A Dozen about the Dark

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by macmystery

 

NotDarkYet

“It’s Not Dark Yet, but it’s getting there.” — Bob Dylan

My friend Sandy posted something on her blog, Frazzled Daisy, about losing power for a few hours last night thanks to remnants of Hurricane Laura.

Her post brought back memories of when the power would go out when I was a kid, either because of thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes or ice storms, and the things my family and I would do to pass the time without electricity.

It also inspired me to pick out a dozen of my favorite songs about the dark, or at least that incorporate “dark” or “darkness” in the title. I’ve listed them in reverse from No. 12 to No. 1.

I’m sure I’ve failed to list some that others would include, but these are those that meant the most to me.

Enjoy. Or don’t. Either way, if you got this far, thanks for reading.

12. Whistling In The Dark, They Might Be Giants

This is a strange little tune – aren’t they all – off the band’s 1990 seminal release, Flood. Whistling in the dark is an oft-used phrase that holds numerous meanings, usually in reference to oxymorons or paradoxes. To speak knowingly of something despite possessing little actual knowledge about the subject. Or scraping up the courage to deal with a frightening, life-threatening or life-altering situation.

 

11. Promises In The Dark, Pat Benatar

The first lady of 1980s rock wrote this song with her guitarist and future husband Neil Giraldo. The subject matter is the scars from prior relationships and how they affect lovers’ current relationship.

“Just when you think you got it down, … Your heart securely tied and bound, … They whisper, promises in the dark.”

 

10. The Dark Side Of The Street, The Flying Burrito Brothers

A 1967 soul song written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman, this tune has been recorded by a number of prominent artists I listen to – Percy Sledge, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Aretha Franklin, Richard & Linda Thompson, Gregg Allman and Elvis Costello, to name a few. But it’s the version by the late Gram Parsons and his Flying Burrito Brothers that I’m talking about.

 

9. Dark Star, Crosby, Stills & Nash

A popular non-single off the trio’s No. 2 album CSN from 1977. Stephen Stills wrote and sings lead on this tune, which like many of his at the time dealt with his marital issues.

 

8. On The Dark Side, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band

This Springsteen-esque tune actually predated Born In The USA as it was released along with the movie “Eddie And The Cruisers” in 1983. Cafferty and crew were originally credited on the soundtrack as Eddie And The Cruisers. The move was a dud, staying in theaters for a whopping three weeks. And the song didn’t do much better, reaching No. 64 on Billboard Hot 100 chart. But when the move was re-released to video, the song shot to No. 7 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Rock Tracks chart. And it’s been repeatedly made famous at venues like Crybabies and The Fillin’ Station when my buddy Ken Szarek belts it out on karaoke night.

 

7. Shot In The Dark, Ozzy Osbourne

Written by Ozzy and bass player Phil Soussan, the song off 1986’s The Ultimate Sin album was one of Osbourne’s biggest chart hits. Soussan originally wrote the song with references to the 1964 Pink Panther film A Shot In The Dark. Ozzy reportedly changed the lyrics to make the song more night stalker-esque.

 

6. Dark As A Dungeon, Johnny Cash

A coal-mining lament written by country singer-songwriter-guitarist Merle Travis, it’s been covered by a who’s who of Americana artists – Cicso Houston, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Harry Belafonte, Grandpa Jones, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dolly Parton, The Weavers, The Seldom Scene, The Chieftains, Kathy Mattea, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, John Mellencamp and Bob Dylan only name about half. But it was Johnny Cash’s version from At Folsom Prison that is the ultimate. During the performance, several inmates start to laugh, causing Cash to chuckle and address them, “No laughing during the song. … It’s being recorded, I know, … Hell!” After the song, Cash makes the announcement, “I just wanted to tell you that this show is being recorded for an album released on Columbia Records, so you can’t say ‘hell’ or ‘shit’ or anything like that.”

 

5. Dark Hollow, The Grateful Dead

A 1958 folk song written and recorded by Bill Browning, the tune received two late-60s reworkings by bluegrass stars Mac Wiseman (1967) and Dr. Ralph Stanley (1969) and was later often covered by the likes of Bill Monroe and The Del McCoury Band. But the Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir made this their own on the 1973 live album History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. I (Bear’s Choice), though it was originally recorded Valentine’s Day 1970 at Fillmore East in New York City.

“I’d rather be in some dark hollow, where the sun don’t ever shine, … Than to be in some big city, in a small room with you on my mind.”

