The Dichotomy of the Dog

An All-Purpose Blog

5Ws/1H (January 1-7, 2013)
I'm probably too tired to do this, so let's get right to it, shall we?

Who? R.E.M. and Los Lobos. Last Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to make a quick trip to my favorite record store, the Princeton Record Exchange, which is in Princeton, New Jersey, about an hour and 20 minutes away from my house. Due to that distance, it is an indulgence for me to visit PREX (as it's sometimes called) so I don't go there often, but always enjoy when it when I do.

I didn't get to PREX until about 8:00 Saturday evening and they close at 9:00, but I had some CDs to trade in and subsequent store credit to use and I just had time to do it. What surprised me a little bit was what I picked up: the 25th anniversary edition of R.E.M.'s classic album, Document and a four-disc Los Lobos box set that I never got around to acquiring upon its release back in 2000. Of course, I love both of these bands. R.E.M. is my favorite band ever, though I think from a purely musical point of view I may love Los Lobos even more than I love R.E.M. I was briefly taken aback by these choices, given that I could have gone in any musical direction at all, based on what was surrounding me at PREX and I went with the utterly familiar. But I realized that, as musically adventurous as I can be, there is something quite comforting and even life-affirming about going with a choice you know by heart.

What? Applebee's gift cards. We had been given Applebee's gift cards for Christmas. We use this annual gift when we go out with Mom and Lisa's to celebrate my dad's birthday, which was December 30. The gift cards went missing sometime before the 30th, which caused me no uncertain angst that particular morning, as I was scrambling to find them. Finally located them tonight. In Chris' bedroom. With a box of Keurig coffees that Mom gave us for Christmas. We need to get organized.

When? 2013. I want to make something good and solid out of the coming year and I'm feeling a bit of frustration that, eight days into, I feel like I haven't made as dynamic start of it as I would have liked. But I need to be patient and persistent so that I can take advantage of the optimum moments to make things happen. This sounds cryptic, I know, but hopefully as the year continues and, as I continue these blog updates, certain projects that I can say more about may emerge.

Where? Bryn Athyn. Earlier on Saturday, before my solo jaunt to Princeton, Donna, Chris and I took a somewhat impromptu trip to find the Bryn Athyn Thrift Shop in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. This is a small town we'd never visited before and didn't really know a whole lot about, but the thrift shop, located in a rehabbed barn, sounded interesting. Imagine our surprise then, to discover that the central attraction in Bryn Athyn is a gothic-styled cathedral, built in the early 20th century as the home of worship for members of the New Church, a denomination founded by Emanuel Swedenborg in the 18th century. Not far from the church was another imposing structure called Glencairn, which contains a museum of religious history and art. So we visited both of those architectural wonders in addition to having our thrift shopping experience. It was a great afternoon, which might not have even happened had I not known that the thrift shop was selling VHS notes (the boxes of which I turn into notebooks) for just a nickel apiece on Saturday.

Why? Why always seems like the hardest question. And lately, it seems like the least important. But that could change.

How? I feeling, you ask? OK. Tired. Disorganized. Overwhelmed. But also wanting to find a way to break through all that. And I think I will, but it'll be a gradual process.

5Ws/1H--2012/Post-Holiday Edition
Sometime early last year, I had the idea that it would be fun to have a regular update entry on this blog called "5Ws/1H" to cover the who, what, when, where, why and how of my life at that moment. This idea really appealed to me, so I'm going to try to bring it back for 2013. A shout-out to Brian for his subtle encouragement to keep this blog alive.

So, here we go. This first "5Ws/1H" entry will probably be brief and a little scattershot, but it'll be a start.

Who? The Monkees. As Donna and I sit in our living room this New Year's Day evening, with our Christmas tree a-twinklin', we're listening to the very first album by the Monkees. Thanks to Donna's mom, I had an opportunity to pick up an inexpensive no-frills box set of the "Prefab Four's" first five albums. I've always enjoyed the hits, but it's nice to delve a little deeper into the discography. The box set is part of what's called the "original album series," which seems to be a last-ditch attempt by Warners/Rhino to package their catalog in CD format for those of us who still aren't quite comfortable with the world of downloaded music. In any event, the Monkees are fun.

