The Band, “The Weight” and a Bit of a Puzzler.

A while back I featured this song by Abba in one of my posts, and it led to a new discovery for me. I wouldn’t have spotted it myself, but in the comments boxes at the time, The Swede pointed out that one of the albums Agnetha was sadly, post-divorce, storing away in her new abode, was Music From Big Pink recorded in 1968 by The Band (all happens very quickly at 0:58).

Back in 1968 I definitely wouldn’t have known about The Band and to be honest even in 1981 when the Abba video came out, all I knew of them was that they used to play with Bob Dylan and made a documentary movie called The Last Waltz.

Since having their great album cover pointed out to me however, I have been bombarded with references to it, especially after asking for song suggestions for the state of Pennsylvania for my American Odyssey series. Turns out their song The Weight, written by Band member Robbie Robertson, is about a traveller’s experiences arriving, visiting, and departing a town called Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Robbie chose this town  because it was the home of Martin Guitars, and he had written the guitar parts for Music From Big Pink on a 1951 Martin D-28. The Weight has been named as one of the best songs of the ’60s and is named as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

The Weight by The Band:

The song was also featured the other week over at Rich Kamerman’s place, his Satur-debut post having been dedicated to Music From Big Pink. I of course had to point out my discovery that the album puts in an appearance in that 1981 Abba video, but after checking the exact location (0:58 as it turns out), I noticed that Agnetha places a second album on the shelf straight afterwards. For the last fortnight or so I have been driving myself mad trying to work out what it is, so if anyone can help me out I would be most grateful? At one point I thought it was Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees, but on closer inspection, definitely not. A bench it seems, and people in white clothing, but other than that I’m stumped. It has to be from earlier than 1981 otherwise we would be having a weird wibbly wobbly timey wimey kind of thing going on, but as I say, any help in identifying it would be much appreciated.

As for the title of the album Music From Big Pink, I have now discovered it’s because the music was composed partly in “Big Pink”, the house shared by several of the band members in West Saugerties, New York. The cover artwork is a painting by Bob Dylan. I am no art expert, so it could either be a work of genius or the daubs of a child, but whatever it is considered to be, it certainly does make for memorable cover art.

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Big Pink with its pastel siding

So, “What’s It All About?” – So many songs make reference to other songs in their lyrics but it also seems that reference is made to other albums in videos. Makes sense as in the giant oak that is rock and pop’s family tree, everyone is influenced by someone else. Where did it all begin? Who knows, but like human life itself, I suspect it all came Out of Africa.

Bit of a heavy ending there so going to add some footage from the Martin Scorsese film The Last Waltz, the song this time being The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The Last Waltz was originally the name of a concert held on Thanksgiving Day 1976, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was advertised as The Band’s “farewell concert appearance”, and they were joined by more than a dozen special guests, including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, and The Staple Singers. The event was filmed and made into a documentary of the same title, released in 1978.

Before next time, I hope someone can help me out with the puzzler?

The Weight Lyrics
(Song by Robbie Robertson)

I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand, “no” was all he said

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

I picked up my bag, I went lookin’ for a place to hide
When I saw Carmen and the Devil walkin’ side by side
I said, “Hey, Carmen, come on let’s go downtown.”
She said, “I gotta go but my friend can stick around.”

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Go down, Miss Moses, there’s nothin’ you can say
It’s just old Luke and Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day
“Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?”
He said, “Do me a favor, son, won’t you stay and keep Anna Lee company?”

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Crazy Chester followed me and he caught me in the fog
He said, “I will fix your rack if you take Jack, my dog.”
I said, “Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man.”
He said, “That’s OK, boy, won’t you feed him when you can?”

Yeah, take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin’ low and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Annie, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)

Willie Nelson, Moonlight in Vermont and Snow (Or Rather, the Lack of It)

Since discovering that all full moons have a name (given to them by the Native Americans who kept track of the months by the lunar calendar), I have written about each one as they appear in our skies. To accompany the post I always include one of the numerous songs that have been written about the moon and its many foibles.

