Thursday, June 11, 2015

Songwriting 101: Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang Syne"

If there was a Pandora station for "Waiting Room Super Hits", "Same Auld Lang Syne" would be on it.  That's actually where I got the idea for showcasing the lyrics to this song.  It wafted through the speakers in the waiting room of the dentist's office like a very polite ghost from the 1970s as I thumbed through the bike reviews in Men's Journal.  If you like this song, chances are you're either over 50 and discount out of hand any song after 1985, or you're under 25 and are trying to be ironic.  If you don't fall into either of those categories, you're probably rolling your eyes.  "Dan Fogelberg?!" you ask your computer screen, "Is he being serious?"  Hell yes I am.  And I'm not wrong.

Forgive me if the tone of this entry is a tad defensive.  But this song is pretty solid even with the syrupy instrumentation.  The strings, that keyboard setting that sounds like bells and fell out of vogue not much longer after this song hit the charts, the string section - you're not listening to that anyway.  You're listening to the lyrics.  And you should be, because they're great.  Not even DF's wispy voice and Gordon Lightfoot way of pronouncing some words can't stop these lyrics.

The lyrics on this are verbose but they never feel rushed or crammed together. There's not really any sort of chorus (at least not in the traditional sense) to speak of.  But the story is vivid with carefully selected details. It is specific and puts the listener right in that place and in that moment.  The lyrics are sentimental but never corny.  The characters are likeable and have depth, and the scenario is believable. If you've ever fallen hard for someone, then I'd bet my paycheck that you could relate to this song; and it's possible you've even gone through a similar scenario:  a chance, awkward (but overall pleasant) encounter with someone you once cared very deeply about.  It's a bittersweet thing.  Now go back and listen to this song.  Read the lyrics and suspend your judgement - I swear you won't turn into a pussy.
Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stood behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve
She didn't recognize the face at first
But then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse 
And we laughed until we cried
We took her groceries to the check out stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation lagged
We went to have ourselves a drink or two
But couldn't find an open bar
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store 
And we drank it in her car
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how
She said she's married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn't like to lie
I said the years had been a friend to her
And that her eyes were still as blue
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I saw 
Doubt or gratitude
She said she saw me in the record stores
And that I must be doing well
I said the audience was heavenly
But the traveling was Hell
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how
We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving, in our eloquence
Another "Auld Lang Syne"
The beer was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And, as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

To Everything There Is A Season

I landed a new job recently.  Yeah, I'm a little nervous, but a lot excited.  After breaking the news to my current manager, I fashioned an email to the other members of my team.  Somewhere deep inside my head, my mom's voice suggested I use a verse from the Bible to give the email a nice sense of occasion.  Neither one of my parents are what I'd consider "Bible bangers", at least not in the Pentecostal/Baptist sense of that term.  But they do study the Bible on a regular basis, and it comes out from time to time in conversation/writing.  Me?  I don't even own a Bible to tell you the truth.  It would be phony and probably unwelcome for me to break off some scripture in an farewell email.  But you can't say "no" to mom, even if it's just an imagined inner voice.  As I am a Byrds fan, this seemed like the obvious compromise.  The subject line of the email was simply "Turn, Turn, Turn".  I wonder how many of my bonehead coworkers* caught the Biblical reference?

 *-I mean this affectionately.  They're all great folks.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

History Lesson Pt. 2 Recommends: Listening To Sports (Instead Of Watching Them)

Okay, I admit it:  part of the reason I like listening to sports on the radio is nostalgia, which honestly isn't probably a great reason for anyone but me.  But I can remember when I moved back to Indiana from Arizona.  Everything I had fit in my long bed, king cab S-10, but barely.  It was so hot that there was no point in using the air conditioner; it would only place an extra burden on the engine, robbing it of horsepower.  Nothing I tried could keep me cooled down and awake.  I tried soda, snacks, windows down, music blaring - I even bought a pack of cigarettes to give myself something to do.  At 10 AM I was hurtling through Tucumcari, New Mexico, realizing as I felt the scorching blast of air coming through the windows that this was going to be a particularly long trip, and it was just starting.

Hours later, in the Texas panhandle, I turned to AM radio in an act of desperation.  The sun was on the horizon, and the air temperature was cooling from very fucking hot to just plain old fucking hot.  I was so desperate to stay awake that I thought finding a fire-and-brimstone preacher or some backwater Rush Limbaugh clone would offend me enough to get a surge of energy from my anger.  The strongest signal was from a Texas Rangers game.  Thank God.  I settled into it, letting it's pace soothe me.  It was almost like an audio massage.  Or something.  The point is that I could focus on the game and be entertained, or let it fade to the background and provide the illusion of a spacious ball park on a warm summer's night right there in my truck cab.

Similarly, I can remember listening to Detroit Tigers games (and on Memorial Day weekend when we're opening up for the season, the Indy 500) on an ancient AM console radio up at the cottage in Lake Leelanau.  There is no TV up there; even if there was, there was no reception.  So evenings consisted of each person settling into their routines - reading, playing cards, working on a puzzle, detangling lines from fishing poles - to the dulcet tones of the games broadcast from Tiger Stadium.  Add in the sounds of nature coming in through the screen doors and you have a scene that is so quaint, so perfect, so Norman Rockwell-esque that you'll wonder if I just made it up.  (I didn't.)

But my nostalgia aside, listening to sports, either on the radio or streaming through the internet, is the way to go.  Aside from commercial breaks, it is free of distractions like screen crawlers, split screens, over-the-top graphics or other technical gimmicks that tend to dilute the moment.  The rise and fall of the action of a given event is much more palpable, much more intense without such novelties.  There are occasionally segments that break the flow of some sporting events - the "let's go back to the studio for an update on this other game" or the sideline reports that don't really add a whole lot to the game.  But not seeing the carefully coiffed reporters, the ultra-modern studio, or the dopey transitional graphics somehow eases such annoyances.

Listening to sporting events doesn't feel quite as insulting or childish. The event is the stimulus.  The action is the star.  And usually, as long as they're regional, the announcers know what they're talking about.  Give me a Don Fischer, a Bob Lamey, or a Vin Scully over 90% of the broadcasters on ESPN or Fox Sports*.  It's not that any of these guys are impartial.  What makes them great is that they're impartial enough, and they know their shit.  They're fans watching the game, and they're glad to be there.

Audio formats have the advantage over their televised counterparts when it comes to the less popular, far flung events played out over large areas.  Only hardcore fans of cycling, auto racing and golf can enjoy watching it on TV.  For the rest of us, a team of reporters spread around the course, chiming in when things happen is the way to go.  The grinding drama of the Tour De France plays out much better when teams of cycling journalists are covering cycling along the course.  It feels less invasive then a helicopter chasing the peloton and more interesting than watching the riders blow by a checkpoint; they are truly "embedded journalists".

Less clutter, better focus and often, better broadcasters make listening to sports way better than watching them on TV.  Try it - you'll see.

Besides football and basketball, here a some events to consider checking out:
 - Indianapolis 500
 - Baseball games
 - Tour de France
 - The Masters
 - The Kentucky Derby/horse racing

*-But please don't hold Bobby "Slick" Leonard or Harry Caray against us.