What? Cuban pork chops. It's the pork we had for dinner tonight, to satisfy the pork-on-New-Year's tradition/superstition without having sauerkraut, which none of us like. Here's the recipe: mix together about a 1/2 cup of orange juice, 1/4 cup of lime juice, one chopped onion, one chopped clove of garlic, and a 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and cilantro. Marinate pork chops in the mixture for about 10-15 minutes on each side. Brown chops in a pan. Add marinate to the pan. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. In the summer, you can leave the pork chops in marinade all day in the refrigerator and throw them on the grill when you get home from work. Enjoy. Thanks to Donna for dictating the recipe over the sound of both the Monkees and our super-needy dog.

When? 2012. It was a year. Some aspects of it were really tough and I'm hoping to improve in those areas in the coming year. But there were positive moments to 2012 and those are how I plan to remember the year. Now on to 2013!

Where? Laurel Hill Cemetery. If there was one location, other than my own home, that influenced my 2012, it would have to be Laurel Hill Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark cemetery in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. The day after President's Day last year was the first time I ever visited Laurel Hill and now I am a certified volunteer tour guide there and will be giving my first solo tour at the end of this month. As a lifelong lover of cemeteries, I am very happy to have finally found Laurel Hill and met all of the interesting and cool people associated with it.

Why? Why continue this blog when I've all but abandoned it? This is a good question. I hope the answer will become self-evident, both to me and anyone who happens to keep up with this blog, as these weekly entries are compiled.

How? How do I intend to use this "5Ws/1H" method/gimmick, you may be asking? The idea is that I'll do this on a weekly basis, each Tuesday night, just as a means of catching up with myself. I've got some fairly specific ideas about where I take the "creative" part of my life over the next year. I wasn't initially sure of how this blog would work into that but I have a suddenly revived interest in finding out. Again, thanks to Brian for that.

See you next week.

A Cheap Red Wine Tribute to John Cage

Rich's Daily Record 001: 333 Words About Tom Jones Sings "She's a Lady"
Here is an experiment. Using my highly classified techniques, I'm going to pick a vinyl record album from my collection, give it a listen, then write a little bit about it. I've occasionally done this before, but here's the experimental part: since were talking about 33 1/3 RPM albums, each of these entries will be exactly 333 words long.

Here's the first one, 333 words about 1971's Tom Jones Sings "She's a Lady":

I can trace my enthusiasm for records all the way back to where it began: I was probably about seven years old and I had this little toy record player, along with a handful of 45 r.p.m. singles. A few of these singles featured a colorful parrot on the label, obviously the symbol of Parrot Records.

The Parrot Records happened to be Tom Jones singles. I don’t know that I had a clear idea who Tom Jones was at that point, but I do have vague memories of watching the parrot on the label spin around as Tom Jones crooned about a “Daughter of Darkness.” I liked the parrot.

At first, Tom Jones was all about the parrot for me. And that parrot was one of the elements that started me on a lifetime of record collecting.

Flash forward 20 years. By now, I know exactly who Tom Jones is. One day, as my wife Donna and I are strolling around a flea market in a shopping center parking lot near the Northeast Philadelphia intersection of Cottman Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard, I am excited to discover someone selling an entire stack of vintage Tom Jones Parrot albums for cheap.

I still owned those earliest singles in my collection, but the allure of stocking up on so much classic Tom at one time was more than I could handle. Or, perhaps, I accumulated the records over the course of more than just one visit to the flea market. In either case, I was soon the owner of a fine Tom Jones collection.

Tom Jones Sings “She’s a Lady” is one of those albums. By the time he rolled this one out, Tom Jones was sexy and he knew it. He probably even worked out, just like those LMFAO guys. Tom was at the top of his Tom Jones Game and he knew it, with a title track that allegedly features Jimmy Page on lead guitar and became Jones’ highest-charting hit in the United States.

The Copco Lake Guys and the Art of Time Standing Still
You've probably seen the story this week about the five guys who took a photo of themselves at a lake back in 1982 when they were 19 years old. They have restaged the photo every five years since then.

