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Write it like you stole it.

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My man Jim Bartlett recently found a treasure trove that could keep your average music blogger in business for roughly 12,000 years: The American Radio History website has posted an archive of Billboard magazines going back to the 1940s.

I wouldn’t want to fish too long off another man’s pier, so I won’t dig too much for blog topics there.

But I don’t think Jim would mind if I picked just one issue to write about — the one from the week I was born, which is of perpetual interest to me as a self-centered amateur history buff.

There’s a whole lot of delicious ’70s juice in there. In fact, I might have to write more than one post to get to it all.

But we’ll start here and now, with the Billboard issue for the week ending July 7, 1973:

– The Page One lead story, under the hed “Senators Push Sweeping Probes,” details ongoing investigations into claims of payola and “drugola” in the music industry. (I have never, to my recollection, heard the term “drugola” before. Wonder how many ounces it took to buy off a DJ in L.A., as opposed to, say, Fort Lauderdale?)

– Also on Page One: The Robert Stigwood Organization is reportedly producing a new theatrical package based on the Beatles albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.

This sent a frisson of joy up my spine, as this touring theater show was almost certainly the genesis of the Sgt. Pepper’s movie — one of my favorite pieces of Seventies trash-culture — released five years later with the financial backing of the Robert Stigwood Organization.

(Listed as helping out with the 1973 touring theater show were Steven Leber and David Krebs, who later became sorta-famous as co-managers of Aerosmith, who in turn became wicked famous from their performance as the Future Villain Band in the Sgt. Pepper’s movie. I love when diverse threads come together.)

– A Columbia Records ad at the bottom of Page One features three albums I own; a fourth album I heard often as a kid and probably should own; and one I never got around to. I’ll let you guess which is which.

0707731– A full-page ad on Page 2 touts 10cc’s “perfect summer single” “Rubber Bullets,” which “conquered the U.K.” and is “now on to the U.S.” The ARSA database tells us “Rubber Bullets” was a Top Ten hit in Salt Lake City, but it didn’t trouble the Top 40 charts.

– Another sign of the times on Page 3: A&M Records becomes the first label to issue quadraphonic records using both the SQ 4-channel method and Sansui’s SQ method. I haven’t the vaguest idea what set them apart, but yay, quadraphonic sound!

(The first A&M album released using the SQ 4-channel method: Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I told you this issue was full of Seventies mojo.)

– Helen Reddy (we’re still on Page 3) gets props for hiring contemporary, less familiar performers for her eight-week summer replacement show. Examples include Cheech and Chong, the Pointer Sisters (whose debut album had been out for only about a month), and B.B. King. The show’s producer notes that the network, at first glance, asked who most of the performers were and suggested Jim Nabors and Tim Conway instead.

– Page 4: Steely Dan is awarded a gold record for Can’t Buy a Thrill, while jazz impresario George Wein’s Newport West jazz festival is an artistic success, but a commercial failure.

– Pages 8 and 9: An absolutely exquisite two-page ad for Chicago VI, featuring the album’s gatefold shot of the band in the mountains of Colorado, with the caption “America’s Premier Rock n’ Roll Band.”

– Pages 11 and 12: Not to be outdone, Elton John gets two pages to announce the formation of his own record company, Rocket Records (whose logo, perversely, is a winking train). Its first batch of releases include LPs by Longdancer, Mike Silver, and Elton sideman Davey Johnstone.

– Page 16: Ben Vereen signs to Columbia Records; former Herbie Hancock sideman Eddie Henderson signs to Capricorn; fusion guitarist Larry Coryell to Vanguard; and duo Sharon Ridley and Van McCoy to Silver Blue Records.

Meanwhile, the gig listings chronicle upcoming performances by everyone from Chuck Mangione (Village Vanguard, New York, July 17-22) to T-Bone Walker (El Macombo, Toronto, July 17-21) to Proctor and Bergman (Toronto, July 20-21) to Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys (a variety of Southern stops, including the Alabama State Fair and the Grand Old Opry).