I can scarcely believe it’s been four weeks since my last “moon post”. What is it with time? The older you get, the faster it seems to whizz by. I heard a great quote recently, where the phenomena was described as such: “Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.” How apt I thought.

Anyway, it is now nearly a month since we witnessed (or didn’t in my case) January’s lunar eclipse. This month, we should witness the Snow Moon on the night of the 19th February. I had intended to use the alternate names for the full moon this year, however last year, because of the 29 and a half day lunar cycle, we didn’t have a full moon in February at all. Instead, we ended up with two Blue Moons (a second full moon in the same calendar month) on either side. As I said at the start of this series, no two years will ever be the same.

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The Snow Moon

As it turns out, there has been very little snow in town this winter at all. In fact, there have been many crisp clear days and beautiful starry nights. Last month, around the time of the full moon, a local photographer posted some of his pictures on social media, and I liked this one so much I asked him if I could use it in my blog. I thought it made the town look really quite romantic, which is just what we need to attract visitors to the place. I have now been the proud owner of a holiday hideaway for a week now, and although I’m another few weeks away from launching Alyson’s Highland Adventures (don’t worry, that name is merely a work in progress), I am getting really excited about the forthcoming season.

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A full moon shining brightly over the town

But this is a moon post, so what song to feature this time. Well, getting back to that old chestnut time, or rather the lack of it this week, I am going to cheat a little and include a song that has previously been included as part of another series. I started out with great gusto on my American Odyssey in Song in early 2017, but floundered last year upon reaching little Delaware. There was only one obvious contender for that state, but I didn’t want to write about it, and that was that. Fortunately, George has picked up the mantle, and is manfully making his way round the 50 states over at CC’s place. Lets hope, unlike me, he doesn’t flounder when he reaches Delaware.

This is a very roundabout way of saying, the song I’m going to include to accompany the Snow Moon, is Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson. I didn’t actually know the song until it was suggested as a contender for my series, and after listening to several versions (it has been recorded by just about everyone), the one I warmed too most was Willie’s version.

Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson:

Willie Nelson is of course one of the greats of country music, and when he decided to record an album of standards called Stardust, in 1978, he wanted the song to be on it. It is considered the unofficial state song of Vermont and is frequently played as the “first dance song” at wedding receptions. It was written in 1944 by John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf, and is unusual in that the lyrics take the form of a haiku.

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Willie Nelson

And again, I’m going to share this heart-warming little story connecting my grandfather to the state of Vermont and to the song. Whilst doing a bit of research for my “Vermont post” back in 2017, I made an interesting discovery. The blacksmith and inventor John Deere was born there, and he was the man 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 1950s. 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 my grandfather might well have listened to an early version of the song Moonlight in Vermont before heading out for a night-shift on one of those giant snow ploughs.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I apologise for this bit of lazy blogging, but I did kind of fall in love with the song first time around, and always thought it would make a reappearance at some point in this Moon Series. Also, there has been very little snow with us so far this year, and as I needed some snow shots to accompany the post, Vermont manfully came to the rescue.

As for my holiday hideaway, more of that to follow no doubt, as I get it up and running. It has just hit me however, that it has all kind of come about because the daughter of the man in the picture above, my mum, is now an 83-year-old herself, and in need of a care home. Time marches on indeed, and the younger generation becomes the older generation, in what feels like the wink of an eye.

Lord knows I have had plenty of rants over the last year about the current state of adult social care and the dementia tax, so I won’t go there again, but in the event my mum’s funds run out, and I have to contribute to the care home fees, I am at least trying to put in place a means of doing so. For anyone out there who has not yet done so, start having the conversation early on as to how you want things to go should the unthinkable happen. We sadly didn’t, and some bad decisions were made, without the help of professionals. Wouldn’t want to land DD in a similar position.