The same five guys. The same location, Copco Lake in California.

This is a classic feel good story that happened to emerge during a week when it seems as though many people needed something to feel happy about.

I read about these guys on CNN's website and enjoyed the story, without thinking about it too much in that moment. However, I have found with the passage of a day or so, that the story has really gotten into my head and heart.

What I'm finding is that the stories that have emerged on CNN and elsewhere and, of course, the photos themselves, are creating more questions in my head than they are answering. I find myself wondering about the demographics of these five guys: what are their political, social, religious views? How have these views changed over the decades and how have those changes affected the dynamic of the friendships?

And then there are questions like "I wonder who each guy in these photos considers his best friend among the other four?" and "How does the friendship dynamic change when two, three or four of the guys are together with the rest not around?" And, of course, it's hard not to wonder if there haven't been fallings out through the years.

Lots of questions emerge, which are wisely not answered by the photos themselves. And, while I have those questions, ultimately I don't think I want to know the answers, as this is really none of my business.

What emerges from the photos is the fact that five guys who have apparently known each other most of their lives still like hanging out together. And that is all we really need to know.

I do know that if I had been part of a photo like this with four of my friends when I was 19 (in 1984) that I can very clearly tell you who two of the other guys in that photo would have been but I can't say for certain who the other two would be, as some of my friendships were in a state of flux at that point. I can also say that, once the five-year-tradition started, there surely would have been years in which not all of five of us would have showed up. In some of those years, I would have been the one who chose to miss the picture.

None of the five Copco Lake guys have ever missed a five-year photo.

In the wake of the media attention, some readers/viewers have focused on the toll the years have taken on some/all of the Copco Lake guys. I understand the interest in that, especially given how superficial we all can be about physical appearance, but again I'm way more fascinated by the many, many strands of experience and memory and friendship that the photos represent than I am by how paunchy or gray-haired some of the Copco guys may have gotten. And anyway, being in the same general age bracket as these guys, I've got my own gray hairs and other signs of the aging process to confront.

Some people might look at the Copco Lake photos as some kind of exercise in nostalgia but to me this is just as much about now and the future as it is about the past. The photos (and more importantly, the process of making sure they get taken every five years) remind me very much of the Rush song, "Time Stand Still," in which the narrator notes:

"I'm not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now."

Yes, of course, the Copco Lake guys have a shared past that bonds them, but they seem pretty comfortable being friends with each other as they find themselves now. And I guess that is what will allow the friendships to move forward into the future. That seems to be what would allow any of our friendships to move through our lives with us, rather than become static memories.

In any event, I consider myself lucky to have made many great friends throughout my lifetime, and even luckier to realize that nearly every one of those friendships still exists in some form (even those friendships that got bruised a bit or went dormant for awhile along the way). The Copco Lake guys are reminding me that I really ought to celebrate the friendships I have and to see to it that these friendships live as much in the present as they are rooted in the past.

Thanks for that reminder, Copco Lake guys.

You can see the Copco Lake guys' photos here:

5Ws/1H (6/2-8/12)
Several months ago, I posted a couple of weekly entries I called "5Ws/1H." The point was that, calling on my journalism degree, I'd begin posting entries that answered the essential questions: who?, what?, when?, where?, why? and how? for that particular week. I really liked those entries, so here's another, covering the past week.

Who? Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson and Coach Joe Gibbs are the NASCAR stars Chris and I met last week when we drove down to Delaware for the Dover 400 at the Dover International Speedway in (naturally) Dover. My mom had gotten us tickets to go to the race, which was was having a special program for familes with kids on the autism spectrum.
Coach Joe Gibb and Chris. Chris is holding the coach's Super Bowl ring.
Chris with Jamie McMurray

Chris with Jimmie Johnson, who went on to win the Dover 400.

Chris and I both had a great time. It was fun meeting the racers and Coach Gibbs (and bonus points for Jimmie Johnson going on to win the race) and there were many activities to keep Chris and the other kids occupied when they weren't as interested in the race.