– Page 18: The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More” sits atop the week’s Easy Listening chart, followed by Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.”

I tend to think of “easy listening” as “toothless,” but a few records further down on the chart — “Soul Makossa,” “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby,” Looking Glass’ sublime “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” and “Live and Let Die” — remind me that the easy listening chart wasn’t just for big marshmallowy records that handled like Cadillacs.

– Page 19 sports a huge ad for the Capital Centre, the not-quite-finished new arena in the Washington, D.C., area.

The building’s gone already; I was never there myself. But my wife, in her high school years, saw INXS, Aerosmith and Larry Bird play there.

capcentre– Pages 21 and 22: Back-to-back full page ads for a pair of artists I’ve never heard of: Blue Mink, and Martin and Finley.

– Page 23: The top three songs on the Soul chart are “Doin’ It To Death,” “Time to Get Down” by the O’Jays, and “One of A Kind Love Affair” by the Spinners. Barry White, Isaac Hayes and Donald Byrd top the Soul LP chart. Awesomeness pretty much radiates right off the entire page.

– Page 28 features a picture of a young British-born chanteuse making the rounds of U.S. stations to talk up her cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” She’d be in the U.S. Top Ten by year’s end — but not with the John Denver tune.

onj– Also on Page 28, an outfit calling itself Hype, Ink., offers copies of a book of “original radio comedy material” designed to pep up DJ patter. I’d never thought of that as a business opportunity. Wonder if it’s common for DJs or aspiring DJs to get their material from somewhere?

– Page 29 finds jukebox programmers across the country wrestling with the question of whether to get on board with “Should I Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree?,” Connie Francis’s answer record to you-know-what. Some buyers were hesitating because the artist “is not considered a top seller at the present time.”

– Page 32, charmingly, packages the top-selling Classical chart next to the Campus News college-radio breakdown. July 1973 was clearly a few months after “The Sting” came out, as the top three classical albums were all collections of Scott Joplin material (followed at Number Four by Switched-On Bach).

The Campus News column compiles a list of popular records on college stations around the country, and it’s a wonderful mix of the obscure (the aforementioned Blue Mink at Memphis State University; Speedy Keen at the University of Connecticut; the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver at Adelphi University) and the better-known (Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun at Northeastern University; The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get at Vanderbilt University; There Goes Rhymin’ Simon at SUNY-Geneseo.)

That brings me roughly halfway into the 68-page issue and I’m already at 1,200 words, so we’ll rejoin the dance another night. Thanks again, Jim.

Somehow happiness will find you.

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I always like to think about the ways pop records fit into real people’s lives and moods. An improvisation, then, upon that theme:

It is the first week of January 1982 in Buffalo, New York. The weather can safely be assumed to be as cold, gray and snowy as it usually is at that time of year.

The Buffalo Bills, the region’s flagship sports franchise, have won four of their last five regular-season games (with long-serving, long-suffering Joe Ferguson at the helm) to qualify for the wild-card playoff game against the New York Jets.

Against the Jets, on Dec. 27, 1981, they pull out a close 31-27 win on the road — the Bills’ first playoff win since the AFL days of 1965.

But a week later, on Jan. 3, 1982, they narrowly lose to the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, 28-21, again on the road. Their promising season — one of the most exciting seasons cooked up by any Bills squad of that era — is done.

As it happens, local Top 40 station WBEN is playing just the right tune that week to console the Bills’ oft-disappointed fans.

It’s by an English band that went 18 years between U.S. Top Ten singles … a cold streak to match the Bills’ playoff drought. (They were still in the midst of that cold streak as of January 1982. Not for another year-and-a-half would they reach the Top Ten, with a song about nostalgic, simpler times.)

