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Monthly Archives: February 2017

That old-time religion.

Today I went to church.

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Yup, good old lazy irreverent stranger-fearing brotherhood-dodging bourbon-swilling me went voluntarily to a church service — to be specific, the Lehigh Valley Quakers’ weekly meeting.

I believe this to be the first time in my forty-three years that I have attended a religious service of my own accord.

Why? I’ve thought for a while that the Quakers are closer to being right than any other faith.

I like the way they think — the notion that God speaks to and through every person … the idea that a house of worship should be simple and utilitarian, not gilded and fancy … and their commitment to social action, which I could stand to have more of in my life.

With all that, it still took me years to actually check out a service, but finally I did it. (I was charmed, during the post-service introductions, to meet a couple who had been exactly where I was until a month ago, when they decided to get off the stick and check out a service already.)

I’d like to go back, at least for a while, in part because the Quaker form of worship takes some time to get used to. I’m used to looking someplace every five seconds for stimulus … and the old-school “unprogrammed” Quaker service calls for an hour of concentrating silence. It seems safe to admit that my centering-down skills need some development.

I’m also still working through all the typical issues that come with the clash of social liberalism and religion. For instance, if I don’t believe homosexuality is wrong or sinful, why would I want to endorse any creed based on the Bible, which does?

(I’m sure everyone else figured out stuff like this at age 20 … but I’m late to the discussion and catching up.)

But, all those determinations are in the future and are yet to be discovered, accepted or rejected.

For today, I went to church, me.

An observation in two parts.

1. Walter “Junie” Morrison is dead.

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2. So there was this guy, see, named Junie Morrison, who was either the coolest or the second-coolest Morrison of mainstream 20th-century popular music, depending on your tolerance for Wordsworth and Coleridge name-drops; and he sang and played mainly keyboards but maybe some other stuff as well (we’ll get back to that) … and he was so titanically, outstandingly funky that he managed to be a member of both the Ohio Players and Parliafunkadelicment, the two absolutely baddest, wildest and most wonderful funk bands of the American Seventies, which is to say at any time or place ever on Earth — and indeed, in the early days they shared a record label, and can you conceive of what the Westbound Records company Christmas party must have been like back then? — plus he cut some solo LPs that probably more people ought to have bought instead of buying, say, Styx records (but is that not so often the destiny of genius?) … but the real cream of the whole story in my humble opinion comes closer to the beginning than the end of Junie’s funky journey, specifically in anno domini 1973, when Junie wrote n’ waxed a two-minute-twenty-three-second slice of pure drooling turned-out lust (lingering rumor claims he played everything but the saxophone) (and you tell me – does it sound like he’s freestyling the words as he goes, or can you really imagine that he did something so square as to write them down on a piece of paper?) that swung so hard the Players made it the title track of their final album with Morrison on board and also managed to take it to No. 31 on the national hit parade, which presumably means the black R’n’B stations across our fine land must have been playing the piss out of it, because the honky stations probably weren’t finding much of a place to let po’ Junie get all het up in between having to spin all that Charlie Rich and Jim Croce and Seals & Crofts (and oh by the way, if you click only one link in this post, make it the one just north of here that says “black R’n’B stations,” and then turn that playlist over in your head, admiring its every line like the facets of a shining emerald, a Detroit emerald, to coin a phrase) … or maybe the Players cracked the Forty b/c friendly mellifluous ol’ Casey Kasem magically found a way to tap into and chart-track the most popular tunes Americans were spinning on the hi-fi while they got it on on the shag rug, or the waterbed, or the use-your-own-imagination-you-filthy-prevert … but whatever the explanation be, “Ecstasy” has always been and will always remain gorgeous and dialed-in and sweaty and delirious, while also being more than a little bit sanctified at the same time (listen to him preach, and tell me that piano doesn’t take you to church too), and thus represents that magic merging of Saturday night and Sunday morning that popular musicians have been shooting for since the first left hand found the first boogie-woogie rhythm … and if none of these words move you in the slightest, go a little further south and hit “play” (ignoring whatever corporate ad may precede the magic music) and get to the 0:38 point and listen to that falsetto note – that note – and tell me if it doesn’t hit the monkey nerve, the nerve that surpasseth conscious understanding, and maybe wonder to yourself why the pop-cultural presence and familiarity of this song isn’t about 100,000 times greater than it is (while also being thankful for that, ’cause who would want to hear po’ het-up Junie playing backdrop to a dog-food commercial, or a coitus interruptus scene in a bro-comedy movie?), and be thankful that a funk genius heard that sound in his head and got it down on vinyl for us all to enjoy forever, which is fortunate, because we will never quite hear it the same way live ever again, because, as I mentioned 665 words ago, Walter “Junie” Morrison is dead.

