Wonder and Confusion

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(Pictured: Bette Midler onstage in the 70s.)

A long time ago I wrote about our fascination with round numbers, and how 50 appeals to us in a way that 49 and 51 do not. So it was predictable that I would choose to listen this week to the American Top 40 show from March 24, 1973. Here’s some of what I heard.

40. “Daisy a Day”/Jud Strunk
39. “A Letter to Myself”/Chi-Lites
38. “One Less Set of Footsteps”/Jim Croce
37. “Good Morning Heartache”/Diana Ross
36. “Cook With Honey”/Judy Collins
35. “Hello Hurray”/Alice Cooper
34. “Master of Eyes”/Aretha Franklin
33. “Give Me Your Love”/Barbara Mason
This show gets off to a dreadful start. Jim Croce and Diana Ross are fine, I guess, but I found myself profoundly annoyed by “A Letter to Myself” and especially “Cook With Honey.” The meandering spoken intro to the former had me saying out loud, “get on with it for chrissakes.” The latter is either a sexual metaphor that doesn’t land or straight-up hippie twaddle, and to hell with it.

32. “Little Willy”/The Sweet
31. “Kissing My Love”/Bill Withers

30. “Peaceful”/Helen Reddy
29. “The Twelfth of Never”/Donny Osmond
28. “Rocky Mountain High”/John Denver

27. “Crocodile Rock”/Elton John
This sequence improved my mood significantly. I will always fanboy for “The Twelfth of Never,” which debuts at #29 from #55 the week before. To wrap up the first hour, Casey back-announces “Crocodile Rock” by saying, “After nine weeks in the Top 10, it falls to #13,” which is actually the previous week’s note on the song.

26. “The Cisco Kid”/War
8. “Danny’s Song”/Anne Murray
5. “Last Song”/Edward Bear
One of the things old music can do is to vividly remind us of times, places, and people. These songs do the best job of it on this show. For as long as it takes them to play, I am just past my 13th birthday again, with all of the wonder and confusion that implies.

25. “Do You Wanna Dance”/Bette Midler. Like Neil Sedaka’s 1976 torch-song reinvention of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” Midler’s sexy remake of “Do You Wanna Dance” turns it into the song it always should have been.

20. “Space Oddity”/David Bowie
19. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree”/Tony Orlando and Dawn
This juxtaposition is awesome. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” up 10 places this week, would become the #1 song for all of 1973, and a major artifact of the Weird 70s.

16. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”/Vicki Lawrence. Casey tells how songwriter Bobby Russell offered “The Night the Lights Went Out” to Cher but it ended up with its demo singer, “Mrs. Bobby Russell,” TV star Vicki Lawrence. That’s fairly well-known trivia now, but it would have been news when the song was in its third week on American Top 40.

Casey includes some other interesting bits in this show. A listener asks which song dropped out of the Top 40 from the highest position. It was “Crimson and Clover,” which fell from #18 clean off the Hot 100 early in 1970. Another notes that Roberta Flack was the most recent female solo act to hit #1 with back-to-back single releases (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly”) and wondered who was the last male solo act to do it. It was Bobby Vinton with “Blue Velvet” and “There! I’ve Said It Again” in 1963.

14. “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”/Spinners
13. “Call Me”/Al Green
10. “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I’ve Got”/Four Tops
9. “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics
3. “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”/Deodato
2. “Killing Me Softly”/Roberta Flack
1. “Love Train”/O’Jays
Any one of these could be the best record on the show, but it’s probably “Break Up to Make Up,” unless it’s “Love Train.”

For a brief period, the AT40 staff tried to predict what the next week’s #1 song would be. Last week, they expected “Killing Me Softly” to hang on for a fifth week this week, but it did not. This week, they expect “Love Train” to hold on next week—but “Killing Me Softly” will return for another week.

Looking back, I still remember 1973 with a certain degree of wonder and confusion, and I have tried to conclude just what it is about that year and me. But in his new memoir Life’s Work, David Milch writes: “[P]eople try to allegorize experience so that we think we are tending toward some ultimate destination. Probably the biggest lie is the idea that we are entitled to a meaningful and coherent summarizing, a conclusion of something that never concludes.”