 

4. Fishin’ In The Dark, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Written by Wendy Waldman and Jim Photoglo, this 1987 ditty was The Dirt Band’s third No. 1 song, and the single has since gone platinum. I always found it interesting … many of the girls I knew in college of the sorority persuasion would talk of how they abhorred country music. Until you played this song. And then it was like someone screamed, “Hey white girls, let’s sing “Grease” songs at karaoke.” On another note, this is what Wikipedia has to say about the song’s content: “The premise of the song is a couple contemplating a late-night fishing expedition. Specifically, the adventurers plan to make their way to an undisclosed river and chart constellations during an evening in which a full moon is present. Furthermore, the tentative date for this excursion is set in the late spring to early summer.” Come on. We all know this song has nothing to do with fishing.

 

3. Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Bruce Springsteen

The title track from Springsteen’s fourth studio album, this 1978 song is emblematic of The Boss’ moving away from the romantic and youthful lyrics about escaping with girls in cars and toward the adult world where his song’s characters make a decision to stand their ground and fight for whatever it is they desire. And the consequences of winning and losing those fights. And it’s easily one of my top 10 favorite Springsteen songs.

“Well now some folks are born into a good life, and other folks get it anyway, anyhow, …
Well now I lost my money and I lost my wife, them things don’t seem to matter much to me now.
Tonight I’ll be on that hill ’cause I can’t stop! …
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got! …
With lives on the line where dreams are found and lost, I’ll be there on time and I’ll pay the cost, …
For wanting things that can only be found …
In the darkness on the edge of town.
In the darkness on the edge of town.”

 

2. Not Dark Yet, Bob Dylan

You knew there would be a Dylan song on here somewhere. A song on 1997’s masterpiece Time Out Of Mind, which won three Grammys, it was the album’s first single. I’ve read some things saying his writing on this song was inspired by Keats. Who knows? I don’t care. I care more that this was one of the three dozen or so songs featured over the closing credits on the three seasons of HBO’s Deadwood, a favorite of mine. It appears in Season 2, Episode 1, if you care about such things. It’s also mentioned in the movie High Fidelity, also a must-see. This is just a damn good song.

“She wrote me a letter, and she wrote it so kind. She put down in writing what was on her mind. I just don’t see why I even care. It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting’ there.”

 

1. Dancing In The Dark, Bruce Springsteen

If you know me, you had to know this would be No. 1. There are better songs on this list. But this one holds the most meaning. Written by Springsteen as an afterthought in a couple of hours, it was the biggest hit on the album that changed my musical world. And it was literally playing on the anesthesiologist’s radio when my son Dylan came into this world. It’s an upbeat pop song on an album full of songs that are depressing. But like the title track Born In The USA, the up tempo and passionate delivery belie the song’s true meaning. It’s an incredibly sad song. In Mary Chapin Carpenter’s cover version of this song, a 1990s live B-side, she introduces the song as a “bummer sad song by someone else.” (On a side note, find this version and listen!) Unfortunately, the emotions in this song are emotions with which I’m familiar.

“You can’t start a fire sitting around crying over your broken heart. Well, this gun’s for hire, even if we’re dancing in the dark.”

Oh, did I forget to mention Courtney Cox?

 

I can’t help but look back and be disappointed

Posted in Family, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2020 by macmystery

Two years ago last night, I, along with my kids, spent the night in my new-to-me house for the first time.

That, in and of itself, was quite an accomplishment. It was already almost two months after we closed, which was also delayed. Both bathrooms were torn out at the time of closing. Finally, by Aug, 24, there was one functioning, finished bathroom.

The delay in being able to move into the house played a part in the decision not to file for custody of Dylan and Ella. That was a tough decision then and I still go back and forth about what was the best thing to do.’ (I’ve since filed for custody.)

I had closed early in July. I had hoped Linda and I might “rough it” in the house on the first night. But circumstance had other ideas, and I didn’t see her until after midnight in what would be a pretty crappy week before a really crappy week, which I now know was even crappier than I was aware at the time.

Despite the circumstances at the time, I was hopeful. I finally felt like I was going in the right direction and there were good things ahead. I was in love, I was hopeful, I was optimistic. And a couple months later it all came crashing down.

And I tried hard to save it and thought we had, for a while at least. But a couple of bone-headed weeks for me were the last straws for Linda another couple months later and that was it. Though, to be fair, I believe now it simply wouldn’t have mattered. I think she intended to do what she did for a while and I just served it up for her.

And I’ve been in a hole ever since.

I’m well. My kids are well, happy and thriving, actually. I’ve taken a second job editing a weekly newspaper and I love it despite the stress.

