Saturday, April 18, 2015

The War on Drugs

“Wide awake
I rearrange the way I listen in the dark
Dreaming of starting up again.”
         “Burning,” The War On Drugs

I arranged a trip to Palm Springs, California, where Midge, my 98 year-old mother, is living, around a War on Drugs concert at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown.  Within minutes of the tickets going on sale, the concert was sold out; scalpers were asking for as much as $200 a ticket, eight times the original price.  I decided to email the owner and make a special plea for her to set two aside for nephew Bob and me.  I wrote: I have been coming to Pappy and Harriet's every couple months, whenever I visit from Indiana to see my aging mother.  I have been to several Cracker Campouts and usually arrange my visits around whoever is performing at your fabulous place.   As a longtime customer who writes favorably about Pappy and Harriet's on my blog, I am really hoping that you might have two extra tickets reserved for regulars who missed out on the virtually nonexistent window of opportunity for purchasing tickets.”

Robyn, the owner, promised to put aside two tickets and suggested I post a review on Yelp.  This is what I wrote: “I always plan my trips to the Palm Springs area around a visit to Pappy and Harriet's, which has fantastic food at very reasonable prices, a friendly staff, a diverse clientele, and live music every night.  I attend Cracker Campout every September and have seen some of my favorite bands there, including Parquet Courts and Camper Van Beethoven.  Walking around the grounds and seeing buildings that once were used in Gene Autry and Cisco Kid westerns is also a special treat, as is the breathtaking view on the drive up from 29 Pines Highway.  Recommended for people of all ages - and children are welcome.”

Robyn proved to be as good as her word, and we received armbands when the ticket takers found my name on the guest list. I left Robyn my latest Steel Shavings with paper clips marking where I commented on my three 2014 appearances to see Parquet Courts, Cracker, and Dust Bowl Revival.  Having arrived as soon as the restaurant opened, Bob and I enjoyed a nice meal and listened to The War on Drugs warming up nearby.  They sounded awesome, and outside I was able to get a peak at them through an opening.  A guy directing cars approached me and greeted me warmly.  When I said I had feared he was going to ask me to move, he replied that I’d have to do something much worse than look through a window.  “I’ll try to act almost my age,” I quipped, and he laughed and revealed that he was 64 years old.  He looked to be no more than 50.

We ran into band members Adam Granduciel and Robbie Bennett at the bar, casually talking to fans.  Knowing they were from Philadelphia, I told them I was from a suburb.  Adam said they lived in the Fishtown neighborhood of north Philly, which is not far from where Toni grew up.  I was tempted to ask Adam the derivation of the name War on Drugs, but he’s probably answered that a thousand times.  In interviews he generally says it just came to him while drinking red wine.  He told one interviewer: “It was either that or Rigatoni Danza” and “that it was the kind of name I could record all sorts of different music without any sort of predictability inherent in the name.”  I first heard of the band when Robert Blaskiewicz burned me a copy of their breakthrough CD “Lost in the Dream,” featuring “Under the Pressure.”  Toni’s boyfriend Josh informed me that they’d been around for several years and had previous indie albums titled “Wagonwheel Blues” and “Slave Ambient.”

The sellout crowd surrounding the stage was totally into the music from the very first notes of “Under the Pressure.”  One guy near us was gyrating and swinging his head about throughout the entire two hours.  The air was so pungent with the smell of reefer that Bob, drug and alcohol free for more than a decade, left for a brief breather.  After I took a bathroom break, I found Bob by spotting the head-bobbing guy.  A well-dressed woman in front of me kept swaying back and forth, while a comely Asian woman alternated between closing her eyes like she was at a symphonic concert and staring transfixed at frontman Grabduciel.  Despite it being quite chilly outdoors in the desert, Bob said Pappy and Harriet’s was the perfect venue, intimate, with probably no more than 500 people in a friendly crowd that appeared to be mainly from Los Angeles and Palm Springs to judge by the applause their mention elicited.  In two days the band was scheduled to play at Coachella Fest before thousands, including a friend of Bob’s in the music business who told my nephew that he was envious that Bob would be seeing them at Pappy and Harriet’s.

I stood the entire time without my knee ever aching.  The endorphin must have kicked in - or maybe it was the contact high.  When hearing songs from the group’s previous albums, I was reminded of two of my favorite bands, Alda Reserve and the Jayhawks.  During “Eyes to the Wind” and again when the band played “Burning” Bob hugged me.  During the final number I hugged him back.    He said it was one of the best concerts he’d ever been to – high praise from a Grateful Dead and Phish fan.  Before he left at 5 a.m. the next morning for a conference in L.A., Bob wrote this note on Best Western stationary: “Thanks Jimbo!  Had the time of my life!  We did our part in the War on Drugs.”  On Facebook the next day he posted: “”Lost in the Dream” is my choice for album of the year.”
 Nephew Bob Lane
Midge was in relatively good spirits despite missing her deceased hundred year-old friend Shirley.  Resigned to letting others dress her and wheel her to meals, she is no longer falling every few days like before.  My brother has her mail forwarded to his house, so she is no longer deluged with letters soliciting contributions.  He takes her to the doctor’s every week or two and tries to keep her hearing aids in good operating order.  We all went to dinner at Shame on the Moon (whose owner is a Bob Seeger fan) and I got out old photo albums.  While she has trouble remembering daily events, her memory of childhood and college days is remarkable.