But hey, I don’t want to end this post on a negative note. There is a lot to be positive about at the moment and I am embarking on a totally new career in my late 50s, so that can’t be bad. Willie Nelson however is still out there campaigning and performing at the age of 85, so it just goes to show, age is no barrier to taking up new challenges.

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
Evening summer breeze
Warbling of a meadowlark
Moonlight in Vermont

Another Very Serious Post, John Prine and “When I Get To Heaven”

As is wont to happen, if you update your blog as regularly as I do, aspects of your personal life tends to seep out onto the pages. Although I am fully aware I have a tendency to perhaps over-share, I seem to find it impossible to resist, as this blog is in effect my web-diary as well as the place where I share all the music I’ve enjoyed over the years.

Likewise, I’ve almost stopped counting the number of times I’ve put up a warning I might be absent for a while, only for you loyal followers to find me back in action soon afterwards. Some of you will remember I did that recently, and then wrote a short post explaining why – Right at the start of September my 83-year-old mum had a bad fall, but after taking her to A&E to be checked over, she was proclaimed fit to go home. A very fraught week followed, when just at the time I was supposed to start my long-awaited college course, I had to pretty much provide round-the-clock care for her. It became apparent however that something was very far wrong and after a particularly bad night spent entirely in her living room chair (as she was unable to move), I bravely pulled her flat’s emergency cord to summon help.

It was such a relief to see an ambulance arrive soon after and the guys who piled into her little flat were just brilliant, dealing with my poor mum in a really professional and sensitive manner. It was decided to take her back to A&E where we both spent a long day waiting for the results of tests and X-rays. In fact it wasn’t until around 2pm that I realised I’d not had breakfast yet, but such is the lot of an accompanying relative. By mid afternoon we knew she had fractured her pelvis and it was decided to transfer her to the smaller community hospital which is fortunately situated quite near to where we live.

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Our local community hospital

We are now nearly four weeks on from that momentous day and her physical recovery is going well. I visit daily, but on week one of her stay I suddenly became dog tired, as I think the adrenaline that had kept me going until then, suddenly left town. By week two however I was starting to feel like my old self again. I was able to return to blogging and managed to leave some comments on the various blogs I follow (I even managed to play Rol’s Saturday Snapshots!). As mentioned a few weeks ago, the college course was now a non-starter, but thankfully they let me reapply as a part-time student and that is going really well. Mr WIAA and I have also had a bit of a social life of late, visiting the theatre, the cinema and taking DD and her lovely boyfriend out for food. Even our little online store seems to be picking up lots of orders, as I’ve had the time to properly market it for the first time in quite a while. Life, as they say, is sweet. My mum is being well cared for, and I’ve got my life back on track.

So what’s the problem I hear you ask? Well as those of you who follow this blog know, I’ve spent most of this year struggling to cope with that most dreadful of non-physical ailments which affects so many older people – My mum’s dementia, or specifically in her case, Alzheimer’s Disease. I am reminded of something from Billy Connolly’s latest stand-up routine. “I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease”, he says. “But I wish he’d f**king kept it to himself”. Yes Billy, and I imagine all of those with Alzheimer’s feel exactly the same way, until the time comes when they are no longer even aware of their affliction.

I know there will be moves afoot in the very near future to send her home again. Beds are in short supply and that awful term “bed-blocker” gets applied to so many old souls, who by sheer accident, have found themselves with a fractured hip or pelvis after tripping over a kerb, or in my mum’s case, falling down some stairs. These are people who perhaps kept the home fires burning during the war, raised a family, carried out good deeds for their community, worked until retirement age, and paid taxes. At this stage in life however, they are called “bed blockers”, old folks who seem to be treated as if they are deliberately hogging a hospital bed through sheer ill-will.