WBEN is the only station in the ARSA database of local radio-play charts to include this tune on its local countdown of hits. That doesn’t necessarily mean no one else did — the ARSA database is not all-encompassing. But it does suggest that maybe this particular single was well-suited to this particular market.

In January 1982, nobody knew that Buffalo’s contribution to the national sports scene would be four straight nationally televised kicks in the junk and a controversial Stanley Cup-losing goal. There was still hope for the future … still some guarded degree of positivity.

Still hope that better things would be on their way.

“Be an optimist instead / And somehow happiness will find you.”

Freddie’s dead.

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The second of two less-than-reverent commentaries inspired by the passing of B.B. King. The first one was better.

I was making burritos for the kids’ lunches early Friday morning. My wife entered the kitchen, and I greeted her somberly.

“B.B. King,” I said, “is with Freddie now.”

And so continued a perverse tradition that traces its roots back more than 20 years, to the floor of a mammoth freshman dormitory on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue.

It began in April 1992, when a bunch of us packed into one of my good friend’s rooms to watch the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Queen’s legendary frontman had died the previous November, and the all-star concert at Wembley Stadium was meant to pay tribute to his memory while raising money for AIDS research.

Memory might be playing tricks on me, but I do not remember the concert being all that convincing.

I remember my friend — the one who hosted us in his room — was let down because Metallica had been advertised on the commercials, but wasn’t actually included in the TV broadcast.

Maybe the whole thing seemed entirely too worshipful. Maybe it was because 1992 wasn’t a great year for rock n’ roll. Maybe it was because Nirvana had already ripped the chrome skin off of the entire institution of arena-rock, rendering everyone onstage irrelevant to a greater or lesser degree.

Or maybe the real problem was that Freddie Mercury was the quintessential rock n’ roll frontman, in addition to being a talented songwriter … and nobody on the stage that day in April 1992 quite measured up. At any rate, none of us came away from the event feeling any too reverential or impressed.

Three days after the event, the respected Indian film director Satyajit Ray died.

We’d seen him on TV too, in the same friend’s little room, just about a month before. Frail and bedridden, he’d appeared via satellite on the Oscars telecast, accepting an honorary award.

In a bit of black humor, his acceptance speech had become an inside joke among my group of friends. Whenever the subject of movies came up, one of us would wheeze, “My father … introduced me … to the cinema.”

It was inevitable, then, that when we read in the Boston Globe that Satyajit Ray had died, one of us (a wisecracking Persian kid from Rhode Island, I suspect) would put two and two together and proclaim:

“He’s with Freddie now.”

I haven’t seen any of my floormates since 1996. But I explained the reference many years ago to my girlfriend, then fiancee, then wife, who managed to understand the gist of it.

And over the years, everyone from Michael Hutchence to Tom Menino has gotten the same send-off: “He’s with Freddie now.”

My callow, irreverent 18-year-old is probably not a side of me that deserves to be immortalized and encouraged. But he’s put his sneakers up on the coffee table and made himself at home; and any time someone noteworthy dies, he chimes in.

I’ve even thought that my own tombstone should read “WITH FREDDIE NOW” (or — even better! — “ASLEEP IN FREDDIE”) … and the only reason I’m not serious about that is that I don’t want a tombstone.

It doesn’t pay to get too reverent about either death or music, I guess.

St. Peter and the bluesman.

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The first of two less-than-reverent commentaries inspired by the death of B.B. King.

I’m thinking of B.B. King tonight … and also of a friend of mine here in eastern Pennsylvania, a smart, bitingly funny guy.

Like me, my friend is a veteran of the newspaper industry. Also like me, he shares an aversion to cliches. He enjoys calling out the hackneyed setup, the well-worn gag and the easy riff.

One of my friend’s least favorite cliches (he’s called it out a number of times on Twitter) is what I’ll call the Pearly Gates Editorial Cartoon.