Being in the indoor grandstand cut down on the noise, the crowd and the sun and that was helpful as well. We even met another family who lives in our area and I hope we're able to keep in touch as Chris and their son clearly had a bit in common.



The best part was seeing what a great time Chris and the other kids had. The race is exactly the kind of event I couldn't have imagined taking Chris to just a few years ago so finding out that he was having so much fun he wanted to stay until the end (even after I warned him the traffic would be awful) to find out who won is, quite simply, way beyond encouraging.

What? Wednesday night was Jimmy's promotion ceremony from Phoenixville Middle School to the high school and we could not have been prouder of him. He earned academic awards (including a President's Education Award), a student of the month citation (from February) and a special recognition award for excellence in citizenship, which I think says all that needs to be said about his core character (and I'd say that even if I wasn't his dad).

Seeing other parents we've now known for years, there were the requisite "where did those 14 years go?" but the night was mostly about the kids. I did get a little emotional at one point (damn that Green Day song! No, really, I like it.) mostly thinking how proud my dad would be of Jim now.

Way to go, Jim!




When? Last Saturday was my 47th birthday. I celebrated by listening to records and I'm still listening. One record for each year since 1965. I'm up to 1988 now, k.d. lang's Patsy Cline homage, Shadowland.

My listening has outrun the blog entry in which I'm scribbling a few sentences about each record, but I'll get caught up on that over time.

The night of my birthday, all four of us headed to the Colonial Theater in downtown Phoenixville to see Chaos at the Colonial, a program of Mystery Science Theater 3000-inspired antics hosted by the creator of MST3K himself, Joel Hodgson.


The fun included a showing of our favorite MST3K episode (and Joel's as well), in which Joel and the 'bots skewer a mid-1940s cautionary melodrama called I Accuse My Parents.

I couldn't have had a more fun birthday.

Where? Well, this is going back beyond the past week, but I've been spending a bit of time at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia this spring. I'm in the early stages of training to become a tour guide, which essentially means I'm going on tours of the cemetery. Way back on Cinco de Mayo, Chris and I went for a tour of the south section of Laurel Hill. The tour guide was Russ Dodge, a military historian who is known for his work as one of the top administrators of the Find-a-Grave website. It was an excellent tour and I'm looking forward to heading back to Laurel Hill this Wednesday to meet some fellow graveyard enthusiasts who I've come to know virtually but have yet to meet in person. Should be fun.

Chris' Laurel Hill highlight was visiting the grave of Titanic victim William Dulles. Dulles was in his late 30s when he died on Titanic. Dulles' body was recovered and he is buried with his parents in a small (by Laurel Hill standards, anyway) mausoleum.

Why? Why? is just way too metaphysical for me to tackle right at this point. But I'll give it a shot next week, maybe.

How? So, you ask, how does it feel to not make the short list for my 33 1/3 book proposal on K-tel's Dynamite album?


It was disappointing to not make it from the initial 470some proposals down to the 94 that made the short list (which will be narrowed down to about 20 proposals before too long), but I was glad that I gave it a shot and I'm indebted to my friend Ed for his great encouragement. It was fun and I'll try again next time. Meanwhile, I hope I can get back to rating the K-tel albums as I was doing here earlier this year in the wake of the classic Columbia Hotel K-tel Symposium.

My next creative project goal: finally get Surreal Record Hop, my collection of Cool and Strange Music Magazine articles published. Stay tuned!

Rich's 47th Birthday Year-by-Year Record Album Marathon
I just woke up on this, my 47th birthday, with a cool idea. I'm going to start listening to one album from each year since 1965, the one in which I was born. I'll report the results throughout the day right here on this blog (and on Facebook as well). Each of the records will be a favorite of mine, though not necessarily my favorite from that year.

I'll be starting with a classic album by a classic band and ending with the brand new release by one of my Phoenixville neighbors. How cool is that?

Of course, I can't listen to 'em all in one day, but let's see how far I get. I've got a pretty open day until our trip to the Colonial Theater this evening.

OK then. Happy Birthday to me! Let's go!