But if I told you I was doing more than surviving, … getting by, … I’d be lying.

I penned a Facebook message two years ago tonight (Aug. 25, 2018) thanking my dad and Linda and friends who had helped me get to where I was after the hole I was in a couple years before.

You can’t tell the people you care about that you love them too often. You should do it at every opportunity. You never know when you won’t get another chance.

I must have read that note 15 times today. But I couldn’t share it. Though I still mean every word in that note, I can’t put it out there.

Looking back at that day and that note, it’s hard not to be disappointed at how things turned out. And I haven’t been able to just get over it.

I know all of this sounds cryptic. But I just needed to get it out. It’s for me, not you.

Despite the disappointment and all the other emotions I’m dealing with on a daily basis, I want to repeat the sentiment of what I wrote that day.

I want to thank my father, William McCombs, without whom I would be lost. Without fail, he has always been there for me. Everything I know about being a man, I learned from him.

Despite how things went and where they are now, I am grateful to Linda. More than I can express.

And I’m grateful to Dawn and Bryan and Ken and Fran and Erin and even Mike, though I’d be lying if I said that relationship wasn’t strained, as well.

At some point, I’ll get out of the hole. It’ll happen. I know it will. But until then, I’ll be here at the house, getting by.

This … is Jeopardy!

Posted in Internet, TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2020 by macmystery
Jeopardy_36_Hero

This … is Jeopardy! Well, … actually, it’s a pretty crappy little piece of art.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That’s what I did tonight. For the fourth year in a row, I tool the Jeopardy! online test in hopes of competing on the popular television quiz show.

All in all, I think I did well this time. That’s not really something I could say after the three previous attempts. But more about that later.

The test has changed since the last time I took it. I get the impression that the game has become even more popular, if that’s possible.

I would attribute that to the 2019 success of James Holzhauer. He went on an impressive 32-game run from April to June. He fell well short of the 75 episodes that Ken Jennings — widely considered the greatest Jeopardy champion of all-time and crowned as such in early 2020 — appeared on back in 2004.

But it wasn’t so much that Holzhauer won. It’s HOW he won. His gambling background, combined with his obvious breadth of knowledge, resulted in a much different strategy that most past champions had employed.

Rather than control the board and slowly accumulate money, methodically running through each category, Holzhauer would skip around the board attempting to find the Daily Double clues. And when he did find them, he would risk a lot of money and he would risk it early. He chose the most valuable clues first.

Often, his victories were runaways. He would risk all of his earnings, often doubling up — he was correct on 72 of the 76 Daily Double clues he hit during his 33 episodes — and leave his opponents desperately scrambling to earn enough money to even be in striking distance when Final Jeopardy! arrived.

Though he fell short of Jennings’ streak, he earned nearly as much money as Jennings in less than half as many episodes ($2,464,216 to $2,522,700) and claimed the record for largest one-game total winnings with $131,127.

He is the only player ever to earn at least $100,000 in an episode — he did it six times — and he was so confident in his Final Jeopardy! wagers, he often bet specific amounts so that his final total would be a significant number, like the birthdays of his daughter and wife.

Anyway, all of that was long-winded and was really just to point out how popular the show has become. After four weeks with Holzhauer as champion, Jeopardy’s ratings were up 30 percent.

So of course, more people are taking the test.

In years past, you would register for the test and be eligible to take it on the night of your choice — there were usually three options — during a week in the spring. Instead, with so many people attempting to take the test, Jeopardy! moved to allowing the test to be taken anytime.

The tests contain 50 questions. Prospective contestants are given 15 seconds to answer each. Unlike the show, you do not have to phrase it in the form of a question, and spelling does not count. The 50 questions come from 50 different categories.

And the questions can be tough. You don’t get a gimme category.

It pays not to get flustered. It snowballs. The first time I took it, that’s exactly what happened. I might have gotten a third of the answers correct, missing many questions I knew the answers to because I panicked. When I finished, I knew it was a disaster.

The next two attempts were better — I got more than half right each time — but that’s not nearly enough. If you pass the online test, you’re invited to an in-person audition where you’re given another test. You must get 35 or more right to advance to a full session, where you’ll play a shortened game of Jeopardy! and undergo a personality test.

I had a friend, Jason, with whom I worked at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. He passed the first test and was invited to the in-person audition. That’s as far as he got though.

So, if 35 right answers are required in the second stage, it’s probably a safe assumption it’s the same threshold for the first online test.

And that leaves me guessing. Unlike my first three attempts, I know I got well over half right. I know I got more than 30. But 35 … it’s gotta be right there.