You know the kind: They run in newspapers and make the rounds on the Internet after a celebrity dies. The celebrity is shown standing on clouds at the gates to heaven, while St. Peter — invariably shown behind a podium, like some sort of cosmic maitre d’ — gives forth with an obvious, sometimes cloying one-liner referencing the deceased’s life-work.

If the gag doesn’t sound familiar, you’ll recognize it if you view this cartoon about Dick Clark … or this one about Michael Jackson (rather harsher than most) … or this one about George Steinbrenner … or this one about George Carlin … or, FFS, this one about Stephen Hawking, who hasn’t even died yet.

(Those examples, by the way, are drawn from a single page of Google Images results for a search for “pearly gates cartoon.” There are more examples. Many, many, many more.)


Somewhere in America, as I type this, at least one editorial cartoonist is drawing a portly black man in a tux, holding a hollowbody Gibson in his hand, standing patiently in front of the Eternal Podium as St. Peter opens his mouth and lets fly with a hagiographical one-liner.

(Take a moment, close your eyes and picture it in your mind.)

Because you, the readers of Neck Pickup, deserve better, I offer you …

Ten Captions For The B.B.-King-At-The-Gates-of-Heaven Cartoon
That Might Actually Make You Laugh

1. “Oh, good! Lawrence Welk is always looking for new sidemen.”

2.  “Man, I love your sauce! Put it on everything. You’re that B.B. Que guy, right?”

3. “We’re currently processing decedents from the year 1975. Please take a seat in section 33,107. We’ll be with you shortly.”

4. “The thrill is gone! You like that? I thought it up myself.”

5. “What’s the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

6. “I’m sorry, sir. Cut a record with U2, the gates stay closed. A law’s a law.”

7. “We don’t have ‘blues’ here, per se … Hey, do you know ‘Roll Out The Barrel’?”

8. “The realm beyond these gates is ruled by Arn-Shoggoth, a tentacled, slavering, gelatinous despot whose sole emotions are anger and cruelty. Enjoy your eternal stay!”

9. “FREEBIRD!” *hysterical snorting laughter*

10. “I’m sorry Lucille never let you kick the football.”

A cellarful of noise.

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What’s it like being a rock n’ roll star?

Well, I can’t tell you firsthand. But I can tell you what it’s like being a legend in one’s own basement … and tonight, I think I will.

Two years ago this week I set up my Bandcamp account as a precursor to releasing my “first solo album” — a project I’d bullshat about for years. It was a fun stretch and an interesting challenge for me, even if it didn’t do much for anybody else.

I’ve now released four EPs — each one weirder than the last — which you can read about here, here, here and here. And on the two-year anniversary of the whole trip, I thought I’d lift the curtain on Bandcamp’s stats feature and write about how my oeuvre has performed.

I know. Blogging about one’s Bandcamp page is the 21st-century equivalent of showing people slides from your vacation in Worcester. No one gives a damn about what I’m about to tell them.

Still, I think a case study of 21st-century amateur music-making might be of interest to someone out there. If you declare yourself a genius, hang out your shingle, and salt the Interwebs with a few examples of your vision, how much — or how little — can you expect to happen?

Well, about this much …

# # # # #

Plays: The 30 songs on my four EPs have racked up a total of 314 plays — not quite one every other day over the past two years.

Of those plays, 77, or 25 percent, are considered complete, which means the listener got at least 90 percent of the way through. 160 plays, or 50 percent, were partial, which means the listener got more than 10 percent of the way in but less than 90 percent.

And the remaining 77 listens are classed as skips, which means the listener failed to get 10 percent of the way into the song. (Needed more cowbell, I guess.)

Four of the 10 most-played songs came from the first EP, Summer Games, which is also the most conventional of the four.

And Number One on the Kurt Blumenau hit parade by a solid margin is “Art Thief,” the featured song from that EP.