1965: Rubber Soul--The Beatles. I'm listening to the original British version, mostly because that's what I've currently got on my MP3 player. I grew up with a vinyl copy of the American version and that is actually what I prefer, since I think it retains an intimate folk-rock throughout, which is quite as apparent (to me, anyway) in the UK version. But, British or American, it's still one of the greatest albums ever.

1966: Pet Sounds--The Beach Boys. Appropriately, Brian Wilson has stated that Pet Sounds was inspired by Rubber Soul, so this is an excellent follow-up to the '65 album. Of course, the Beatles Revolver would be even better, I guess, but I'm setting the rule that each artist will only be represented once in the marathon. Any anyway, what better record to listen to on a nice June morning than Pet Sounds. I know some people who feel that this record (which still tops "greatest albums of all time lists") is overrated, but God only knows that I like it just fine.

1967: Are You Experienced?--The Jimi Hendrix Experience. My first exposure to Hendrix came via my dad, who was a fan. I think I may have been the one to give him the Smash Hits compilation, which was the go-to Hendrix album around our house. In fact, it was the only Hendrix album Dad owned, until much later, when I think I might have given him some of the other compilations that were released in the '90s. However, a few years ago, when Hendrix's studio albums were re-released, I felt like I needed experience Hendrix beyond the "hits" so I picked up the CDs and I'm very glad that I did. This one, the 1967 debut, is filled with songs I recognized from my early listening to Smash Hits--"Purple Haze," "Manic Depression," "The Wind Cries Mary," "Fire," the titanic "Hey Joe" and other epic tunes--but of course the whole album is worth hearing. I can only wonder what it was like to hear this album for the first time in the days after it was released in 1967. I imagine all these music fans walking around with their jaws on the floor after immersing themselves in Are You Experienced?.

1968: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society--The Kinks. The Kinks are a band that I really do love but, for whatever reason, hardly ever listen to. So it made sense to let the Kinks prevail over some pretty heavy hitters to take the 1968 slot. Like Hendrix, I had been fairly content knowing just the Kinks hits but over the years, I wanted to hear more. I have to admit that it was the use of "Picture Book" in a commercial that tipped the scales toward me finally picking up Village Green. I remember being quite adamant in the '80s about disliking the use of classic songs in commercials, and I still don't like the practice all that much, but it sometimes serves a function other than persuading me to buy some product having nothing to do with the song in question. Anyway, all hail the Kinks!

1969: Nashville Skyline--Bob Dylan. This was one of Dad's favorite records so even if it wouldn't top any list of Greatest Dylan Records Ever, it stands to reason that it's one of my favorite records as well. I remember hearing this brief, country-influenced album playing many times around our house when I was young. Listening to it now, I realize how much I learned from Nashville Skyline, if only through osmosis: 1) it introduced me to Johnny Cash, who sings with Dylan on "Girl from the North Country; 2) it and the Greatest Hits album introduced me to Dylan himself; 3) it probably gave me a good first impression of country music, even if it isn't "hard country;" 4) it probably taught me, as I listened over the years, that a collected group of songs doesn't have to Make A Statement to make a statement, if you know what I mean; 5) it gave me the knowledge that Dylan enjoys spending his nights with Peggy Day and his days with Peggy Night; and, 6) it pointed out to me that Bob Dylan loves his country pie, whether it is raspberry, strawberry, lemon or lime (what does Bob care?). Mostly, listening to it at least 40 years after I first heard it, Nashville Skyline's greatest revelation to me is that memories involving music, home, family and one's early life are so strong and warm and real that they'll bring tears to your eyes if you let them. And why not let them now and then?

K-tel Presents...Dynamite!
Earlier this spring, I had an opportunity to write a proposal for the esteemed 33 1/3 book series. Each book in the series is a short volume written about a specific record album. I proposed writing a book on the 1974 K-tel compilation, Dynamite!, which was one of the first albums I owned.

A total of 471 book proposals were submitted and today the first cut happened taking that number down to 91. Sadly,
Dynamite! didn't make the short list.

While I'm feeling a twinge of disappointment, I am happy that I got the proposal together and submitted it. It got me thinking (and writing) about something that I care about and that is always a good thing.

