Month: May 2014

Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish

Rock the Day America Singing

On May 31, 1819, poet Walt Whitman is born. What’s that got to do with rock? Read the poem. Then listen to the song. You’ll have an answer after that.

Come Up from the Fields Father


Come up from the fields father, here’s a letter from our Pete,

And come to the front door mother, here’s a letter from thy dear son.


Lo, ’tis autumn,

Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,

Cool and sweeten Ohio’s villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind,

Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis’d vines,

(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?

Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)


Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds,

Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well.


Down in the fields all prospers well,

But now from the fields come father, come at the daughter’s call,

And come to the entry mother, to the front door come right away.


Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling,

She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap.


Open the envelope quickly,

O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is sign’d,

O a strange hand writes for our dear son, O stricken mother’s soul!

All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only,

Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,

At present low, but will soon be better.


Ah now the single figure to me,

Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms,

Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint,

By the jamb of a door leans.


Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs,

The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay’d,)

See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.

Alas poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul,)

While they stand at home at the door he is dead already,

The only son is dead.


But the mother needs to be better,

She with thin form presently drest in black,

By day her meals untouch’d, then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking,

In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,

O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw,

To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.


So please, love me do

Rock the Day Beatlemania Flashback

The Beatles’ Love Me Do knocks Mary Wells’ My Guy from the top spot on the U.S.  singles chart this day 50 years ago in 1964. The simple Paul McCartney-John Lennon harmonica-laced tune barely makes a ripple in the U.K. when first released in 1962, but its rerelease at the height of Beatlemania lifts it up. Years on, McCartney and Lennon generously credit one another. Lennon says McCartney wrote most of the song in 1958 at age 16. McCartney says the song is totally co-written. Lennon on rich bluesy harmonica. Simple melody. Memorable lyrics. Here for your morning coffee time is Love Me Do:

Her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale

Rock the Day Art Rock

procol-harum-a-whiter-shade-of-pale-intercordPioneering art rocker Gary Brooker is born on May 29, 1945, in Hackney, East London. He grows up in the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. As a youngster, he learns to play piano, cornet and trombone. Brooker founds The Paramounts in 1962 with his guitarist friend Robin Trower. The band gains respect within the burgeoning 1960s British R&B scene, which yields The Beatles, The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, The Rolling Stones and others. The Stones, in particular, are Paramounts fans, giving them guest billing on several memorable shows in the early 1960s. In 1966, Brooker founds Procol Harum with his friend Keith Reid. A Whiter Shade of Pale is the worldwide hit that Procol Harum is best known for, but Brooker’s melancholic vocals and emotive, eclectic piano playing are a key part of Procol’s musical mix for the entire course of the band’s career. Procol Harum is a key progenitor of art rock, an experimental subgenre that makes use of powerful orchestration and literate, imaginative writing. Art rock enjoys its greatest level of popularity in the early 1970s through groups such as Jethro Tull, Electric Light Orchestra, 10cc, the Moody Blues, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Procol Harum.  Art rockers are largely responsible for developing the idea of the concept album, in which the entire LP is listened to as a piece, not just a collection of singles. A Whiter Shade of Pale is Procol Harum’s 1967 debut single. It tops the U.K. charts and climbs to No. 5 in the U.S. with little if any promotion. Get ready for another Summer of Love: Slip on your skinny jeans, your black leather jacket, your boots and take a predawn stroll by the river with Procol Harum and Gary Brooker:


A Whiter Shade of Pale

by Gary Brooker, Keith Reid and Matthew Fisher

We skipped the light fandango 
Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor 
I was feeling kinda seasick 
But the crowd called out for more 
The room was humming harder 
As the ceiling flew away 
When we called out for another drink 
And the waiter brought a tray 

And so it was that later 
As the miller told his tale 
That her face, at first just ghostly, 
Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, “There is no reason 
And the truth is plain to see.” 
But I wandered through my playing cards 
And they would not let her be 
One of sixteen vestal virgins 
Who were leaving for the coast 
And although my eyes were open wide
They might have just as well been closed 

And so it was that later 
As the miller told his tale 
That her face, at first just ghostly, 
Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, “I’m here on a shore leave,”
Though we were miles at sea.
I pointed out this detail
And forced her to agree, 
Saying, “You must be the mermaid
Who took King Neptune for a ride.”
And she smiled at me so sweetly
That my anger straightway died.

