Stephen King comes from Maine and many of his books, in turn made into films, are set in that State (Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption and the film that forever gave clowns a bad rap, It).

When I first considered this series, I was a bit troubled that I might sometimes get stuck, and be unable to find songs that I could write about for certain states, but of course you didn’t let me down. A fair few suggestions came in from Marie, CC, Lynchie, Rol, Neil and Chris (links to their blogs on my sidebar) but the song I hadn’t realised even mentioned Maine before, was King Of The Road by Roger Miller (credit for that one goes to both Lynchie and Rol). This song is all about the day-to-day life of a hobo, who, despite being poor (a man of means by no means) revels in his freedom, describing himself as the “king of the road”. The first line in the second verse goes as follows, “Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine” which is why it becomes my first featured song in this series.

Roger himself of course didn’t come from Maine but from Texas. He wrote mainly country songs, and was very successful at doing so, but King Of The Road was a major crossover hit into mainstream pop and was No.1 in the UK Singles Chart in 1965.

King Of The Road by Roger Miller:

As is often the case I would be lying if I said that I remembered this song from first time around, but someone who would have done, was my Uncle Keith. This is where it gets a bit personal as is often wont to happen on these pages. Keith was a lad who grew up in our village in Scotland and followed the usual path for young men in those days – Went to school, completed an apprenticeship, met a girl, got married and had a family. The opportunity came along for him to move to the city and start driving lorries long distances. With a large family to support he took it on. Soon he was travelling all over the UK and the Continent, gone from home for long periods at a time. He loved it and whenever anyone was going on holiday by car, he could always be relied upon to come with the best route.

(Uncle Keith is the tall dark-haired one)

This life on the road was not of course conducive to family life and in due course his marriage failed and we didn’t see much of him for long stretches of time. Every now and again he would turn up at my grandparents house in a massive articulated lorry, stay the night, then head off again. He was very unlike my own very stable, home-loving dad and was a bit of a mythical creature as I was growing up. As I got older I was busy getting on with my own life so didn’t see him often at all, but a few years ago now we heard he was ill, so my mum headed off to see him in his little flat. It wasn’t good and he died soon after at the age of 76 with, ironically, his ex-wife and his children at his bedside – He may not have been a great family man but they had stayed close over the years and loved him to the end.

When it came to organising the funeral it turned out he wanted to be buried along with his parents (my grandparents) in the village where he had grown up. A bit of a surprise but it made sense. The important thing was that he wanted King Of The Road to be played as his coffin was carried out of the church. My mum (his sister), who finds it very important to always “do the right thing”, was a bit concerned – In her experience people always chose very sombre hymns – What would people think? But no, his family stood firm and King Of The Road it was. When the time came there wasn’t a dry eye in the church and even my mum had to admit it was the right choice.

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Before I go, it might be an idea to include the version by those very Scottish Proclaimers from 1990. If he was still driving lorries at that time maybe Uncle Keith liked that one too. Whatever, I am pretty sure if the chance had come up, he would have loved driving across the highways and byways of America in one of those very large trucks, maybe even up as far as Maine. This post therefore is for him. (Look out for The Proclaimers’ homage to Roger Miller at 2:20)

“What’s It All About?” – I have often seen talk on the blogosphere of the music people would like to have played at their funeral (morbid I know but true) and I too have chosen my particular song. We may not be there in person but we will be leaving a little bit of ourselves behind in our choices. Those left will feel a surge of emotion, but it will be much appreciated, as was the case with Uncle Keith.

So, we have now visited Maine in song (very tenuously I know but I think that’s how it will often go) and the next state we will cross into is New Hampshire. I will always have a standby song but would very much appreciate some more suggestions that I have no doubt (if this post is anything to go by), will be better than mine. You know where the comments boxes are.

Until next time….

King Of The Road Lyrics
(Song by Roger Miller)

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out clothes and shoes,
I don’t pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found short, but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked, when no one’s around.

I sing, trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.

Trailers for sale or rent, rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road.