Of late I have taken to sneaking in and out of my mum’s hospital room when the nurses are away from their work station, such is my fear of being told I can now take her home. The dementia has ramped up to a whole new level since being in hospital as the daily routine I used to organise for her is no more. I have been reassured by others who have been in a similar situation that she can’t be sent home without a discharge plan, but the worry is still there at the back of my mind. I’ve got my life back, and am reluctant to return to how things were.

As someone who has no siblings, I have been feeling the burden of care acutely of late, and ironically, after waiting for eight months to get help from the social care system, I finally got the call a day after the admission to hospital. They always say there has to be a crisis in order to get help and it seems that is indeed the case. People of my mum’s generation are living longer due to advances in medicine, but sadly, family life has changed. Most of us live in relatively small houses compared to those of my grandparent’s generation, so often no scope for taking in our old folk. The state pension age is now 67, so often no-one at home to do the caring anyway. Also, in the case of dementia, 24 hour care will eventually be needed, so not something many of us would be able to offer anyway.

Big decisions are going to have to be made soon I suspect, and it’s at times like this I wish I could turn to my dad for advice. He was one of my best friends but died a full 15 years ago. By sheer chance I heard this song on the radio whilst coming home from a hospital visit the other week and it has stuck with me. I think the host of the show was Whispering Bob, who at the end of the song said it was by John Prine. Until I started writing this blog I had never heard of John Prine but he often pops up over at CC’s wonderful place and has featured in Jez’s Sunday Morning Coming Down series. Whatever, despite being a bit of a non-believer, I was taken by the lyrics to When I Get To Heaven, written for his new album “The Tree of Forgiveness”. I realise this song choice might appear insensitive for the theme of this particular post, but trust me, the reason I picked it was because of these lines of lyric:

And then I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts

Yes, there is nothing more I would like at the moment than to go find my dad, and ask for his advice (or is it perhaps “his permission” I wonder). Heck, listening to this song, I’m almost prepared to be converted, as there is a definite party atmosphere going on. John Prine has apparently been treated for cancer twice, and it was after his second bout that he wrote this song about some of the things he had to give up following his illness. Here is a quote: “I wrote that song because I figured there’s no cancer in heaven. So when I get up there, I’m going to have a cocktail and a cigarette that’s 9 miles long. That’s my idea of what heaven is like.” Way to go John.

When I Get To Heaven by John Prine:

I’m sorry if I’ve made anyone feel uncomfortable by mentioning such a personal family issue, but hey, our blogs sometimes feel like the most anonymous places we can turn to when a bit of writing therapy is required. From experience, our Facebook friends don’t want to hear of our woes, although if anyone ever does respond it is usually because they have been placed in similar situation. Likewise if anyone out there in the blogosphere has been in such a situation, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts – Any advice gratefully received.

Until next time, I’m off to give John Prine another whirl. Now 71, and still with us thankfully. Heaven is going to have to wait a while yet.

When I Get To Heaven Lyrics
(Song by John Prine)

When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain’t the afterlife grand?
And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town

Then as God as my witness, I’m gettin’ back into show business
I’m gonna open up a nightclub called “The Tree of Forgiveness”
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, I might even invite a few choice critics, those syph’litic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint of Smithwick’s and smother ’em with my charm

‘Cause then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Yeah when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm
What are you gonna do with time after you’ve bought the farm?
And then I’m gonna go find my mom and dad, and good old brother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin’ up a rug
I wanna see all my mama’s sisters, ’cause that’s where all the love starts
I miss ’em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, “Buddy, when you’re dead, you’re a dead pecker-head”
I hope to prove him wrong… that is, when I get to heaven

‘Cause I’m gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

Yeah this old man is goin’ to town

The Sandwich Generation at Christmas: Gentleman Jim Reeves, S Club 7 and Wham!

Like many others my of my generation, I seem to have found myself in the position of becoming the squeezed filling in a sandwich. The family sandwich that is, with elderly parents who need a considerable amount of assistance (in essence, your time) and offspring who also need a considerable amount of assistance (in essence, your cash). At no point in the year is this more apparent than at Christmastime.