(As for the least popular … well, there are 30 songs, but Bandcamp says only 28 of them have been played at least once. So there are two songs out there that no one’s ever dared to listen to. I think they are two songs from the most recent EP, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, which feature fire sirens overdubbed loudly over the music.)

plays# # # # #

Buzz: This is Bandcamp’s term for the number of visits to my site. And wouldn’t you know it: I’m at precisely 1,000 visits as of this writing. If I’d known I would have iced some champagne, or thrown the TV out the hotel-room window.

I suspect a vast majority of these come from ‘bots of some sort, because it’s common for me to get visits but no plays.

It always seems weird to me that a human being would navigate to a Bandcamp site and then not listen to any of the music. That’s kinda like figuring out how to get to a restaurant across town and then not going in. So, I figure something other than sentient humans accounts for most of my traffic.

A few other random tidbits about my buzz, y’all:

29 visitors came to my site from the various blog posts I’ve written about my EPs.

26 visitors found my music by searching for tags I used (things like “Allentown,” “Stamford,” “avant-garde,” “french” and “diddley bow.”)

Five visitors got there from Bandcamp’s Best Sellers feature. (As you’ll see in a moment, nothing I’ve done can be called a “best seller” in any sense of the phrase. I think the feature can be filtered to show what’s hot in the preceding day or week; and when my EPs were brand-new and had moved a copy or two, they might have qualified for such a page.)

Three visitors reached me through Bandcamp’s New Releases feature, which is kinda cool. It seems like the digital equivalent of pulling an unfamiliar but intriguing record out of the New Releases bin at a vinyl store.

– Finally, one visitor got there by searching Bandcamp for “Kurt Blumenau.” Not sure who they were, but it’s nice to know that somebody out there accepts no substitute.

Buzz# # # # #

 Sales/Downloads: Doesn’t matter how brilliant you are if you don’t move the units. Just ask Big Star, right?

Well, I’m still waiting for my first platinum record. As of tonight, I have drawn 16 downloads, of which seven were actual sales. (All four of my EPs can be downloaded for free, that being what they’re really worth.)

In the City of Churches and Cannons and Hope’s Treat sit atop the hit parade with five downloads each.

None of them are stronger in commercial appeal than the others, though: Three of my four EPs have two paid downloads each. (In last place, with only one paid download: Churches and Cannons.)

I can account for about 10 of those downloads. My dad downloads a copy of everything I do, or at least he has so far. A former college buddy accounts for one or two, and the guys in my former high school band account for three or four more.

But there are probably five or six that I have no idea where they went … which is maybe what I dig the most.

I like to think of my Bandcamp page as a modern version of throwing a bottle into the ocean for someone random to pick up.

Even if they throw it back in again, I’ve still reached them; and who knows but maybe they liked it?

sales# # # # #

Finally: The Map function on all these graphs is only for those who buy the fancy Bandcamp package, which ain’t me, so I can’t report on that.

But, you might have noticed an option called Defender on the Plays graph, maybe eight hundred words or so ago.

It is exactly what it promises: Click it, and it turns your Plays chart into a playable version of the classic video game Defender.

I might never attract much of a musical audience … but I’m getting pretty good at zapping the aliens.



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I have hundreds, maybe even thousands, of CDs worth of music I can choose from at any given time. Astral Weeks? A Love Supreme? Kind of Blue? Abbey Road? Pictures at an Exhibition? All that and much, much, much, much more.

And yet, the other day, among all those riches, I consciously selected as my commute music a CD worth of outtakes from Aerosmith’s Rock in a Hard Place.

No, I can’t explain how my head got that far up my arse either.

Rock in a Hard Place, for the short-memoried, was the 1982 album Aerosmith recorded at its grungiest, druggiest low point, featuring replacement guitar players Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay. (Crespo does most of the playing on the record.) It’s full of hoarse, raspy singing and lowest-common-denominator riff-rock.

I knew that when I downloaded these particular outtakes, back when I was into that sort of thing … and I’m not quite sure what I expected to hear.