Milch might say that my ongoing wonder and confusion over 1973, and never resolving it, tells me something more important about my whole life than anything else I could learn.

Rock Stars and Supermodels

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(Pictured: Styx singer and keyboard player Lawrence Gowan onstage in 2021.)

So last week I got to talk to Lawrence Gowan from Styx for my radio show. Despite many years in radio, meeting and/or interviewing celebrities is not an experience I have had all that often.

I think I have probably told most of the stories here already. The first rock stars I ever actually met were Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook. I got to hang backstage with Paul Kantner and Jack Casady. I watched Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon go off on a roadie over a bottle of water, although he may have been kidding. I was taken backstage at a Guess Who show to meet the road manager, who turned out to be original bassist Jim Kale. I sat down to interview Eddie Money only to find that the batteries in my tape recorder were dead. When we finally got to talk, he impressed me with how businesslike he was. Before I could ask John Cafferty a question, he asked me one: “where am I?” He wasn’t impaired, just sleepy, and he’d gotten on the bus after the previous night’s show without worrying about where the next town was. When I was a little baby DJ in Dubuque, Kate Mulgrew was a live guest on a show I co-hosted. The radio company I work for today does an annual three-day benefit for Madison’s American Family Children’s Hospital. One year, in my capacity as a producer, I talked to supermodel Cindy Crawford for 15 seconds after she called in to do a segment with the hosts.

But that’s it, to the extent I can remember anymore.

I am not especially bothered about it. I am not a good interviewer, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. The easiest interviews for me are the ones where all I have to do is wind up the guest and let them go. Lawrence Gowan was like that; I am pretty sure I didn’t ask him anything he hasn’t already been asked a thousand times, so doing the interview was easy for both of us.

Since there’s some of the word count left, here are a few things that have passed through my Twitter feed recently:

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Smart People Talking

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When I launched my podcast way back when, I posted new episodes every three weeks, which was absurd. I should have known that there was no way to keep up that pace, and I didn’t. I haven’t posted a new episode since sometime in 2021, although have some scripts ready to record. Honesty compels me to report, however, that after spending many hours in front of a microphone each week, doing so after hours or on the weekends is less attractive than it used to be. So I’m not sure when, or if, you’ll get to hear those.

What happened to my podcast is actually a common phenomenon. Some start with the intention of telling a story, tell it, and are done. But thousands of others start, go on for a while, and then peter out. There’s even a word for it: “podfade.”

I may not be much of a podcaster anymore, but I am definitely a podcast listener. When I’m in the shower in the morning, or puttering around the house doing chores, I am usually listening to smart people talking about stuff they know a lot about. My preferences are not derived from anything like a systematic exploration of the podcast environment; most are shows somebody mentioned on Twitter that I checked out, enjoyed, and subscribed to.

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I Was a Quiet Quitter Before Quiet Quitting Was Cool

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Dick Taylor is a veteran broadcaster who writes an interesting and worthwhile blog. Recently, he wrote about “the great resignation,” in which millions of people post-COVID realized that there can be more to life than going to work every day. Then he wrote:

In 2022, American business owners were confronted with a new kind of quitting by their employees; quiet quitting. Quiet quitting is defined as people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job.

That reminds me of what we used to call “not my job” people, who had the attitude of doing the least they could get away with and still get a paycheck.

Quiet quitters are estimated to make up 50% of today’s workforce and that should be alarming to all employers.

On Twitter, I responded to Dick by saying, “Quiet quitting: doing the job you were hired for, not doing extra work for free, and keeping emotional distance from work. Sounds like a healthy relationship with one’s career. It’s ok if a job is just a job and your life is elsewhere.”

Dick responded to me: “The term ‘quiet quitting’ refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. Not the kind of employee I am, nor the kind I would hire to be part of my team. Doing what you love is never having to work a day in your life.”

I was gonna tweet back but I decided to write this instead.

