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Author Archives: kblumenau

Take a while and think about it.

I’ve regularly invoked Aerosmith’s 1979 opus Night in the Ruts as my personal embodiment of the middle ground of American popular music — and perhaps all of American popular culture.

And yet, I’ve never written about it.

A hit-and-miss album by a muddled band and a work of no particular artistic pretension, Night neither delights nor frustrates. It’s just kinda there, like a Big Mac, or a bathmat, or a Phillips-head screwdriver, or a trip through the drive-through teller lane.

It exists not to be savored, interpreted and experienced, but more to be possessed and intermittently utilized. It fills the air with studio-processed notes the way an aerosol can fills the air with disinfectant. (Perhaps the name Joey Kramer really meant to suggest to his fledgling band was Aerosol.)

To its right on the Great Cultural Continuum are great albums by great bands, and great novels by so-so writers who had one good book in them, and so-so paintings by great artists. To its left are the wrongheaded, the misguided, the objectionable, the deeply core-flawed, and all that began in mediocrity and could not rise.

Here are its nine songs, ranked from worst to best.

9. “No Surprize.” Blocked for ideas, strung out on drugs, Steven Tyler felt the creative spark flash with an idea: Write about the history of your band! Oh, be sure to mention Clive Davis. But leave out the teenage girl you “adopted” and brought home to live with you, and all the nights playing the gym at Natick High, and how difficult you find it to get out of bed before 3 in the afternoon nowadays.

And lo, the world got this — the potted history of Aerosmith, set to a thoroughly unremarkable trudge-rock soundtrack. Tyler’s lyric appears to include more references to drugs, substances and needles than it does to music, which at the time of writing was probably accurate.

And the ending … yes, the ending. It’s never great when rock stars start setting their business gripes to music. It’s especially ungreat when Tyler does it here, whipping out a set of rhymes that confounds all logic:

If ASCAP and BMI / could ever make a mountain fly / if Japanese can boil teas / then where the f–k’s my royalties?

8. “Cheese Cake.” Joe Perry was no more sober than his colleague Tyler in 1979. However, his cliche game on slide guitar was still strong. And you get to hear ’em all here, while Tyler sets aside his gripes with music publishers to sing instead about a nymphomaniac. (Dude runs the full gamut of human emotion.)

Depending on your tolerance for hard rock, the groove here is either a deep lusty pocket or an underpowered, feet-in-molasses trudge (there’s that word again; I’ll endeavour not to wear it out.)

7. “Reefer Head Woman.” Four minutes of unremarkable midtempo blooze, complete with harmonica. Originally cut by harmonica player Jazz Gillum, “Reefer Head Woman” was Aerosmith’s second cover taken from Dr. Demento, and one trip to that well too many.

This isn’t perceptibly worse than any other heavy white band’s blues, and I’d be willing to buy into it if I thought the band’s roots actually went back to Jazz Gillum. But I think these guys really only go back as far as the flash of Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds; the scratch and honk of old R&B records is not in their bloodstream to any significant degree, and they have no place pretending.

(New critical theory: Is Aerosmith just Count Five on steroids?)

6. “Think About It.” Based on my analysis of No. 7, you would think a Yardbirds cover would earn my thorough approval.

This one would if it had any fire or vinegar in it. It starts out snotty, but after the first chorus or so it starts to drag, and the lengthy guitar solo in the middle doesn’t build much of a head of steam.

There’s no rave-up in it, no push to a climax — and what were the Yardbirds but the band that defined the rave-up? I mean, this is not offensive, but I expect more from a Yardbirds cover — even one on the Most Average Album of All Time — than “not offensive.”

(This lack of oomph is especially disappointing when compared to Rocks’ “Rats in the Cellar” and “Combination,” Aero originals whose high-energy closing jams planted the Yardbirds’ flag in the soil of bicentennial America.)

If the guitar melody in the beginning sounds familiar, that’s maybe because Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick swiped it (don’t look so surprised) and played it at the very tail-end of one of the songs on Dream Police — another 1979 record that walks the broad center line of Perfectly Average Street.

5. “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy).” A “Coney Island whitefish” is a spent condom — not an article to excite your typical lyricist, but thankfully, Steven Tyler is not your typical lyricist.

The music here sounds like the love child of two or three songs from Rocks, which ain’t entirely a negative. Indeed, when Tyler moves into his tortured-cat vocal register — which he does a lot on this record — it sounds like “Back In The Saddle, Part II.”