Aerosmith circa 1982 was not a band capable of transcendence; they had enough trouble just standing upright. If their finished, polished studio recording didn’t make the grade, their demos and outtakes weren’t going to offer up any diamonds in the rough.

And now that I’ve listened to them, I can confirm that, yeah, they don’t.

Steven Tyler sounds (to steal one of his pet words) gacked throughout. Depending on your point of view, that’s either better or worse than Dufay, who sounds completely absent. (Or, at least, I only hear one guitar a lot of the time, and based on what I’ve read, it’s probably Crespo.)

Simple chromatic riffs abound, and once or twice, the band finds a good one — viz. “Take It Or Leave It” and “Gut Bucket Blues,” two ancestral versions of what ended up as the delightfully titled “Bolivian Ragamuffin.” It’s not a great song — there’s a reason you don’t hear it seven times a day on classic-rock radio, or even seven times a decade — but it does its offbeat shuffle-step thing well enough to stand out in this company.

(“Jail Bait” has a decent riff too, and builds up a decent head of steam … but really, there’s no reason for any self-respecting man of any age to sing a song called “Jail Bait,” and I’m not interested in hearing it.)

The outtake version of “Cry Me A River” (yeah, that) is probably the best song here, just ’cause there’s actually songcraft involved (even if it’s someone else’s), and on the ride-out the band falls into a nice loping Aerocrunchy groove with Tyler freestyling all sassy n’ comfortable on top, and when he reaches up for one of his octave vocal leaps — “I cried a river over YOUUUUUUU!” — it’s almost, sortakinda, if you squint a little bit, maybe a little transcendent.

And then Tyler hits the very last note, and it comes out strangled and vibrato-warped and sickly and parodic and wrong … and the spirit and the momentum go, and we’re back with a bunch of burned-out cokeheads trying to scrape together a record.

(I’m not 100 percent sure that last note was blown intentionally; Tyler follows it with an aggrieved, disappointed-sounding “Fuck!”)

I haven’t thrown out this CD, even though it deserves it. I guess I’m a quantity-over-quality kind of guy … and who knows, maybe some morning, this will be exactly the music to suit my mood and situation. It is important to have a choice for every moment, after all.

And when I take it out again, Van Morrison and John Coltrane and Modest Mussorgsky will shake their heads and fume, and commiserate together about my idiocy after I leave the house.

# # # # #

If any of the above sounds interesting to you, well, YouTube is your friend. If you have to start anywhere, start at about 12:10 — you’ll catch the end of “Cry Me A River” and segue into one of the “Bolivian Ragamuffin” variations:

Big man searching for a campus.

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There was a time, believe it or not, when I was a bright young man with potential.

Like 20 years ago this month, when I graduated college.

Or (gack) 25 years ago around this time, when I was a high-achieving high school junior (good grades, high SAT scores, extracurriculars, clean rap sheet, you name it) trying to decide where to spend the next four years.

I don’t remember actively soliciting much college mail … but I remember getting lots of viewbooks and letters, which I stored in my room in a paper grocery bag. For a lad of generally modest demeanor, it was an ego stroke to look at the bag and feel sought-after.

Back to the present, anyway. Today was something called #CollegeSigningDay, presumably a day for high-schoolers across the nation to commit to colleges. (You might have seen our president and first lady sporting the gear of their alma maters.)

It brought me back a quarter-century to my own college search, which was rather haphazardly conducted given the magnitude of the decision.

Much of it centered around a big computer in the high-school guidance office that would, with a little coaxing, spit out a sheet of paper listing all the colleges on the East Coast with journalism programs.

From there … well, sometimes I look back, and I think I fell out of a tree and landed on my feet … and sometimes I think I just fell out of a tree.

Just to empty out the memory banks, here’s a list of the major players in my college search, and what happened to them:

Syracuse University – A well-regarded journalism school was maybe 90 minutes down the Thruway from my house. But I was dead set on getting not just out of Rochester, but completely out of New York state. So, I had no use for the ‘Cuse.