Thanks to Ed and Donna, the Columbia Hotel K-tel Symposium members and to Mark Eichelberger, who is directly responsible for the last sentence in the first paragraph, "I'll just have to let those dice fall where they may."

But enough of my yakking. Here is my proposed first chapter of

K-Tel Presents…Dynamite

I’m drinking Paul Masson Rose wine out of a Pokémon Squirtle glass and listening to a 38-year-old K-tel International compilation album. This may not end well. On the other hand, it may turn out very well. I’ll just have to let those dice fall where they may.

What exactly am I doing here?

Am I trying to crack an integral code of my childhood? That's a possibility,
though it's not just my childhood. It's the collective childhood of nearly
every kid who grew up in the United States (and many other countries) in
the 1970’s.

Am I trying to work through some kind of midlife crisis? (I will soon be 47
years old, after all). This is the type of midlife crisis that manifests itself not
with an interest in sports cars and much younger women, but in an
obsession with old K-tel albums and the nonfiction books about UFOs and
other mysterious events that I used to read as a kid. If this is true, it is
either the coolest or the lamest midlife crisis of all-time. In typical midlife
crisis fashion, I can't decide which it is.

Am I trying to find some point in my distant past at which I can stop, pause
for a minute and recalibrate, after a complicated decade in which words
like “cancer” and “autism” became a much more regular part of my
vocabulary than they had ever been before? A K-tel album that I know by
heart could be a strangely effective key to an uncluttered mind.

Am I trying to work out how a K-tel album—pick your own personal
favorite, but I have one specific record in mind—can tell you as much
about the 1970's as any "real" album by Joni Mitchell or Elton John or Led
Zeppelin can?

Am I’m trying to get inside the heads of the people who compiled K-tel
albums, just to figure out what they were thinking when they juxtaposed
the maudlin “Seasons in the Sun” with the salacious “Rock’n’Roll Hoochie

Or is this all just a bunch of post-baby boomer/pre Gen X-er nostalgia? (I
kind of hope not; I’m somewhat allergic to the concept of nostalgia.)

I suspect the answer lies in a combination of all of this.

I have had K-tel revivals before, but let me tell you how this latest one began.

One Saturday night in January 2012, six middle-aged pop music fans, basking in the pure pop glow of an intimate Marshall Crenshaw show at the Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, headed down Bridge Street for a nightcap in the Columbia Hotel bar. There, over the course of the next hour, an impromptu symposium occurred. The subject: K-tel albums.

While no official paper has yet been published as a result of this gathering,
several important topics were clearly discussed:

1. The cheerful gaudiness of K-tel commercials, with the scrolling lists of
songs/artists and the promise of “20 Original Hits! 20 Original Stars!
Available at Korvettes!”

2. The ubiquity of hairdresser-turned-proto-disco-idol Disco Tex, who could most often be found “truckin’ with his Sex-O-Lettes.”

3. The K-Tel/Casey Kasem connection, particularly as it related to the
formation of young impressionable pop music consumers circa 1974-1980.

4. The fact that “these kids today” don’t know a thing about K-tel, even as
they’ve grown up with K-tel’s inevitable descendents, the NOW That’s
What I Call Music

As a result of this First Annual K-Tel Album Appreciation Symposium, I pulled out the collection of “As Seen On TV” records I’ve been compiling over a lifetime devoted to odd record collecting. I’m talking about K-tel records, of course, but Ronco and Adam-VIII collections as well. I vowed that I’d listen to each of these records, beginning to end. Of course, since this is the 21st century, I’d then blog about them, reviewing each record and rating the songs to come up with a composite score for each album. Then maybe I’d pit them against each other in some kind of March Music Madness bracket competition.

Trouble is, I kept getting hung up on one particular K-Tel album.

Dynamite. 20 Explosive Hits!

Released sometime in 1974, Dynamite is a record album filled with songs that concern themselves with the following: Crime. Business. Travel. Gratitude.
Justice. Hollywood. Parties gone bad. More travel. Sex. Class. Death. Drugs.
Forbidden romance. Dancing. Relationships. God. Love. More sex. Even more
sex. And less forbidden romance, which just had to lead to some sweet
lovemaking because, hell, the Stylistics are singing about it and practically
everything the Stylistics sing about leads to sweet lovemaking. Or ought to.