I think a rehash of past glories, done less snappily than they were the first time, is a pretty definitive thing to have on the Ultimate Average Album. And so I put “Bone to Bone” directly in the middle of my ratings of the songs on the Ultimate Average Album. Which maybe makes it the Ultimate Average Song of All Time.

Climb out of the mine shaft and take a bow, dudes!

4. “Remember (Walking In The Sand).” Yup, the Shangri-Las tune, and a third cover on a nine-song record.

And yet … and yet … perhaps because it’s so unexpected, or perhaps because it doesn’t stint on fingersnaps and backing vocals, or perhaps because Aerosmith are closet greasers, it works. It works not badly at all.

It worked well enough in 1980 to be a No. 29 hit in Canada and a No. 67 hit in the U.S., which sounds like the perfect credential for a Perfectly Average Album to flaunt. You’ve probably heard the song, but it’s not a staple.

I’d argue that the last verse of “Remember” may be the best-ever use of Tyler’s upper register. This is such a teenage drama-queen song that his overwrought swoop upwards suits it perfectly; you expect him to burst into tears.

(It almost — almost — doesn’t matter that he can’t actually hit the notes, and instead ends up spattering them with phlegm from the back of his throat.)

3. “Mia.” Every Aero album has to have at least one ballad, and this is Night‘s ballad. It’s named for Tyler’s young daughter Mia, though some have suggested the title is actually “M.I.A.” and refers to Perry, who quit the band partway through the album sessions. (Friend-of-the-band Richie Supa guests on guitar here.)

I rather liked this one, back in the day, enough to put it on Side One of the legendary B.A.L.L.S. mix tape. My writeup on that old blog post doesn’t do this one justice: It’s tuneful, well-arranged, oddly foreboding, and the most satisfying original composition on the record.

It’s also the last thing you hear on Night, which is a wise choice, as ending with a strong song makes the listener leave with a positive impression.

2. “Chiquita.” An absolutely barking riff here. Just wonderful.

I’m not being facetious: It is a smoking riff. And these guys were in the smoking-riff business. So business was good, at least for four minutes and twenty-four seconds.

Tyler could be singing in Mandarin for all I know (except for the dreadful non-rhyme of “sunshine” and “moonshine.”) It doesn’t matter. Just listen to the riff — and the way the horn section adds punch to it.

This is one of only two songs on Night hot enough to make Steven Tyler dance around in circles while the guitars play.

1. “Three Mile Smile.” And this is the other. More razor-edged riff games from the guitars; I particularly love the one at the very beginning.

This tune catches a little spark and raves up a bit at the end, driven by Perry’s distinctive, cutting soloing. However out-of-it he was, the dude brought the rave-up with him wherever he went. (Apparently he did not play on “Think About It,” which in retrospect seems like something of a misfire, like putting gumbo on the menu after your Creole chef quits.)

Tyler’s lyric is once again incoherent, jumbling together loaded guns and lighted fuses. On the bright side, he mentions goats (my favorite animals!), the New Orleans Superdome (one of my favorite perma-roofed sports arenas), and OPEC (a historically important fossil-fuel cabal). Plus, any song that begins “Take a walk in the warm New England sun” is bound to have a supporter in me.

The combination of stinging riffs and what-the-hell-did-he-just-sing? lyrics is a hallmark of the best Aerosmith. And it’s enough to earn “Three Mile Smile” the top ranking on Night in the Ruts.


Order in the court.

Strap in – this may be a long one.

Who needs Wikipedia? For a good time-sucking informational wormhole, Court Listener is becoming my go-to.

Court Listener, as you can probably guess, is a free online source of federal and state court decisions. If you can get around the legalese, it’s full of randomly interesting stories and events.

(The backstory of one case I read yesterday: Guy and his wife divorce; wife gets main custody of kids. Wife remarries to Mafia figure. Mafia figure agrees to testify against cohorts in exchange for identity protection. U.S. government agrees. Mafia figure, wife, and young kids are moved out west; their identities are changed; and the dad goes eight years without knowing where his kids are. Dad and kids are finally reunited, whereupon he sues just about everyone involved for denying him his paternal rights. Can’t make this stuff up.)

Inevitably I started feeding the names of some of my favorite musical performers into the Court Listener search engine. And it turns out that famous musicians can land in unexpected scrapes and peccadilloes, just like any other average Joe.

Here, then, are a bunch of links to interesting music-related court cases. I’ll throw in some appropriate tunes, too, just to keep the whys and wherefores from piling up too high. Starting with this old favorite:

Winterland Concessions Co. v. Sileo, 1982, Illinois: You’ll find a number of cases dealing with bootlegging and similar topics in the Court Listener archives. This one pits Winterland Concessions, licensed seller of rock T-shirts, against an alleged vendor of unauthorized clothing.

