Author Archive: jb

The End of the Opus

I have written here previously that I no longer have a turntable hooked up at my house. Even before I unhooked it, I hadn’t used it for several years. I still have all my vinyl, however, taking up space here in the office. It’s still here mostly because I can’t think of a good way to get rid of it—and I would get rid of it. I am no longer interested in owning the physical objects—MP3s are fine with me.

We also have a substantial collection of cassettes. The Mrs. was a cassette buyer during her high-school days, and virtually all of the pre-recorded cassettes that are boxed up somewhere in the basement are hers. Over many years, I recorded a lot of albums (and later CDs) onto cassettes, and although I occasionally played them in the house, they got most of their play in the car.

Sometime in high school, I started making compilation tapes—8-tracks at first, then reel-to-reel tapes in college, and finally on cassette. In the early 90s, when I had a lengthy commute to and from work each day, I hit upon the idea of putting songs in chronological order. I started with 1976 because of course I did, but over the next few years, I assembled what I called the Magnum Opus. It eventually covered January 1969 through December 1979 and included every radio hit I could lay my hands on, from CD, vinyl, or cassette. I don’t recall how many tapes there were, mostly C-90s with a few C-60s mixed in (never C-120s—too fragile), but I am guessing I could have driven to Hawaii and back without repeating one. As I added missing songs to my vinyl and CD collections, I re-recorded sections of the Magnum Opus to fit them in.

During the 90s and 00s, I killed countless evenings and weekend afternoons working on it. Making a tape had to be done in real time, so it took a couple of hours to do a C-90.  It required physical manipulation of the source media, removing albums or singles from sleeves, putting them on the turntable and lowering the tonearm in the proper spot; unboxing and cueing up a source cassette to the right spot; that kind of thing. If several songs in a row came from CDs, I could program the CD changer to do the heavy lifting for me. My first cassette deck did not have a digital readout like my later ones, so as I got toward the end of each side of the tape, it was guesswork to see if a particular song was going to fit.

After I got a CD burner, I did not try to recreate all of the Magnum Opus on CD (although I did one year’s worth—guess which one). I do not have digital files for all of the vinyl and/or cassettes, and every time I think about going out to YouTube and trying to fill in the gaps, it scares me off. And compared to the analog/real-time tape-making experience, burning a CD feels like cheating.

My current car, which I bought in 2013, has no cassette deck. I own two different home-stereo decks, but neither one of them works anymore, and I haven’t seen the need to get them fixed. So there’s really no point in hanging on to the cassettes. They’re merely taking up space, and as I said at the top of this post, I am no longer interested in owning the physical objects that contain the music. So the other day, the Magnum Opus—however many cassettes it was, however many songs, from “Cloud Nine” by the Temptations through “Message in a Bottle” by the Police, which kept me company over tens of thousands of miles and something like 20 years—went out to the curb.

It was painful to do, and after I dumped them into the bin, I thought a couple of times about digging them back out. But our firetrap of a condo has too many physical objects in it to begin with, and while getting rid of the Magnum Opus won’t solve the problem, at least it doesn’t make it any worse. Everything dies, and for the Magnum Opus, it was time.

Bird Watching

(Rebooted from a post first appearing in April 2009.)

Mark Fidrych [who died in April 2009] is a name known to some sports fans, although memories have grown dim; non-fans may never have heard of him. He was a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who came to the big leagues in 1976. He had an odd pitching motion, a mop of curly hair that stuck out from under his cap, and was nicknamed “the Bird.”  He had some strange habits on the pitcher’s mound, grooming it with his hands and talking to the baseball. He was clearly thrilled with being a major-leaguer, like a kid who had been plucked off a playground at random and put in uniform. And for the last four months of the baseball season that year, nobody in American popular culture was more famous.

The Fidrych legend grew to the proportions it achieved because there was relatively little coverage of baseball then compared to now. Readers of box scores knew he was something special, but you had to see him to fully appreciate him. That wasn’t as easy then as it is today, when every big-league game is on TV somewhere, and anything unusual that happens is on SportsCenter and YouTube within hours. In 1976, if you didn’t live in Detroit or another American League city, you probably weren’t going to see more than a few highlights of Fidrych in action. Baseball teams put some games on local TV or regional networks, but in 1976, there were only two nationally televised baseball games each week, and only one in prime-time. On June 28, 1976, ABC’s Monday Night Baseball was the focus of sports fans the country over as we watched Fidrych beat the New York Yankees 5-to-1. After the game (as you can see in the video above), roaring Detroit fans refused to leave Tiger Stadium until he came out for a curtain call. In the middle of our Bicentennial summer, the Bird became more famous than any of the Founding Fathers. (The next spring, he made the cover of Rolling Stone, with a profile by rock journalist Dave Marsh.)