Continue reading “I Was a Quiet Quitter Before Quiet Quitting Was Cool”

February 27, 1978: One Day at a Time

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(Pictured: director Michael Cimino, Jane Fonda, and Jon Voight pose with their Oscars for Coming Home.)

February 27, 1978, was a Monday. The week begins with bad economic news: the Consumer Price Index rose eight-tenths of one percent for January, double the average rise of the previous six months. Stock prices fell on the news; the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its lowest point in nearly three years. Energy prices won’t be going down anytime soon; the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear a case that would challenge a $1.5 billion national boost in natural gas prices contained in regulations issued by the National Power Commission. Uncertainty surrounding a coal miners’ strike, which has been going on since December, isn’t helping energy prices or the stock market either. President Carter gets his wake-up call at 5AM and is in the Oval Office just after 5:30. He participates in a cabinet meeting for much of the morning. In the afternoon he discusses energy issues with state governors who are in Washington for the mid-winter governors’ conference, and meets with advisors regarding the miners’ strike. Carter leaves the Oval Office at 5:00. After dinner, the Carter family goes to the White House theater for a showing of the movie Unconquered, a 1947 western starring Gary Cooper. Before going to bed shortly after midnight, Carter briefly confers with the White House usher. It’s possible he arranges for a later wake-up call for Tuesday. Publications around the country carry print ads for Hostess Choco-diles, a new snack cake that is similar to a Twinkie, but with chocolate cake.

On TV tonight, CBS presents Good Times, Baby I’m Back (a sitcom starring Demond Wilson as an errant husband and father who returns to his family after being declared legally dead), M*A*S*H, One Day at a Time, and Lou Grant. ABC airs The Six Million Dollar Man and the 1971 theatrical movie Such Good Friends, which stars Dyan Cannon, James Coco, and Ken Howard. NBC starts its night with Little House on the Prairie and follows it with an episode of Loose Change, a miniseries about the lives and loves of three women who meet in college during the early 1960s. Tonight’s episode is supposed to be part 2 of a three-night sweeps month event, but in the Eastern and Central time zones, NBC mistakenly begins showing part 3. The network is deluged with phone calls; at 9:17 Eastern time, a network announcer acknowledges the error, and part 2 is shown in its entirety.

Movies playing in theaters include the post-Vietnam drama Coming Home, The Boys in Company C, Julia, The Goodbye Girl, High Anxiety, The Turning Point, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. John Williams’ recording of the Close Encounters theme is #11 this week at WLS in Chicago. On the station’s latest survey, there’s not a lot of action. Eight of the top 20 songs are in the same positions as last week, including the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” at #1 (for the third of an eventual nine straight weeks at #1). “Just the Way You Are” by Billy Joel moves from #4 to #2; a record shown as “We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You” by Queen slips from #2 to #3. Within the Top 20, “What’s Your Name” by Lynryd Skynyrd makes the biggest move, from #19 to 15. The hottest record on the survey is “Lay Down Sally” by Eric Clapton, up to #23 from #36 the week before. The WLS album chart is also in a holding pattern, with the top five the same as the week before: Saturday Night Fever is #1, followed by Rumours, Queen’s News of the World, The Grand Illusion by Styx, and Rod Stewart’s Footloose and Fancy Free. It’s the fourth straight week for the top four albums in the same positions.

Perspective From the Present: In the winter or spring of 1978, I took a date to dinner and to see Coming Home. We exhausted all conceivable conversational topics 10 minutes into dinner, and the sex scenes in the movie didn’t make the night any more comfortable. Not only did we never go out again, I’m pretty sure we never spoke to one another again. In school, I am taking courses I don’t really need on topics I’m not especially interested in, killing time until graduation in May. This day is the day before my 18th birthday, a day about which I do not remember a solitary thing. I’m sure there was something: a special family supper with a cake, probably, and maybe a evening out with some buds that had to end early because it was a school night. But what else? Your guess is as good as mine, and I was there.

February 26, 1984: Which One of You?

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(Pictured: Michael Jackson, speaking at an event days after he was injured in a pyrotechnics accident while filming a Pepsi commercial.)