During the trip I reread Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  The small town newspaper editor, Braxton Bragg Underwood, was named for a Confederate Civil War general, and Atticus Finch’s sage advice to Jem and Scout is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Like another American classic, “Huckleberry Finn,” there is frequent use of the “n” word, but the overriding theme is tolerance.  As I was reading the final chapters on the flight home, tears were streaming down my face.  Despite my arriving an hour late due to engine problems, I caught the final Coach USA bus to Highland and arrived home about 1 a.m.  Toni was in Grand Rapids attending Becca’s dance recital so I popped a beer and listened “Lost in the Dream.” To my surprise seven musicians comprised The War on Drugs, and listening closely, I could pick up the sound of instruments I previously had missed.  

Friday, April 10, 2015


“Some try to tell me
Thoughts they cannot defend,
Just what you want to be
You will be in he end.
“Moody Blues, “Nights in White Satin”

At the Star Plaza with Dave, Tom Wade, and Brady Wade for a Moody Blues concert, I found the band as tight and exciting as ever.  Drummer Graeme Edge announced that the Moodies would soon be celebrating their fifty-first anniversary and then the 74 year-old started boogieing to the crowd’s delight. Justin Howard and John Lodge joined the band in 1966, a year before release of their breakthrough album “Days of Future Passed,” featuring “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin.”  Until recently, I thought the title was “Knights,” not “Nights in White Satin.”

Prior to the concert we gathered at Gino’s Steak House nearby, where I opted for delicious beef tips smothered in mushrooms, onions and gravy (with a salad and a huge amount of mashed potatoes) and wine rather than beer in order to cut down on bathroom visits.  A friendly waitress asked if we were going to the show and promised to serve us in plenty of time.  Dave thought Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was a Moody Blues song and joked about looking forward to hearing it. He was thoroughly impressed with Moody Blues and said it was the most responsive, appreciative concert audience he’d ever seen.  Indeed the mostly sixtysomething fans were on their feet for standing ovations after nearly every song.  My favorites: “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.”  Opting to perform several rarities, the band didn’t do “Lovely To See You Again,” but Graeme told the crowd, “Lovely to see you again my friend, walk along with me to the next bend.”
father-son night at Star Plaza: from left, Brady, Tom, Jimbo, Dave
Dave spotted James and Becca’s music teacher in the audience.  During intermission I searched in vain for someone I knew.  Steve Kokos worked security at the Star Plaza for years but was nowhere in sight.  Ditto any old Porter Acres hippie friends.  Were ophthalmologist Tim Carmody, one of my first students, still alive, he’d have been there, as would have Tim Brush (“Big Voodoo Daddy”), the coolest, nicest guy, Dave and I agreed, we’d ever known.  Dave noted that Tim was just 46, exactly his age now, when he died of pancreatic cancer.  Tim Carmody, bless him, took his own life after his second wife left him.

History professor David Parnell won IUN’s Excellence in Online Design and Delivery Award, which has to do with online courses, the number of which is proliferating.  If anyone can make them worthwhile, David can.  In fact, perhaps students on other campuses will enroll.

The Cubs open a weekend series in Colorado with a 1-1 record despite having scored a mere 2 runs in 18 innings.  My favorite Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin recalled a game at Wrigley 30 years when Phillies outfielder Jeff Stone’s shoe came off.  Rushin wrote:

Before he can retrieve it, a Cubs fan near me in the bleachers – in a drunken gesture of goodwill – throws a sneaker onto the field.  The bleachers belch up another shoe, then dozens are raining down on Wrigley, a Biblical plague of mateless footware.  And I think: Who would want to be anywhere else on a Tuesday afternoon?
 Randy Myers

I vividly recall a game 8 years later when the Cubs gave out Randy Myers posters to the first 10,000 fans.  The Chicago closer was having a great year (he’d register 53 saves in 1993) but this was not his day.  After he blew a save opportunity and gave up two runs, bleacher fans showered the field with Randy Myers posters.  It took 20 minutes before the game could resume.  Two years later, an irate fan charged the mound after Randy gave up a home run in a crucial situation.  The former “Nasty Boy” of the 1990 champion Cincinnati Reds used his martial arts skills to make short work of the interloper.

On campus Friday I chatted with Monica Solinas-Saunders and Mark Hoyert, both recipients of Steel Shavings volume 44, in which I highlight Monica’s work with women prisoners and Hoyert’s wit.  The Dean seemed pleased that Anne Balay had been offered a teaching position at Haverford.  When Hoyert referred to another former colleague, I replied, “A little wacky, but aren’t we all?”

Forty years ago, Watergate conspirators were going to jail (except for Nixon), and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City.  Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa went to lunch and was never seen again.  A Senate committee investigated assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and Indonesian President Sukarno.  Mob boss Sam Giancana was killed, probably by CIA, as he prepared to testify before Congress.  President Gerald Ford told New York City, in effect, to “Drop Dead” when officials requested a federal bailout.  Top movies included “Jaws” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  Cool songs included “Fame” by David Bowie and “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin.  The Steelers won their first Superbowl, and Cincinnati won an exciting World Series against Boston.