Love, true or otherwise.

This being Valentine’s Day, I think I’m going to write about a girl we’ll call Liz, because that’s not her name.

Liz was a year younger than me in high school. And in my sophomore year, through forces I have never understood, she fell wildly in crush-love with me.

(The tracks of time blend together somewhat, and this might have been junior year, but I lean toward sophomore. Makes no difference at this point.)

Liz didn’t actually tell me how she felt: The one time I deigned to say hi and ask how things were going, she turned red and fled the room.

Instead, I got the lowdown from one or two of Liz’s friends, in whom she had confided her feelings.

They were good supportive people, Liz’s friends. When she joined a couple of activities in which I was involved — like orchestra and winter track — they joined alongside her. To the best of my knowledge, none of them had played a note or run a competitive step before that, but they were there for their friend.

When Liz got up the nerve to walk to my house after school one day and ring the doorbell, they went with her then, too. (I had jazz band that afternoon, and was not home; my mom caught me up on it later.)

This went on for a couple of months until the fever broke. I don’t know what happened

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The unattainable dreamy guy, from around that time.

— maybe she saw me scratching my arse or something — but at some point, she woke up one morning and I was not the most fantastic unattainable dreamy guy in the world any more. And life went on.

Liz and I did not know each other when she fell for me, nor did we have friends in common. Our circles did not overlap.

Based on that, I’ve guessed that she was drawn to some image of me that she’d created, or that I projected from afar, rather than the feeble broth that constituted my actual “personality” at age 15 or 16.

(I fit into a couple different pigeonholes back then. I made honor roll every quarter so I was a smart kid. I played in a garage band and had long hair and swore sometimes so I was a “bad boy,” or maybe looked like one from a distance. And I did a couple of sports — some passably enough to reach varsity as a sophomore — so maybe I looked like a jock from some angles too.)

It seems clear to me now that I should have made more of an effort to reach out and talk to Liz, down to earth, person to person, just as friends.

Even a few minutes of direct exposure to me would doubtless have convinced her that I was really a shaggy, callow asshole with bad breath. The weight of her crush would have lifted in an instant.

But I never did that; I remained at a distance. And she was left to pine and labor in romantic discomfort for weeks, if not months, until it ran its course.

I still think of Liz from time to time, though we haven’t crossed paths since we were college-age, 20-odd years ago.

(The last time I saw her, she was working summer checkout at a grocery store. Thinking it would be nice to say hi, I went through her lane, not noticing it was 10 items or less. The idea that I did something awkward to get her attention must have been deliciously ironic; I got the sense she enjoyed it.)

Valentine’s Day, I suppose, is a day when we’re supposed to hope everybody magically falls in love.

But I can’t help being realistic, and thinking about the tangles of romantic attachment a little differently. Instead, I hope somebody somewhere on Valentine’s Day gets the liberating chance to see a crush for who he or she really is.

I hope some modern-day equivalent of me goes up to the modern-day equivalent of Liz and just talks with her for a couple minutes, at the end of which she is a little disappointed but a great deal more relieved, and freed perhaps of some built-up romantic  illusions.

There are unhappier endings.

Everything old is new again, Chap. 38,772.

Snow has been hard to come by in my neck of the woods for most of this winter. But a few flurries the other day brought this picture to social media:

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Setting aside for a moment the fact that the photo doesn’t show a school letting out early, I had to love this picture just for the retro factor.

This could have been taken in 1982. Just look at the albums lined up in the front window to lure shoppers — Endless Summer, The Stranger and Get The Knack in the top row; Foreigner’s 4 one level down; and Kansas’ Point of Know Return on the bottom row, poking out from behind Mr. Plow’s knees.

Somehow, looking at this picture reminded me of the Nineties and the Oughts, and that long period when everyone thought the CD would permanently kill the LP.

You don’t see any CDs in this picture.

Maybe 10 years from now, when the snow sends the kids home early in Wilkes-Barre, they’ll be advertising cassettes in the front window.

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And now, a great, ferocious, recently rediscovered song about failure and regret, from a band I saw in Sydney 24 years ago this spring.

Like vinyl in Wilkes-Barre, they’re still playing, and they’re probably still good.