Just after Fidrych beat the Yankees, he was named starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game. The Tigers won only 74 games all year; Fidrych won 19 of them. He would be named American League Rookie of the Year and finish second in the Cy Young award balloting for best pitcher in the AL. He led the majors in earned-run average. But he hurt his knee in spring training during 1977 and his arm shortly thereafter. His injury, a torn rotator cuff, would be routinely fixed today; in the 70s, it ended careers. Over the next four seasons, Fidrych would pitch in only 27 more games. His last big-league game was in 1980; his career record, 29-and-19.

I was sorry to hear of Fidrych’s accidental death at age 54 because we had something in common, the Bird and me—1976 was the best year he ever had, too.

The Church League

It occurs to me that this post has nothing to do with the ostensible subject of this blog apart from being part of The 1976 Project. So it goes. Click through to read it if you want, or not. Up to you.

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Juke Joint Night (Part 2)

Here’s the second part of a short story I wrote a few years ago about a young boy’s encounter with bluesman Robert Johnson. (Part 1 here.)

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Juke Joint Night

Several years ago, one of my clients asked me to write a bunch of historical fiction pieces. I do not consider myself a good writer of fiction, but I am good at cashing checks, so I wrote ’em.

Technically, my client owns the story I am about to post. But since I don’t make any money from this site and the readership is vanishingly small, I’m going to put it up anyhow and they can cease-and-desist me if they want. Although it’s about music and musicians, it’s on Off-Topic Tuesday because it’s fiction. Part 1 of the story is on the flip.

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Get the Action Goin’

(Pictured: Andrea True.)

We’re out driving on a stifling summer night. In the distance, we see some lights. It’s a fair or a festival or something, so let’s park and wander in.

Over there, a crowd of people are disco-dancing to a band. Gotta give ’em credit for workin’ it like they are, as hot as it is tonight. On the bandstand, beneath the lights, it’s even hotter. The band is sweating more than the dancers are, and the singer, who started the evening with big 70s hair that has now wilted in the humidity, is working harder than all of ’em. That’s not stopping her, though. Neither is the fact that she doesn’t sing very well—the band is into the music, the crowd is into it too, and at the height of summer, that’s enough to make a party. For this is the summer of 1976—disco is starting to happen, but the beat has yet to become mindless, and sweat is not yet merely a fashion accessory. The band is playing their biggest hit, and to the extent that it’s mindless, it’s at least mindless in a charming way. More important—to the dancers, and to us—it also has more than its share of erotic attraction. The latter is no accident. The singer has deliberately worn as little as possible to this particular gig. As it turns out, she’s got plenty of experience with that kind of thing.

Andrea True wanted to be a serious actress, but it didn’t work out that way, and although she can be spotted as an uncredited extra in The Way We Were, most of her film credits would be in adult films, such as Sexual Freedom in the Ozarks, The Wetter the Better, and Deep Throat Part II. In 1975, she found herself stuck in Jamaica, and while she was there, a friend who was also a record producer brought down a track he’d been working on. They ended up with a master tape of a song that contained a sly reference to her former career: “Get the cameras rollin’ / Get the action goin’.” Once they sold it to a label, it became the signature song of her career, “More More More.”

Andrea True was more than a one-hit wonder. Her first showbiz break, according to a story Casey Kasem told in 1976, was a local TV show she got as a teenager through her local chapter of Junior Achievement. (Her quick thinking while stuck in Jamaica is further indication of her head for business.) And she would hit the Hot 100 three more times. “New York You Got Me Dancing” would reach #27 in 1977; “What’s Your Name, What’s Your Number” would reach #56 in 1978. Her followup to “More More More” was a song called “Party Line.” It peaked at #80 on the Hot 100 late in the summer of 1976. I never heard it then, but it’s become a favorite since then, mostly because it sounds like six extra minutes of “More More More.”

(Check this November 1976 clip from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, in which she performs “More More More,” “Party Line,” and “Fill Me Up.”)

Even after her musical successes, she made a few more adult films, although by the late 70s she was considered a bit too old for prime roles. What happened to her after that is hazy. Her 2011 obituary said she had worked as an astrologer and a substance-abuse counselor.

At some point in the late 1970s, while I was still living at home, Andrea True played a bar gig in my hometown of Monroe, Wisconsin. I wasn’t old enough to get in, but I know she sang what had been one of the signature songs of my favorite summer.

(Rebooted from a 2007 post with some new material.)

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