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The Christmas Sandwich

For the ladies in my mum’s retirement complex, their normal routine is thrown out of kilter which causes much confusion and distress. Combine that with trying to preserve the traditions of Christmas like writing cards to old friends, and the distress is compounded. We all pride ourselves around here on our knowledge of music and can hark back to what we were listening to up to 50 years ago. Imagine pouring over your Christmas card list only to find that you can’t remember the last name of life-long friends, and in many cases, can’t even remember who they are. I’m not sure what the year ahead will bring but I do know that like many other ladies of her age, my mum loved listening to a bit of Gentleman Jim Reeves, so this one’s for her – The highly sentimental (but unapologetically so) An Old Christmas Card.

James Travis Reeves hasn’t appeared on these pages before but his “Twelve Songs of Christmas” album was a staple in my parent’s house at this time of year. The Texan country and popular music singer became well known as a practitioner of the Nashville sound (a mixture of older country-style music with elements of popular music) and his songs continued to chart for years after his death. Like so many others of his generation, poor Jim died in a plane crash back in 1964 at the very young age of 40.

But before things get too maudlin around here, I will move onto the other half of the sandwich, darling daughter. She moved home in the summer of 2016 for “around two months” but through no fault of her own is still with us. Having gone down the “artsy” route after school (I blame Mr WIAA’s side of the family), finding herself in a well-paid job by the age of 22 was always going to be hard and despite working full-time in a sometimes very stressful work environment, being able to cover the rent and bills for a flat is tricky at best. The ignominy therefore of living with your parents is still better than poverty it seems thus the outpouring of cash for a new laptop which will of course only be used for the purposes of further study and the completion of application forms.

It has been mentioned before (link here) that DD’s first single was one also much appreciated by the childlike Kayleigh Kitson from Peter Kay’s Car Share – Yes it was that wonderful pop song included in the “Now 48” album called Never Had A Dream Come True. It was used for one of the dream sequences featuring Peter’s character John, Kayleigh, and a monster truck! On the B-side of that millennium single however was this song, Perfect Christmas, which always takes me right back to those days when the grandparents were all still hale and hearty and the only item required for Santa’s sack was a large shiny toy, with no electronics of any kind putting in an appearance. Happy days indeed so this one’s for her.

Perfect Christmas by S Club 7:

S Club 7 were of course a manufactured pop act put together by ex-Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller and they starred in four really successful kids’ sitcoms. They recorded some very pleasant pop records and I’m not even very sure why (maybe Kayleigh Kitson could help me with that one), but this “B-side” still ranks up there amongst my favourite Christmas songs ever.

So, “What’s It All About?” – For the second year in a row all this looking back nostalgically at the tracks of my years is making me maudlin. I did snap out of it last year before the big day however and I anticipate the same thing will happen this year. In any case, although I am listening to these songs with fond memories, as often happens they are probably selective ones – No doubt I was very unhappy listening to Jim Reeves as a 17-year-old in the year of punk, 1977. Also, although I had S Club 7 to serenade me back in the year 2000, having 10 people descend for Christmas dinner was no doubt a tad stressful.

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George Michael RIP, in his 1984 Christmas jumper

But before I finish, unlike last year when I tried to be “cool” with my festive music choices, I am now obviously secure enough to share all manner of “uncool” material. Most of us will know that we lost George Michael on Christmas day last year which for me was a massive shock and many posts have been written about him here since. To my eternal shame I chose not to feature his Wham! triumph Last Christmas back then for fear of it being uncool to do so. As the clip epitomises my ever so slightly hedonistic mid-eighties lifestyle however, I have no compunction about doing so this year. I give you George, Andrew, Pepsi and Shirley having what seems to be a fantastic time in their winter hideaway – If that pesky heart just hadn’t been “given away the very next day”, all would have been perfect!

Last Christmas by Wham!