The most interesting thing here is the lengthy list of Winterland Concessions’ famous clients, whose principal business addresses are given.

We learn that the Doobie Brothers were formally based in Sonoma; Ted Nugent and Bob Seger, true to their roots, in southern Michigan; and almost everyone else in New York or L.A. Charmingly, Jefferson Starship in 1982 was still HQ’ed at 2400 Fulton St., San Francisco, the rambling Victorian house the Airplane bought with its first flush of money circa 1967.

(I wonder who was still left on the deed when the remains of the ‘Plane finally sold the place, and how much money the decades of gentrification bestowed upon them. Frisco real estate ain’t no joke. But I digress.)

State vs. Buchwald, Supreme Court of Minnesota, 1972: Speaking of the Starplane, singer Marty Balin (government name: Martyn J. Buchwald) took his appeal of a 1970 drug bust all the way to Minnesota’s highest court.

Balin claimed the cop who knocked on his motel-room door had no legitimate reason to do so, and that the cop’s glimpse of some hand-rolled cigarettes in his room was not sufficient reason to provoke a search. I think he had a pretty good case, me; but I’m not a lawyer, and the court ruled in the state’s favor.

(Obligatory legal disclaimer, since I’m neck-deep in such things: It is possible that the rulings I’m reading were not the final verdicts in any given case. I have made no effort to find out whether any of these cases were further litigated beyond the rulings I present here.)

Kass v. Young, Court of Appeals of California, 1977: Nowadays, when a rock star puts in a half-assed effort onstage, (s)he gets roasted on social media. But in 1973, when Neil Young ditched a show early, he paid a higher price — landing in a multi-year legal tangle.

Fan Richard Kass sued Young for damages following his concert of March 31, 1973 in Oakland, claiming 14,000 fans were denied the full performance they had paid for. (Young walked off in mid-song after about an hour of music because he was frustrated by security guards’ treatment of fans near the stage.)

This ruling, unfortunately, involves itself mostly with matters of procedure; I don’t know how the case was eventually resolved.

Still, the underlying message remains: No matter how jerky the rent-a-cops are being, the show should probably go on.

American Metropolitan Enterprises of New York, Inc., Jay Boy Music Corp., Piccadilly Music Corp., and Edward Kassner Music Co., Ltd., v. Warner Brothers Records Inc., U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit, 1968: The Kinks’ 1970 album Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One features “The Moneygoround,” a hilarious, frustrated song about Ray Davies’ financial screwing at the hands of music industry players. (“Do they all deserve / money from a song that they’ve never heard?”)

This particular case, while not riveting reading in and of itself, involves a dispute over Kinks copyrights. It illustrates the sort of offstage legal wrangles that drove Davies to helpless distraction.

The world got a great song out of it, anyway.

Joel v. Various John Does, Eastern District Court of Wisconsin, 1980: I found a couple of cases from the 1980-81 time period in which rock stars — Billy Joel in this case, Styx in another —  sought temporary restraining orders in advance against unnamed parties whom they expected to sell counterfeit merchandise outside their concerts.

In this case, the judge fretted over the legal quandary of trying to act against unknown parties who hadn’t done anything wrong yet (“A court does not have the power to enjoin the behavior of the world at large”), but ended up deciding to issue the restraining order anyway. If I recall correctly, the similar case involving Styx was also successful.

Given that, I wonder if this sort of legal pregaming is now standard practice for headlining rock acts. The only catch is, it appears the artist would have to obtain individual rulings for every concert in every city — like this one, which applied only to Joel’s performance in Milwaukee on July 14, 1980.

Stroeber v. Commission Veteran’s Auditorium, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Iowa, 1977: While rock stars went to court to defend their merch rights, fans went to court to keep security guards’ hands out of their pockets.

This was one of two or three cases I found (another was from Greensboro, N.C.) in which fans challenged security guards’ right to search them before they entered a concert venue. The fans basically claimed that it amounted to illegal search without a warrant — especially since security guards were arbitrarily or randomly making their search decisions based on concertgoers’ appearance.

This case, which sprang from a Frank Zappa concert in Des Moines in September 1977, was decided in the fans’ favor, at least at this level. (Again, I can’t promise that it wasn’t appealed.)

Comastro v. Village of Rosemont, Appellate Court of Illinois, 1984: At the same time, security guards can also cause problems if they’re perceived to be not diligent enough.