(Ironically, given my destination to ditch New York, I ended up at the destination college for hundreds of Long Islanders. But more about that later.)

Cornell University – I also could have attended an Ivy League school within two hours of home; I’m confident I had the grades to get in. I would have worked a lot harder than I did at my chosen school, and probably felt more accomplished. But, anything New York was out. Also, a bunch of kids from my high school class chose Cornell; and while I liked them all pretty well, I wanted to see different people.

University of Pittsburgh – Now, this was stupid. My dad took me to visit Pitt and I dug the look and feel of the place. (I still remember that we stopped for lunch in the student union and they were playing Funkadelic on the PA system. I was impressed.)

And then, on our way out of the student union, my dad and I ran into a kid who was two years ahead of me in high school … and that screwed the whole deal; the entire campus fell under a dark cloud of Hometown Stink.

If the kid in question had stayed two more minutes after class to talk to the teacher, I might be a Pitt alumnus today. As it was, I didn’t even apply.

Just about the only positive of this decision was that it kept me out of Pennsylvania for 20 more years. Three cheers for that much, anyway.

Duquesne University – We were in Pittsburgh; we decided to tour two campuses for the price of one. (Maybe the computer told me Duquesne had a J-school.)

Hit the campus; saw a big statue of Jesus; turned tail and headed home. It was damn near as quick as that.

Carnegie Mellon University – Engineering college with a journalism school on the side. I have no memory of visiting while in Pittsburgh, but made it one of my backup schools on a whim. They admitted me. I did not accept.

Lehigh University – Another engineering college with a small pocket of word-nerds. I made a campus visit here too. I was a Deadhead then — long hair and sandals — and every single young man I saw was dressed like a J. Crew catalog. “I’m not gonna fit in here,” I said, and crossed Lehigh off the list. Didn’t occur to me until later that I toured campus in the morning, when all my kindred spirits were probably sleeping off the previous night.

University of Alaska-Anchorage – Nestled in my college bag was a note from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, which tried to seduce students from the lower 48 by offering them in-state tuition rates if they held a B average.

I thought about the offer for about 30 seconds and rejected it. I’ve probably thought about it for 30 hours in the years since.

I wouldn’t have gotten a great education there, I’m pretty sure, and I don’t regret not going. But I think sometimes that maybe I should have chucked it all in, given in to the spirit of adventure (I was not much for adventure in those days, to my detriment) and bought myself a parka and an airline ticket. There would have been stories, anyway.

University of Connecticut – Skipped a chance to tour it on the way home from somewhere else. Knew nothing about it. Decided to make it my safety school anyway, based entirely on the fact that I had family ties to a different region of the state (you might have read about them.) They accepted me too but I didn’t go there either.

Boston University – My mom went there and suggested I check it out. It had (and has) a good J-school and it’s in the middle of a delightful city, plus she went there so I’d be a legacy, though I didn’t really need that to get in. And it wasn’t in New York, even if it occasionally seemed like an exclave of the Tri-State Region.

I fell in love with the city, and to enough extent, with the school as well. In September 1991, off I went; in May 1995, I took two diplomas off the table and checked out for the Big Room.

In between, I spent a semester in Australia, basically lived at the student paper for a while, did some professional journalism stringing, rode the T, got engaged, drank some beer, pissed in an alley, played some racquetball, and did a bunch of other stuff.

(A few of my HS classmates ended up there too; two of them went into student government, and I covered them for the student newspaper. Somehow this did not deeply offend my soul’s quest for interstate exile.)

In retrospect, it does not seem like I worked very hard. Both of my degrees had Latin on them, and I couldn’t have done everything I did outside the classroom and still succeeded inside if I’d been really taxed. Something must have given.

No matter. I did OK at the time, and it’s done now.

I hope the fresh-faced kids wearing their university gear for #CollegeSigningDay get whatever it is they’re after from college.


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