February 26, 1984, was a Sunday. All three network newscasts lead tonight with news from Lebanon, where an 18-month international peacekeeping effort in Beirut ends as the last American Marines leave their posts. Last October, 241 Marines died when a suicide bomber drove a truck into a barracks building. Other top stories include the Democratic presidential race; former vice-president Walter Mondale won the Iowa caucuses last Monday night, and the New Hampshire primary is the day after tomorrow. Today, candidate Jesse Jackson speaks at a synagogue in Manchester, where he apologizes for private remarks in which he referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York City as “Hymietown.” Jewish leaders will not be mollified by his apology. A 10-year federal ban on credit card surcharges ends tomorrow. Supporters of surcharges say they are needed to offset the cost of credit-card transactions. At the White House tonight, the Reagans host a dinner for the National Governors Association. Bob Newhart is the featured entertainer.

It’s the second week of the NASCAR season. Ricky Rudd wins the Miller High Life 400 in Richmond, Virginia, with Darrell Waltrip second. The winner of last week’s Daytona 500, Cale Yarborough, finishes 14th. Five games are played in the NBA today. The Boston Celtics run their league-best record to 43-and-14 with a 119-106 win over Phoenix. The league’s second-best record belongs to the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Philadelphia 76ers 101-99.

On TV tonight, ABC wins the ratings race with part 1 of the made-for-TV movie Lace, about a supermodel trying to find out who her mother is. It crushes the first network showing of Star Wars on CBS and NBC’s presentation of Urban Cowboy. The result does not surprise TV observers; Lace is one of the most highly touted movies of the TV season, while Star Wars has already aired on cable and is available on videocassette. In theaters this weekend, top movies are Footloose, the romantic comedy Blame It on Rio, Lassiter (a heist movie starring Tom Selleck and Jane Seymour), and Terms of Endearment. Also playing: The Right Stuff, Broadway Danny Rose, and Silkwood.

Pepsi spokesman Michael Jackson attends a bottlers’ convention in New York City, accompanied by his mother and sisters LaToya and Janet. Black Sabbath plays Kalamazoo, Michigan, and KISS plays Hampton, Virginia. Menudo plays the University of Illinois-Chicago and Genesis plays Birmingham, England. On this week’s Billboard Hot 100, “Jump” by Van Halen trades places with last week’s #1, “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club, now at #2. “99 Luftballons” by Nena is #3, and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper makes a big move from #9 to #4. But Jackson’s “Thriller” is the hottest record of them all. It debuted on the Hot 100 two weeks ago at #20, leaped to #7 last week, and is currently at #5. New songs in the Top 10 are “Nobody Told Me” by John Lennon at #7, “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by the Police at #9, and “An Innocent Man” by Billy Joel at #10. The hottest song within the Top 40 is “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell, featuring a Jackson cameo, which jumps from #25 to #12. Four songs are new in the Top 40: “Adult Education” by Hall and Oates at #31, “New Song” by Howard Jones at #38, the Thompson Twins’ “Hold Me Now” at #39, and “Livin’ in Desperate Times” by Olivia Newton-John at #40. The highest debut on the Hot 100 is “They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman at #63. The oldest songs on the chart are “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder (#29) and “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie (#91), both in their 24th week.

Perspective From the Present: Michael Jackson’s cultural pervasiveness at this moment in history was almost oppressive. When he was burned after his hair caught fire during the commercial shoot at the end of January, it dominated the news for days, and his every move was still being covered a month later. In this week, however, he would be temporarily displaced by Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who would upset Walter Mondale in the New Hampshire primary.

On this night, The Mrs. and I, married less than a year, watched Lace, and like the rest of the country, we were left in shock and awe by Phoebe Cates’ immortal line, “Which one of you bitches is my mother?” (In 1993, TV Guide would name it the greatest single line in television history.) I am pretty sure I had already been fired by the badly run station in the nowhere town. If so, I probably watched Lace that night trying not to think about the uncertainty that would return to our lives on Monday.