The plaintiff here sued the village of Rosemont, Ill., after being assaulted following a September 1980 AC/DC concert at the Rosemont Horizon arena. He claimed the village showed “negligent failure to use due care in patrolling its premises.” The court sided with him, overturning a previous judgment in favor of the village and sending the case for reconsideration.

Maybe most interesting is this line: “According to the depositions of Comastro and the resident manager of the Horizon, no fights or arguments had broken out during the concert, no one was observed drinking, and the only “rowdiness” was some dancing in the aisles.

You can dance to AC/DC without drinking? I call BS.

Brown v. Capricorn Records Inc., Court of Appeals of Georgia, 1975: I’ve never much liked Wet Willie’s “Keep On Smilin’.” And neither did the Rev. Pearly Brown, the blind street musician and preacher featured on the band’s album cover.

Brown sued the band, claiming he had not known that his picture would be used on an album cover, and saying his reputation had been tainted by association with it. His case came apart when the judge discovered he knew and mixed with rock musicians, and that he sometimes took calls at the liquor store shown on the cover.

(This is not the only album-cover lawsuit I can think of: Vampire Weekend went through a legal challenge from the woman shown on the cover of their album Contra. I’m not gonna look that one up.)

Van Halen v. Municipal Court, Court of Appeals of California, 1969: I don’t know for certain that the Jan Van Halen in this case was Eddie and Alex’s father. But given the relative rarity of the name, and the fact that the Van Halens hail from Pasadena, I’m willing to bet that the Jan Van Halen involved here is the same one who sat in on clarinet on “Big Bad Bill.”

(I don’t like how I wrote the above graf so I’ll try to clarify it: I know that the father of the famous Van Halen brothers was named Jan Van Halen. What I don’t know for 100 percent sure is whether that JVH is the same JVH involved in this lawsuit. It seems likely to me for the reasons listed above.)

Anyway, Van Halen pere fought a drunk driving arrest (blood alcohol level: .21) on the grounds that the test container he breathed into had subsequently been destroyed, leaving him no opportunity to find out whether it had been defective.

My skim-reading of the case suggests the court granted a few of his points, but ruled against him in the end.

Bonner v. Westbound Records, Inc., Illinois Appellate Court, 1979: The Ohio Players, featuring guitarist and singer Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, were one of the baddest, funkiest bands of the Seventies. Unfortunately, their groovy gravitas couldn’t help them convince a judge that they didn’t unfairly break a contract with their original record label, Westbound Records.

(Also unfortunately, their next album cover did not feature a honey-doused, unclothed female judge.)

Patricia Ann Valentine v. CBS Inc. Records, Bob Dylan aka Robert Zimmerman, Jacques Levy and Warner Brothers Publications, U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, 1983: Patty Valentine, a witness to the murders that landed boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in jail, didn’t care to have her name mentioned in the Bob Dylan-Jacques Levy song about the case. She sued for defamation, invasion of privacy and unauthorized publication of her name. Dylan and Levy prevailed.

Rare Earth Inc. v. Hoorelbeke, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, 1975: Speaking of Bob, this intra-band squabble is chiefly of interest for its last two grafs, in which the judge not only throws shade at the participants, but quotes Dylan while doing it. Check it out.

ABC-Paramount Records, Inc., v. Topps Record Distributing Co., Inc., Gwynn M. ‘Babe’ Elias, Individually and as President of Topps Record Distributing Co., Inc. and Ray W. Curran, Jr., U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, 1967: Similarly, this is a fairly pedestrian case of alleged music-industry double-shuffling involving an aspiring singer named Jimmy Velvit (sic). The best part is the judge’s lede, which deserves quotation in full:

“This case comes from the raucous, fast-moving, competitive world of American popular music, where nothing is more alive than the hope of success, nothing commoner than failure, nothing more ephemeral than fame, and nothing more fundamental than a smile and a shoeshine.”

Davis v. Firmint; Watson v. Thompson; Bobby Griffin, a Minor, by and Through His Father and Next Friend, Mr. A. A. Griffin v. Mr. Fordyce Tatum, Individually and as Principal of Wetumpka High School; and L. W. Ferrell and Jo Ferrell, Next Friends of Phillip Ferrell v. Dallas Independent School District; various courts, 1967-1971: The arrival of the Beatles to America brought all kinds of social ripple effects no one could have predicted. This included a rash of court cases filed by Beatle-cut young men trying to overturn their local school districts’ grooming regulations — the subject of all four of the suits linked above.