And so it was that later 
As the miller told his tale 
That her face, at first just ghostly, 
Turned a whiter shade of pale

If music be the food of love
Then laughter is it’s queen
And likewise if behind is in front
Then dirt in truth is clean
My mouth by then like cardboard
Seemed to slip straight through my head
So we crash-dived straightway quickly
And attacked the ocean bed 

And so it was that later 
As the miller told his tale 
That her face, at first just ghostly, 
Turned a whiter shade of pale

He’s leaving a life he’s come to know ::: Put a candle in the window

Rock the Day On Your Personal Soundtrack

Born one year and one continent apart, Gladys Knight and John Fogerty share a May 28 birthday. She of the honey-sweet, joyful masterful voice is born this day 1944 in Oglethorpe, Georgia. She puts together Gladys Knight & the Pips when she is just 8 years old. They are part of your personal soundtrack if you are fortunate enough to have lived the ’60s and ’70s. We know her as The Empress. Her signature of course is Midnight Train to Georgia:


One year to the day after Gladys Knight is born, John Fogerty enters our world in Berkeley, California. His is the crystal heart-piercing voice of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Also on your soundtrack:

Luke’s waitin’ on the Judgment Day ::: Blame it on my wild heart

Rock the Day Levon Helm | Stevie Nicks

May 26, 1940: Levon Helm is born in Elaine, Arkansas. He grows up in Turkey Scratch, a hamlet west of Helena, Arkansas. His parents, Nell and Diamond Helm, cotton farmers and also great lovers of music, encourage their children to play and sing. Young Lavon (as he was christened) begins playing the guitar at the age of 8 and also plays drums during his formative years. He sees Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys at the age of 6 and decides then to become a musician. He will achieve fame as the drummer and vocalist with The Band.  His voice and his spirit make you want to get up and get something done.


May 26, 1948: Stephanie Lynn “Stevie” Nicks is born in Phoenix, Arizona, to Jess Nicks, former president of Greyhound’s Armour-Dial and Barbara Nicks, a homemaker. Nicks’ grandfather, Aaron Jess Nicks, a struggling country music singer, teaches Nicks to sing, performing duets with her by the time she is 4 years old. When she tries to say her name, it comes out as “Tee-dee.”  Hence the moniker Stevie. She will join her high school friend Lindsey Buckingham in a musical and romantic partnership that will power Fleetwood Mac to success in the 1980s. My crush on her never goes away and the reality that I never will have so much as a short chat with her just makes no difference. So here are two from Stevie. My good friend, poet Bill McGlothing, gets the credit for showing me the first one, a 33-year-old Stevie Nicks improvising Wild Heart backstage before a concert. Even just sitting around having makeup put on, she is mesmerizing:


Instruction as Evening Draws On

Says the dove, crawl
along the track traced
in the lodestone you wear
around your neck. You will travel
in search of some reedy voice some
glint of brass through the haze where
your body will rest
in her cupped hands her
fingers painting the cool geometry of loss
across your arms spread out
along the simple path into
the town where you find sleep.

— Steve Kline May 25, 2014

I was born in a crossfire hurricane

Rock the Day Delta Blues by Way of Swinging London

Jackflash1The Rolling Stones release Jumpin’ Jack Flash on May 25, 1968. Rolling Stone magazine calls it “supernatural Delta Blues by way of Swinging London.” The song tops the charts in the U.K. and peaks at #3 in the U.S. It marks the return to the Stones’ blues roots after their foray into psychedelia and it remains in tour set lists for the group to this day.  Keith Richards says that he and Jagger wrote the lyrics while staying at Richards’ country house, where they were awoken one morning by the sound of gardener Jack Dyer walking past the window. When Jagger asked what the noise was, Richards responded: “Oh, that’s Jack – that’s jumpin’ Jack.”  Humanities scholar Camille Paglia speculates that the song’s lyrics might have been partly inspired by William Blake‘s poem The Mental Traveller: “She binds iron thorns around his head / And pierces both his hands and feet / And cuts his heart out of his side / To make it feel both cold & heat.” First time I hear this I am swept away by the dark tight perfect beat and the dead-on lyricism. Start your bluesy Sunday with the Stones original and an incredibly powerful cover by Aretha Franklin with Keith on guitar:

In the jingle jangle morning ::: There’s a fool on every corner when you’re trying to get home

Rock the Day 2 Happy Birthdays

Robert Zimmerman is born in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 24, 1941. He grows up in Hibbing to become Bob Dylan. First time I hear him, I’m 11 or 12. I will dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand wavin’ free for the rest of my life.

On Dylan’s birthday in 1955, Roseanne Cash — daughter of Johnny Cash — is born in Memphis, Tennessee. First time I hear her, I’m about 30. Been face-down in a memory ever since:

The Barrows in Iowa

Rock the Day Bluegrass and Murderers

The Front Page

The Front Page

On May 23, 1934, bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are shot to death in a police ambush in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, after a 21-month crime spree. A highly romanticized version of their story will become a hugely popular movie in 1967. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway portray the outlaws and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs’ bluegrass Foggy Mountain Breakdown is featured prominently on the soundtrack.  Actor Gene Hackman portrays Clyde’s older brother Marvin “Buck” Barrow, who dies of wounds suffered in a shootout with police near Dexter, Iowa. Bonnie and Clyde escape. Years before that movie comes out, I will spend many hours growing up in my Daddy’s newsroom at the Des Moines Register & Tribune, where mounted on a wall is a huge blow-up of the Trib’s front page the day of  that July 24, 1933 shootout. The photo dominating the top half of the page shows the arrest of Buck’s defiant wife Blanche.  Something about her snarling face, the shades she wears, the violence embedded in the black-and-white photo is deeply disturbing. I often pass by the shootout scene. The good thing is that it’s where some of the Barrows were stopped. They were after all psychopathic killers.