Mostly though, Dynamite is about music. 20 Original Songs. 20 Original Artists.

Dynamite is one of the first albums I ever owned. Still own it, in fact. After 38 years, I still have my original copy of Dynamite. In all the trawling through record stores and thrift shops I’ve done throughout my life, I don’t believe I ever seen another copy of Dynamite, other than my own, though of course they’ve got to be out there somewhere.

Dynamite opens with perhaps the most grating intro to a Billboard Top 40 #1 hit song ever: the wailing sirens leading to Paper Lace’s wildly fictional Al Capone story song, “The Night Chicago Died.” It ends with the quiet balladry of the aforementioned Stylistics, imploring “Let’s Put It All Together,” in a way that does indeed tie the album together nicely.

In those songs and the other 18, a careful listener can find all kinds of musical and cultural clues to what life was like in 1974. And I can certainly find some hints about my life as an eight-year-old Catholic kid living in the Philadelphia suburbs.

While an exact release date might not be known, sometime during the year Richard Nixon left the White House and Gerald Ford took his place, a commercial began popping up, probably at seriously annoying intervals, inviting music fans to purchase Dynamite for just $5.99 for the LP, $6.99 for the 8-track tape. I can picture myself now, eight years old, sitting on the green couch in the living room and watching Speed Racer on UHF stations late in the afternoons,
with Speed’s adventures being periodically interrupted by the clarion call of K-tel:
“20 Original Songs! 20 Original Artists!”

I don’t know whether I specifically asked for Dynamite but I believe the album fell into my hands that Christmas. My memory has eroded to the point that I needed to speak to family members to recall any details they might have on how I received the LP. My initial thought was that “Santa Claus” brought the album, along with a variety of board games, books and G.I. Joe paraphenalia.

However, my sister Lisa provided a different, entirely plausible scenario: that Santa, as was his custom in those years, actually left Dynamite at my
grandmother’s house, where I came to collect it, along with a smallish collection
of other goodies, on Christmas night. While I don’t specifically remember it
happening this way, for some reason, this story resonates with me as indeed the
true story of how Dynamite first hit me.

Dynamite is, for me, an early part of a musical continuum. I already had a little stack of 45s, passed down from my young aunts. These included Otis Redding’s “(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay,” the Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain,” and a handful of Tom Jones’ Parrot label hits. From a very young age, I enjoyed playing them on a toy record player and they left a deep impression, to the point where “Dock of the Bay” is still my favorite song ever.

I had a few hand-me-down LPs, which included polka and honky-tonk piano records. I even had a beat-up American version of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, the track listing of which still makes infinitely more sense to me than the “official” British release.

And, of course, I had a couple early Sesame Street albums, though I would be in my 40s before I'd acquire the elusive My Name is Roosevelt Franklin LP.

Other, more “important” records followed in the wake of Dynamite: Elton John's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Blondie's Parallel Lines. R.E.M.'s Murmur. The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime. And many more.

But Dynamite is essentially where all of this began for me.

Of course, I can’t necessarily talk about how it felt to be listening to Dynamite for the first time because I honestly don’t remember tearing away the shrink wrap and placing the needle on the record for the first time. At that moment, as the record began to play, how many of the songs had I already heard during their runs up the pop charts earlier in the year?

While of course I was familiar with “The Night Chicago Died,” it is doubtful I knew anything about “Meet Me on the Corner Down at Joe’s Café,” by former
Herman’s Hermits vocalist Peter Noone, or Nazareth’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s
“This Flight Today,” the first time I heard them on Dynamite. In fact, decades later,
I can’t say I’ve ever heard either of those songs outside the context of Dynamite.

And, as it turns out, context is what K-tel is all about, though I’m not sure that’s what the folks at K-tel intended when they threw these 20 original hits together.