The last case (L.W. Ferrell) is especially interesting. The three students involved were members of a rock band — with real bookings and all — who claimed they had to have long hair to fulfill their professional obligations. The court’s ruling, summed up in two words, was: “Wear wigs.”

Associated Students of Western Kentucky University v. Dero G. Downing, President of the Western Kentucky University, U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 1973: Another unexpected outcome of the Beatles’ popularity was this lawsuit, which stems from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s forgotten side career as avant-garde filmmakers. (Or did you remember they were avant-garde filmmakers?)

Anyway, officials at Western Kentucky University canceled a planned 1971 showing of John & Yoko’s film “The Fly,” which featured the titular insect traversing pretty much the entire breadth and width of a model’s nude body.

The kids fought in court. The kids lost.

I’m not gonna write about ’em, but other Beatle-related cases to be found in Court Listener include Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd. (the “My Sweet Lord” case); Lennon v. United States; and John Winston Ono Lennon v. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

OK, we’re getting into the homestretch. Some odds, ends and weirdos:

United States v. Carl Dean Wilson, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 1971: A small fragment of Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s lengthy battle to avoid military service. This document has Wilson proposing that the Beach Boys could perform at state mental hospitals as a public service. (I guess after a few swings through the state fair circuit, anything else looks good.)

Wilson was rebuffed in this particular judgment, but he won the long game, as he was never shipped to Vietnam.

United States of America v. Larry Napoleon Cooper, U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, 1975: On March 15, 1974, three people in Wooster, Ohio (one of them being Larry Cooper) called New York’s WABC-AM, one of the biggest hit-radio stations in the country, and threatened to kill a person being held hostage unless they were given airtime to publicize their political views.

(See, I told you these were going to get weird.)

The station recorded an interview with Cooper after assembling a panel of people to help guide their response. Meanwhile, the entire 28-person police force in Wooster and FBI agents in New York joined in on the emergency response. Cooper and his companions finally came out of the apartment, revealing that their “hostage” was actually 66 copies of the U.S. Constitution. The interview was never aired.

Cooper claimed that, since he’d never actually had a human hostage, the charges of threats and extortion he’d been convicted on were invalid. He also called on the court to let him subpoena a cast of witnesses including Richard Nixon, Patty Hearst, J. Paul Getty, and Milton Friedman. Not surprisingly, the court ruled against him on all counts.

Cinevision Corporation etc etc v City of Burbank etc etc, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 1984: When you see the full name of this one, you’ll understand why I’m not gonna type it out.

Anyway, disputes about canceled concerts sometimes lead to legal action — as in this case, when the city of Burbank rejected six proposed concerts to be held at a municipal amphitheater because the concerts would attract drug users. (Two of the performers were also alleged to attract homosexual crowds; one city councilman declared, “That’s not what we want.”)

The “hard rock” concerts rejected would have been performed by Blue Oyster Cult, Patti Smith, Todd Rundgren, Jackson Browne, Al Stewart, and that noted hard-rock act and recent Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Roxy Music.

(An almost equally entertaining dispute can be found here, in a case involving the city of Newport, R.I.’s battle to keep Blood Sweat & Tears — Blood Sweat & Tears! — from performing there in 1975.)

Giangrasso v. CBS Inc., U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, 1982: Did the writers of WKRP in Cincinnati steal a script in which a remote broadcast is interrupted by a robbery from a pair of writers who wrote something similar in 1976?

I’ll save you the suspense: No, they didn’t, at least not in the eyes of this court ruling. Like a good rerun, though, it’s still entertaining even though you already know the ending. And it’ll take you a lot less than a half-hour to read.

Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Fender Sales Inc., Donald and Jean Randall, and C. Leo and Esther Fender, U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, 1965: A tax dispute involving Clarence Leo Fender, the founder of Fender Musical Instruments; one of his longtime colleagues, Don Randall; and their wives. Not hugely interesting on its face, but a reminder that it’s not just the stars who have to go through legal hassles; the guys behind the scenes end up there too.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry v. United States, U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, 1960: No comment.

Wotsit to ya?

If you dug Ray Charles singing “Shake a Tail Feather“…

… if you liked KC and the Sunshine Band doing “Shake Your Booty” …

… if you got off to Peaches & Herb performing “Shake Your Groove Thing” …

… well then, Bunky, you’re absolutely gonna love this.

I’ve said a couple times that I mean to look deeper into the Hollies’ career, based on the pleasant, mildly creative pop they put out on their best days.

