---The Obscure Penguin---

The Obscure Penguin
I’ve always heard a soundtrack in my life.  Like many people younger than I, I’ve listened to a lot of music.  I say it that way because my parents, who also appreciated music, didn’t have the same intense connection to it growing up the way I did.  My father used to give me an allowance and I would spend it all on records.  Black Sabbath, The Beatles.  He said, “Why do you spend all your allowance on records,” like that was a weird thing.  I said, “This is what I love.”  I love music.  When I was a kid music was a spiritual thing.  I loved the hymns at church, even if I didn’t love the off key, off tempo, half-hearted singing.  “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine…”  More spiritual to me were the old Irish ballads.  Maybe it’s something genetic.  Those grab me in the heart.   I had a phase years ago when I was really into Canadian folk singers and writers.  There were a lot of them, and they seemed to really touch the same emotional intensity as those “old country,” as in European, ballads.
To be fair, my parents loved music too.  Speaking of old country, Dad loved Lefty Frizzell’s, “The Long Black Veil.”  He loved Tex Ritter’s, “The Face On the Barroom Floor.”  He also loved jazz, Stan Kenton and Dave Brubeck.  Mom was a big Bob Dylan fan and she loved Buffy Sainte-Marie.  I hated Buffy Sainte-Marie’s warble. “Hey, little bird…”  When I was a kid, though, I listened to all their music, on the record player and the radio.  I was way excited when I heard “Secret Agent Man,” by Johnny Rivers.  I listened to my grandmother’s music too.  She had a collection of the classics, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky. She also had a record of Sing Along with Mitch.  Now, this is significant.  Mitch Miller had a tv show in the fifties and sixties.  He’d have his orchestra play and the words would be on the screen and you’d sing those songs. “Has anybody here seen Kelly, K-E-double-L-Y…”  I would sing these songs as a child in Germany because the lyrics came with the record.  Many, many years later, I was in Amarillo at St Paul Methodist Church as a reporter.  I was doing a story on a harpist who was performing, who was quite good.  I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman, who was her mentor.  After she’d finished he asked me what I thought.  I said she was wonderful and he introduced himself.  I looked at him and I was stunned and it all clicked.  It was Mitch Miller!  I said, “Oh, my God!  I used to listen to your records!  Sing Along with Mitch!”  I could tell he was flattered.  We had a great conversation and he later sent me a couple of CDs of music he’d composed.  I will never forget that extraordinary moment, nor will I ever forget how destiny has a strange way of bringing things around.
I used to have a little transistor radio and a tape recorder.  I would listen to Casey Kasem’s Top 40, waiting for my favorite songs and I’d record them and play them for friends.  That’s what we did before Napster!  We lived in an apartment in Maryland at that time and my buddy’s bedroom happened to be next to mine.  We used to talk at night though the window after everyone was in bed, like prisoners who couldn’t see each other.  I put the radio in the window and we’d listen to music.  I remember the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman” because it had a rocking riff.  I also remember “Hey Jude” because it did the same thing over and over again. “In The White Room,” because no one jammed like Cream and “Whole Lotta Love” because it was weird.  I thought Plant was a female singer because his voice was so high.  I also remember “A Whiter Shade of Pale” for no reason at all.  I didn’t know what skipping the light fandango was.
When I was old enough my parents bought me my own record player, a little thing with tiny speakers built into it.  I had it for years.  It was a profound joy.  My aunt, Tommie, who wasn’t that much older than I, who’d heard me playing my records, said she was going to the record store to get Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced.”  She asked me if I wanted her to get a record for me.  Wow!  Yes! I asked her for The Monkees’ new album.  Looking back, it’s funny how different our tastes were, although we weren’t that far apart in age, but she never judged me… that I know of.  I still love The Monkees, and Hendrix.
When my dad came back from Vietnam he introduced me to his buddies who introduced me to the genius of Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and King Crimson.  I learned Robert Plant was, in fact, a man, and the blues were awesome and that rock could, in fact, be quite experimental, and have a flute player.  That was the foundation of my musical taste. “Old Charlie stole the handle, and the train it won’t stop going, no way to slow down…”  Chunky guitar.  Oh, and it had a song about a pervert sitting on a park bench.
In those days music wasn’t everywhere all the time like it is today.  We visited friends in San Antonio once and we were at a pool and my buddy said, “Hey, have you heard this?”  He played a 45 I had never heard before but has stuck with me since. “I need you, I need you, more than anyone, darling, you know that I have from the start, so build me up, build me up buttercup, don’t break my heart…” One of my favorite songs of all time besides Tommy Shondell’s “Crimson And Clover,” no, not Joan Jett’s version, but “I love Rock n’ Roll” is a classic.
At a Junior High dance I worked up the courage to ask the girl I had a crush on, Edie Kuhblank, to dance.  They put on “In A Gadda Da Vida.”  It lasted forever.  It was the best I could hope for.