For those who celebrate it, Have a Very Merry Christmas from all of us who feature here at WIAA Towers (myself, Mr WIAA, DD and my little mum). See you on the other side, once it’s all over for another year. xxx

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Last Christmas Lyrics
(Song by George Michael)

Last Christmas
I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away.
This year
To save me from tears
I’ll give it to someone special.

Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye.
Tell me, baby,
Do you recognize me?
Well,
It’s been a year,
It doesn’t surprise me
(Merry Christmas)

I wrapped it up and sent it
With a note saying, “I love you,”
I meant it
Now I know what a fool I’ve been.
But if you kissed me now
I know you’d fool me again.

Oh, oh, baby.

A crowded room,
Friends with tired eyes.
I’m hiding from you
And your soul of ice.
My god I thought you were someone to rely on.
Me? I guess I was a shoulder to cry on.

A face on a lover with a fire in his heart.
A man under cover but you tore me apart, ooh-hoo.
Now I’ve found a real love, you’ll never fool me again.

A face on a lover with a fire in his heart (I gave you my heart)
A man under cover but you tore him apart
Maybe next year I’ll give it to someone
I’ll give it to someone special.

Bicycles, Sgt. Pepper and “The One on the Right is on the Left”!

I don’t quite know what happened this week but my blogging mojo left me. First of all I had intended to write a few age-related posts ahead of my birthday next week but that old chestnut time, or the lack of it, got the better of me. I then spent a couple of hours last night looking at the screen, unable to string a coherent sentence together. My long list of “posts pending” and my American Odyssey series both require a fair bit of research and to be honest, at the moment, I’m just not in the mood. I blame the fact that this week has been especially spreadsheet-heavy at work, where the numbers side of my brain has obviously encroached on the space usually left for words. In situations like this, for the second week in a row, it will have to be a web-diary type of post.

On Wednesday evening we went along to the local college where Mr WIAA “works” in the art department (although it all sounds a bit of a lark to me). There was a year-end exhibition of the student’s work and it usually makes for an interesting evening where we also get the chance to buy some pieces at very reasonable prices – Who knows, maybe one day these young artists will become famous and their pieces will be worth something. For one group of students, yarn bombing was something that had featured heavily this year, and I did like this bicycle.

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A bicycle of the knitted variety

This week has also of course been politics-heavy ahead of next week’s “snap” election and although most bloggers steer away from such topics, I cannot deny that the issues at stake have infiltrated my thoughts a lot over the last seven days. The television debates (or non-debates actually) have not been particularly effective and as usual I end up warming most to the Green Party leaders and candidates, but they are never going to be able to form a government (can you imagine them having a special relationship with Mr Trump after his withdrawal from the Accord de Paris this week), so the best alternative it will have to be. Like the Greens, Jeremy Corbyn is against nuclear weapons of any kind but of course he is continually hectored and harangued about whether he would ever actually “press the button” if the need arose. I’m with the young lady from the Question Time studio audience who shook her head in dismay at how so many in the room seemed bent on, in effect, killing millions of people. If things get that bad, it’s curtains for us all anyway.

In the meantime, my employers, as well as creating a new paper-less environment have also created a car park-less environment. This has led to the initiation of a cycle-to-work scheme, where eco-bikes are now at our disposal – The Greens would be proud of them although it’s not always easy being of that persuasion and Andy Hallett sang all about it back in 2001!

It’s Not Easy Being Green by Andy Hallett:

Still thinking fondly of the knitted bicycle from earlier in the week, Mr WIAA and I went to a local café today where they also show you how to fix and repair your bike. It is right next to the college so a frequent pit stop for staff and students alike. Called Velocity Café, it is run by enterprising youngsters who have created a great little hub for like-minded souls right in the centre of town. We sat at one of the long tables where you can have a chat with fellow diners or catch up with the newspapers. And this is where I had a bit of an emotional moment over my butternut squash and red lentil soup. In today’s Review section of The Guardian there was an excellent piece by the author Ian McEwan (link here) which really got to me. Right at that moment in time, I wanted nothing more than to live in a land full of Velocity Cafés, and not one where people who are reluctant to launch nuclear weapons are lampooned.