They had a Stateside purple patch around 1966-67, then another smaller one around 1972-74, and not too much beyond that … but over in Europe they plugged along for years and years (and in fact still do, with original members Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliott still aboard.)

So, most American listeners probably aren’t aware that the above song exists.

But — proving that a rising tide swamps all boats — I learned that the Hollies, like so many of their peers, bowed to musical trends in the Seventies and cut a disco/funk-inflected attempt at a hit.

Indeed, I considered starting this post by saying: “If you liked ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy‘ … if you got down to ‘Goodnight Tonight‘ … if you grooved to ‘Miss You‘ … then Bunky, you’re absolutely gonna love this.

The Hollies made their booty-shaking move a year or two ahead of acts like Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and the Stones, which I suppose counts for something.

Unfortunately, the Hollies’ mid-career attempt at selling themselves to the dancefloor didn’t go as well.

“Wiggle That Wotsit” doesn’t show up on a single chart in the invaluable ARSE — er, ARSA — database of local radio airplay charts. (Wiki says the song did hit the Top 40 in the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden, which counts for something too.)

The song itself, IMHO, is not as purely horrible as I thought it would be. I could imagine KC and the Sunshine Band putting a jolt of Miami funk into the rhythm and taking it to, oh, No. 31 or so on the singles chart.

“Wotsit” does seem like the stodgiest, grayest, most English possible synonym for “booty,” though. It wouldn’t make Clement Attlee raise an eyebrow. That’s probably not the vibe you want for your dance track.

Also, it’s clear from the video that the guys just aren’t feeling the funk. Lead singer Allan Clarke, in particular, could do a lot more to sell the song … like wiggling his wotsit once in a while.

(That’s kind of a weird idea for staging, too — a band playing in front of a video of itself? How about film of a crowded dancefloor? That might have worked a little better.)

Anyway, my exploration into the Hollies continues; it won’t stop too long here. But I thought my three pop-geek readers would enjoy this slice of history, very much of its time, like white suits.

Between north and south.

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Today, looking from a break from my burden, I went to one of New England’s most unusual woods, and surely its least Thoreauvian.

It wasn’t tremendously relaxing … but I got a blog post out of it, so that counts for something.


You’ve probably never visited the Dedham Town Forest, but you might be familiar with its setting. And if you’ve passed through eastern Massachusetts, perhaps you’ve even driven past it without knowing.

As Interstate 95 passes through the town of Dedham, Mass., not far outside Boston, its northbound and southbound lanes split, creating a 77-acre triangle of land between the two strips of highway.

(For the pop geeks in the audience: While it’s no longer co-signed, this is the stretch of I-95 that is coterminous with Massachusetts Route 128. In other words, it’s the highway Jonathan Richman sang about in “Roadrunner.”)

The parcel is too oddly shaped, too hard to access, and too poorly located to be developed into much of anything. So, after the state highway department turned it over to the town around 1972, the town cleared some trails on it and designated it open space.

And there it sits, surrounded by the hum of interstate traffic zipping past at the insouciant 75 mph that marks unobstructed highway travel in New England.


Northbound traffic on 95 as seen from the overpass you’ll hear about in a moment. The Dedham Town Forest is the green space to the left.

The Dedham Town Forest has only one (official) entry point — a signed but easy-to-overlook chain-link gate in the middle of an overpass along Route 1A.

There’s no dedicated parking at the forest, either. You have to leave your car on a nearby residential street.

The locals seem not to mind, maybe because they’re not often bothered. People who have written about the forest on the Internet suggest that it doesn’t get a lot of human visitors. (Is that because of the limited access? The limited amount of promotion the park gets? Or the obvious difficulty of enjoying nature in the middle of an interstate highway? It’s probably yes on all counts.)


Come in, won’t you?

“Back up a second,” I hear you saying. “Human visitors? What did you mean by that?”

Well, that’s the other interesting part about the Dedham Town Forest. Apparently it’s a common place to find the skulls, bones and other mortal remains of deer, raccoons and coyote. (Proof here and here.)

It makes sense, I guess. Plop a chunk of green space in the middle of a highway (in a thickly settled region, no less); set it up so humans don’t visit that often; and animals will probably flee there to live and/or die.

It keeps you on your toes as you take each bend in the trail wondering whether you’ll find a deer carcass — or maybe a live coyote — just up the path. You might find either one in any town woods, of course, but being in an oasis of wilderness surrounded by major highway somehow seems to raise the stakes.


While the forest is surrounded by fencing, an unpaved access road with open gates at either end cuts through the forest and connects the north and south lanes of 95. If you knew to look for the openings, you could presumably pull off the highway and drive right through. Or, if you didn’t overmuch value your life, you could walk out of the forest and right into traffic. (Please don’t.)