I converted my Dynamite LP to a set of 20 Original MP3s! 20 Original Stars! in the wake of the Columbia Hotel symposium. I’ve listened to it several times since then. The years have been relatively kind to the record’s physical condition: while it sounds crunchy throughout, there is only one song where I actually had to run over to the turntable and lift the needle during the MP3 conversion process. That song is, inexplicably, “Save the Last Dance For Me” by the DeFranco Family Featuring Tony DeFranco. I can’t see myself playing that one to death back in ‘74/’75, but Tony and Family’s Drifters’ cover is creased with a huge gash on my album.

The music on Dynamite was mine, in a way that music had not been mine before. While I grew up with parents who enjoyed and played music around the house—Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder and bluegrass band The Seldom Scene for Dad, Jim Croce, Mac Davis and Willie Nelson for Mom—Dynamite was what I’d listen to when I’d retreat to my upstairs bedroom.

This might have been why I clicked out the letters R I C H on my DYMO label maker and placed my name, backed by a groovy ‘70s design, at a jaunty angle on the label of side two. Ostensibly I applied this label on the record so no one would steal it, or otherwise think it belonged to them, but ultimately I was making a statement. Saying, for the first time in my life: “This is my music!”

Philip Kives, the man behind K-tel, relates the history of his company on the K-tel website ( Born in Oungre, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1929, Kives grew up in a poor, rural environment. Kives showed an early entrepreneurial streak, when, as an eight-year-old, he set up a trap line and began to sell his own furs.

Eventually, Kives began selling a variety of items door-to-door. He was good at it and in 1965, he sold one million “Feather-Touch Knives” through a television ad in Australia. Kives progressed from knives and other household implements to music, hitting it big with a 25 Polka Classics album in the late 1960s that paved the way for the K-tel deluge of the ‘70s.

Kives was essentially out to make few bucks, and apparently he did. But did he ever contemplate the way he was shaping the musical tastes of his young record buyers?

I am going to examine Dynamite song by song, in the order in which the K-tel International presented it to us in 1974. That is to say, I’m going to listen to it in listen to it in sequence, they way we’d listen to a proper album by the Beatles or Pink Floyd or any other artist in the canon. In this way, we can contemplate the songs and artists who created them; the way each song fit into the mid-1970s template of pop music and pop culture; the way the songs interact with each other, if in fact they do; how each track may have sounded to an eight-year-old boy and how they sound to a 47-year-old man; and perhaps even the Nature of
Life, as filtered through a randomly (?) sequenced set of pop songs that are now
nearly 40 years old.

I’d love for you to sit down with me here in Phoenixville, as I listen to Dynamite. I’d even pour you some Paul Masson wine, though sadly, I have only one Pokémon glass. Since that’s not practical though, I’ll try to describe the experience as best I can.

As the needle drops, the first sound we hear are sirens embedded within the ancient vinyl’s scratchiness. It must be the night Chicago died…

Cheap Red Wine, May 6, 2012--Happy Birthday Orson Welles

Offramp from Groundhog Day?

Schuylkill River from West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, April 25, 2012

I have been relating to the movie Groundhog Day just a little bit too well lately.

While I realize that the feeling that everyday is a repeat of yesterday is endemic to the human condition, I believe, as Bill Murray's character in the movie comes to believe, that being stuck in a loop can be whatever you make it out to be. If you're trying to get your act together and move along with your life, even while in the loop, eventually you might just make some progress.

On the other hand, if you feel swallowed up by the mindless repetition, you will indeed stay stuck.

I have been feeling stuck in any number of ways. However, it occurred to me a little awhile ago that during the time periods over the last few years when I've been engaged in taking at least a photo a day and posting it here, I have felt the "stuck" feeling loosen up a bit around me. I'm not sure why this is, though I suspect that taking at least a few minutes everyday to attempt to see something outside the loop and do something with it might help.

Whatever the reason, taking/posting the photos seems to help so today I'll start again. The photo above is rather nondescript and I've taken it before, but this is what this particular river scene looks like today.

Taking and posting a photo everyday probably isn't a cure-all for Groundhog Day Syndrome. But it could very well be just the right medicine for some of the more unpleasant symptoms of this malady.

At the very least, maybe this will be an offramp to a more productive loop.

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