Fortunately I pulled myself together and we even had one of their award winning granola slices for which Mr WIAA managed to get the secret recipe last year. He has attempted to make them a few times now but they never turn out quite like in the café – Methinks they perhaps left out some of the key ingredients, as a secret recipe would no longer be secret, if given out willy-nilly to customers.

Not a lot of music so far included in this post and funnily enough, when it comes, it’s not going to be bicycle related although that does seem to have become the theme for this post. Whilst having lunch, BBC 6 Music was playing on the radio and it was a programme about the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which was released 50 years ago this week. I am not remotely qualified to write knowledgably about this ground-breaking album, so I’ll stick to the facts. It was their 8th album release and spent 27 weeks at the top of the UK charts. It was “lauded by critics for its innovative approach to music production, songwriting and graphic design and was probably the first album to bridge the divide between popular music and legitimate art“. Peter Blake’s album sleeve is arguably the most famous of all time, consisting of a collage of 88 figures which included the Beatles themselves. Copyright was a major problem as Brian Epstein had to locate each person in order to get permission to use their image out of context. Looking closely at some of those figures, this can’t have been easy. Today sitting in the café I think I found a renewed affection for this album as it is one of those that has perhaps become a bit over-familiar to my ears. Time maybe for a proper re-visitation over the coming week to mark its landmark birthday.

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Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles:

So, “What’s It All About?” – We’re heading to our polling stations again next week and although I have been very good at predicting the results of the last few elections and referendums, I have tended myself to always back the losing side. I often visit Jez’s site over at A History of Dubious Taste and he has put together some very good posts on the political goings on (read shenanigans) over the past few weeks – Informative but funny too, so I would thoroughly recommend a visit. This also reminds me of a song he featured a couple of weeks ago which is perfect for tonight’s post. I’d never heard it before but it has become a guilty pleasure over the last fortnight. I will leave you with Johnny Cash and The One On The Right Is On The Left and will return next week once we all know the outcome – Politically charged times indeed!

The One On The Right Is On The Left Lyrics
(Song by Jack Clement)

There once was a musical troupe
A pickin’ singin’ folk group
They sang the mountain ballads
And the folk songs of our land
They were long on musical ability
Folks thought they would go far
But political incompatibility led to their downfall

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear was a Methodist

This musical aggregation toured the entire nation
Singing the traditional ballads
And the folk songs of our land
They performed with great virtuosity
And soon they were the rage
But political animosity prevailed upon the stage

Well, the one on the right was on the left
And the one in the middle was on the right
And the one on the left was in the middle
And the guy in the rear burned his driver’s license

Well the curtain had ascended
A hush fell on the crowd
As thousands there were gathered to hear the folk songs of our land
But they took their politics seriously
And that night at the concert hall
As the audience watched deliriously
They had a free-for-all

Well, the one on the right was on the bottom
And the one in the middle was on the top
And the one on the left got a broken arm
And the guy on his rear, said, “Oh dear”

Now this should be a lesson if you plan to start a folk group
Don’t go mixin’ politics with the folk songs of our land
Just work on harmony and diction
Play your banjo well
And if you have political convictions keep them to yourself
Now, the one on the left works in a bank
And the one in the middle drives a truck
The one on the right’s an all-night deejay
And the guy in the rear got drafted

Postscript:

As this was a very bicycle-heavy post it does seems wrong to leave without sharing anything musically related to bikes. Here is a clip that I revisit often as from that impressive London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. The song Come Together was very appropriately for this post a Beatles one, but in this case was performed by the Arctic Monkeys. I loved those guys on the bicycles and from what I have just heard this morning on the news, the sentiment of the song is more relevant than ever.

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 made 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: Maine – Roger Miller and “King of the Road”

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!

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.