The Internet also claims that the town tried to drum up interest in the 1970s by installing a bunch of fitness stations along the main trail. It didn’t last, and the stations are now abandoned.

Apparently, the faded white signs still nailed to a few trees in the forest are remnants of the fitness stations.


When zoomed in on, the top line of this sign looks like it might once have said “FITNESS,” but it’s too far gone to know for sure.


Some more recent signage to show you the way.

For the record, I didn’t see any skulls, carcasses or carnage in the Dedham Town Forest. No live animals except birds or squirrels, either. (Also, no teenagers having joyless, furtive sex, and no adults dumping broken TV sets — the kinds of illicit uses one could imagine this accessible-yet-remote park being put to.)

In fact, the park turned out to be perfectly nice, geographically speaking. The rocky ridges are pretty, as is the pond in the center of the forest.





That said, you can’t really get lost in nature there.

Some Internet reviewers say you can barely hear the highway, and maybe that’s true in summer when leaves are on the trees. But in my experience, no matter what high hopes they had for the place in the Seventies, you can’t really get away from the sense and sound of high-speed traffic all around you.


Nobody asked me, but: I think the Dedham Town Forest might be stuck between two identities, just as it’s stuck between two routes of highway.

It hasn’t been tamed enough to attract people who like their open space “improved” — not cleared-out enough, not signposted enough, not benched-and-fountained enough, not town-parked enough.

But because of its location, it will never succeed in being wild enough for people who like to leave the face of the earth when they walk in the woods.

For now — and, probably, forever — it’s an interesting curio, stuck in the middle.




Name that groove.

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News item: Ray Sawyer, eyepatch-sporting vocalist of Dr. Hook, is dead at age 81.

Dr. Hook never made any deep connection with me. In retrospect, their journey from freaky counterculturalists to smoove purveyors of mellow gold — in other words, from “Cover of the Rolling Stone” to “Better Love Next Time” — is mildly interesting; not too many bands rebrand that drastically and that successfully.

(I like “Cover of the Rolling Stone” in a shaggy-dog way if I don’t actually have to hear it that often. “Better Love Next Time” … nah, thanks.)

The thought of Dr. Hook does bring back a long-ago musical question from the old blog that never got answered, so I’ll bring it up again. (The same three people who used to read me there now read me here, but maybe one of them has learned the answer in the intervening years.)

Bring “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman” up on the mental Magnavox for a minute … and then see if you can tell me:

What is that groove called?

Y’know, the sort of slinky sashaying beat that the Hues Corporation perfected on “Rock the Boat,” and Dr. Hook more or less nicked for “When You’re In Love…,” and that sortakinda shows up in the bridge of Andy Kim’s “Fire, Baby, I’m On Fire.”

If I wanted to get a drummer to play that, what would I ask him for?

(I said “him” rather than “her” because most women have the good sense and innate propriety to not become drummers. Hi, Mark!)

The Wiki entry for “Rock the Boat” includes a clue that I don’t think was there the first time I asked this. It mentions (in an unsourced and questionably punctuated sentence) that session drummer Bobby Perez brought “that Cumbia beat” to the song, which on previous attempts had had a different feel.

Wiki tells me that cumbia is a rhythm and dance from Colombia that has percolated over the decades to other Latin American countries.

My only knowledge of cumbia comes from the work of Los Lobos, which has at least two cumbias (“Chuco’s Cumbia” and “Cumbia Raza”) in its repertoire. I don’t quite hear that beat in either of them, but perhaps they are deploying the rhythm more subtly than Top 40 demands:

A little more YouTube diving turns up a fair amount of rhythmic variation under the cumbia label. I did find some roughly similar examples, like the first songs off each of these compilations. (Both albums make for interesting listening, or at least skimming, though they depart pretty significantly from that beat from song to song.)

I don’t have the time or energy for further ethnomusical adventuring tonight, so it looks like I’ll have to continue living my life without an answer to this important musical question.

The Net’s a big and unpredictable place; maybe it will pop up yet.

From 500 to 1,000.

2018 has been a really good year in a lot of ways, and I’m sorry to see it go. Whatever triumphs I wring out of 2019 are going to be fewer and harder-earned than they were this year, is my sense.

In 2018 I got to watch my older son graduate as salutatorian of his high school class and go off to college. I got a job in Massachusetts and moved back there after an absence of 16 years, most of it filled with why-did-I-leave-New-England moping. I even served as a local elected official for several months after becoming the first person in my family to win an election — a story I never got around to telling here, but will have to get back to someday.