Unlike the practice test, you don’t see the right answers after the test. So it’s very hard to know with certainty how you did.

And then Jeopardy! reserves a 12-month window during which the producers can invite you to an in-person audition.

Or not.

I guess I’ll know by this time next year.

 

Hoyt Axton and … George Clinton

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2020 by macmystery
HoytAxtonSouthbound

Hoyt Axton’s 1975 album Southbound.

I bought a couple of used records last week by Hoyt Axton.

I’m not sure if most of you guys know who he is, but his mother Mae wrote Heartbreak Hotel.

Axton wrote Three Dog Night‘s Joy To The World — you know, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!  It was No. 1 for 6 weeks — and Never Been To Spain. He wrote Steppenwolf‘s The Pusher.

He had a top-10 country duet with Linda Ronstadt in 1974 called “When the Morning Comes.” And he had minor hits of his own, most notably Boney Fingers and Della and the Dealer.

(More trivia … he is the man who sang the Busch Beer jingle in the 1980s … And he was the father in Gremlins, among his many film appearances.)

Anyway, enough dawdling, Axton was mostly known for folk-country that was a bit outside the mainstream. He had a few hits and wrote a few for others.

So I look at the liner notes of the Southbound album from 1975 and it says, “Piano — George Clinton.” I was like WTF!?!?

So, I looked it up and sure enough, it was THAT George Clinton. So if anyone ever asks you, you can wow them with the knowledge that George Clinton actually played on a country album.

And don’t forget Hoyt Axton sang the Busch Beer jingle.

We lost John Prine

Posted in History, Music, Uncategorized with tags , on April 8, 2020 by macmystery
John-Prine-ASC-600x350

John Prine

There is absolutely nothing I can write in this space that will do my subject justice.

The world lost John Prine tonight.

I don’t have a plan for this, I’m just going to get a lot of thoughts down. I am heartbroken.

At this point, he had been ill two weeks or so. He and his wife, Fiona, had caught the coronavirus. She recovered. John, a two-time cancer survivor, did not.

I can’t tell you exactly when I discovered his music. I would tell you it was sometime during my teen years in the late 1980s. I was aware and a fan of Bonnie Raitt. And of course to be a fan of Bonnie Raitt means you had to have heard Angel From Montgomery, one of John’s best songs.

Grandpa Was A Carpenter made an appearance on the second Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Will The Circle Be Unbroken album. I had seen him on Austin City Limits. My hero, Bruce Springsteen, had appeared on Jesus, The Missing Years.

I’m not sure which of those happened first. It doesn’t matter. Once you realized how good he was, you were hooked. There aren’t many songwriters in this world that Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan revere. John Prine was one.

My current favorite, Jason Isbell, revered Prine.

“Well a question ain’t really a question if you know the answer, too.”

I was lucky enough to see Prine twice. The first time at the Peace Center in Greenville. Old Crow Medicine Show opened. My ex-wife and I saw him with my friends Chris and Bridget. He was at his best. He sang all the songs I really loved. You can see your favorite artists a handful of times and never be lucky enough to see a show like we saw that night.

The second time, Jason Isbell opened for him in Savannah. My friend Justin had seen Isbell but not Prine. I had seen Prine, of course, but it was my first Isbell show. I was really late getting off work, then we were sidetracked between Bluffton and Savannah by a huge wreck. By the time we got there, I got to hear four Jason Isbell songs. But Jjustin got to hear the whole Prine set. And I’m certain he’s thankful.

His songs were filled with honesty and a dry wit and somehow, they always seemed familiar. And generous.

I wrote just the other day that John’s 1971 self-titled debut was the greatest debut album ever. Fight me. The track listing reads like a greatest hits package. But it wasn’t. Just a perfect record.

Sam Stone. Spanish Pipedream. Illegal Smile. Hello In There. Paradise. Donald and Lydia. Angel From Montgomery. Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.

Damn.

Over the next couple of days, we’re going to hear a lot of artists, a lot of writers, a lot of fans talk about how great John Prine was. I’m glad that he got to hear a little of this toward the end of his life.

While Prine was content to make great music in the shadows of the big record labels, it’s only right that at thend he got the Grammys and the Americana awards he deserved. And it’s good there were artists like Isbell, who revered John and sought him out and made him their friend. I hope there was something satisfying in it for John.

I am devastated. John Prine was an artist. Not a family member or a friend. But on so many lonely nights or long car trips, he was one of the people there talking to me. And I will forever cherish what he had to say.

The world is a slightly less good place than it was a few hours ago.