And I ran, and I ran, and I ran.

You’ve heard about this before. But you haven’t heard the final roundup: Closing out the year Sunday morning with a 7.9-mile jog, I ran a total of 1,089.78 miles over the course of 2018. (This according to, where I log each run I do.)

Some more numbers to put that into context:

– Five years ago I closed the year with 531.9 miles, which was an improvement over 510 the year before.

– In 2014 I ran 588.3 miles, never at any point going longer than four-and-a-half at a time. (In 2016 I was back down to 511.)

-I only run every other day — keeps the legs from complaining too much. So 1,089.78 miles divided by 183 days averages out to almost six miles a run.

– I put 13.1 miles of that  total to very good use in November, running my first good half-marathon. A week or so later I ran an acceptable to pretty good 5K that met my goal of running a time equal to or less than half my age.

How’d I go so much farther this year? I lost a bunch of weight a year or two ago, have managed to keep it off, and have been pushing myself to work harder as I get lighter. I think I’ve lost about all the weight I’m going to lose, but I still feel driven to keep working.

A friend of mine is trying to talk me into running my first marathon next September in Rochester … and, because my new employer sponsors a marathon in New England every October, I can get into that one too if I want.

I’m trying to decide if a marathon is a realistic stretch goal for the new year, or if chasing a marathon will topple me from my current physical balance into the depths of injury. Running 26.2 miles has never looked like all that much fun … but it’s the next step up from half-marathons, and people in worse shape than me have done it, and it might be kinda cool to be able to say I’ve run one (or two).

As I said, 2019 may be a tough year for personal milestones.


A price for everything.

Many of the LPs in my collection still carry the price stickers placed on them by used-vinyl shops, sometimes many years ago.

(In other cases I peeled the stickers off — either in a distracted reverie of listening, or because I hated the record and was ashamed to admit what I’d paid for it.)

How many of these albums can you identify, based solely on these closeup photos of their price stickers?

Most if not all of them are warhorses from the classic period; there shouldn’t be too many true obscurities. No prizes for guessing right, just that warm feeling of knowledge and success in the bellygut.


1. OK, we’ll start you off easy.


2. Not worth $3.50, this ‘un, though side three is entertaining.


3. Worth every penny.


4. My older son, at college in Boston, mentioned he’d visited a music store called In Your Ear. I whipped this out as proof that I’d been there myself, many years before.


5. This one, too. Of course I didn’t have a turntable in my dorm room; I bought these LPs and sat on them for, like, a month-and-a-half until I could get them home at my next break.


6. Looks like I scraped off one sticker here but kept another.


7. Your copy of this may be yellow.


8. Geez, I must have gone on a spree at In Your Ear. The guy behind the counter told me this was his sister’s favorite album by the band in question; I’ve never forgotten that. (This is the kind of band that tends to engender those sorts of offbeat tributes.)


9. I discovered this record by taking it out of the library (remember when public libraries had vinyl?) Liked it so much I bought my own.


10. A recent acquisition that I haven’t spent nearly enough time with. Good shape for the price.


11. Not sure why I didn’t scrape the sticker off to hide how much I spent on this. Heck, not even sure why I still own this. (I think I bought it for the poster, which was helpfully still included.)


12. Hold this one upside-down to the mirror and you’ll know what it is.


13. This one, on the other hand, won’t give up its secrets no matter what you subject it to. I suppose I’ve gotten $1 in laffs out of it over the years.


14. This guy looks moody ’cause his band’s albums have stopped selling, not because somebody slapped a buck-a-throw sticker on his nose.


15. One last from In Your Ear. I actually just chucked this LP ’cause it grew some skips … but I need to buy a new copy, and who knows, I might even pay full price. It’s that good.


16. $1 is about right for this one. Be glad my close-up pic spares you the drummer’s tights.


17. This stylish dude’s guitar playing on this LP (alternately furious and tender, raw and cooked) is worth $1 all by itself. A bargain, this one.


18. I haven’t played this one nearly enough. Good record.


19. The title track is priceless; the rest is dogmeat; 99 cents is a good compromise. As an added bonus, this sticker is dated (what were *you* buying in August 1991?)


20. Hi, we’re dweebs.


21. What were you buying in February 2015, for that matter? I think this one’s in somewhat rough shape, but listenable.


22. One last wild card. Good luck with this one.


23. Quiz is over! Whadd’re you lookin’ at?