I listened to The Who’s “Tommy” on my little record player, to Led Zeppelin’s 4th Album, the one with “Stairway to Heaven.” Later I started playing guitar and figured out Rod Stewart’s “A Reason to Believe” and Elton John’s “Love Song,” listening to the record player.
I was a DJ at Amarillo College, FM 90, playing progressive jazz, like the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report, and also on Dead End Street, playing Lynyrd Skynyrd and Peter Frampton, but having the hots for Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, who we saw live in those days at the Civic Center.  She was a goddess.  Did I mention she was a goddess?  I loved Progressive Rock.  Bowie, Yes, Rush, Lou Reed, Emerson Lake and Palmer, T. Rex!  Also at that time I was really into Willie Nelson and the Texas music scene.  “I wanna go home with the Armadillo…Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene…”  I went to the 1976 Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic.
In the Air Force I was a DJ on Armed Forces Radio.  Disco was hot.  I was not hot on disco.  Donna Summers was BORING!  I was also the deejay at the Officer’s Club at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.  That’s when I truly appreciated funk.  Parliament/Funkadelic, The Ohio Players and Earth Wind & Fire.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get those drunk pilots on the floor unless I played the Bee Gees or KC and the Sunshine Band.  But as soon as I did I’d hit them with “Rollercoaster,” “Flashlight,” and “Shooting Star.”  One night I put on “How Deep Is Your Love” and asked one of the wives who’d been flirting with me to dance.  She did.  She had garlic breath.  Funny the things you remember.  Van Halen hit and they were magic.  Who plays a guitar like that?  Who sings like that?
Into the eighties with New Wave, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and The Clash and, of course, Springsteen and Tom Petty.  I saw Springsteen and the Heads three times.  I saw The Clash in Austin, 1982.  “Sharif don’t like it…”  Living in England I discovered Sade, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and got Rick Rolled when it actually happened.  “Never gonna give you up…”  I hated that song even then.  I knew hair bands were big in the states but I didn’t think they matched English pop.  Then I heard “Welcome To The Jungle.” Rock ‘n Roll was saved.
I lived in Seattle when Grunge got big.  I remember vacuuming the rug when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the college radio station.  When he hits “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous…”  Wow!  I thought that was the best rock sound since Guns ‘n Roses!  I saw Pearl Jam and Hole live.  Best Grunge singer…Chris Cornell.  And all the time back then, U2, Annie Lennox and Peter Gabriel.
I returned to Amarillo in the nineties and got back into country.  Shania Twain was the goddess then.  Faith Hill.  Loved Clint Black.  Oh, then I met the Dixie Chicks at the Nat.  You know Susan Gibson wrote “Wide Open Spaces.”  I know you know that.  Cooder Graw was the best freakin’ local live band playing.  They were great!  Ironically, I remember a show at The Nat when they closed with “Disco Inferno!” Matt Martindale scratching on his washboard!  Was it the booze or was it genius?  Because of Cooder Graw I met Willie Nelson.
Since then there’s been so much music.  So much.  I can’t name them all, but I have to mention Radiohead.  I have every album.  Cake, Beck, The Gorillaz, Dr. Dre (The Chronic), a masterpiece, Lana Del Rey, also every album, and freakin’ Katy Perry, who I LOVE!  Russell Brand didn’t deserve her!  Orlando Bloom doesn’t deserve her!  He does play a pretty good elf though.
I am so grateful I have lived in a time when music has been so available and so creative.  Thank God for music.  In many ways it’s made me who I am.
These are a few songs that made an impact on me.  Not every song, of course, but ones that immediately come to mind.  This is NOT a ranking.
Life Is A Highway- Tom Cochrane (because life is a highway and this rocks more than the country version.)
Hey Ya – Outkast (Maybe the best pop song of all time, shake it like a polaroid picture.)
O Jerusalem – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (This version introduced me to what became my favorite hymn.  William Blake.)
Day In The Life – The Beatles (Maybe the best Beatles song of all time)
God Only Knows – The Beach Boys (Maybe the best Beach Boys song of all time.)
Isn’t It A Pity – George Harrison (Harrison was totally, totally under-appreciated.)
There There – Radiohead (It slowly builds and hits hard.  My favorite Radiohead among many.)
Storms – Stevie Nicks (So much pain, self-insight, and regret)
Happiness Is A Warm Gun – The Beatles (Lennon doing what he does best)
Riders On The Storm -The Doors (Mysterious, moody, Morrison in the rain.)
Until The End Of The World – U2 (Out of all the genius I love this album and this song the most.  In my dream I was drowning my sorrows but my sorrows, they learned to swim.  Spiritual.)
I’ll Be Seeing You – Billie Holiday (classic old song of longing.  Sinatra did it well, but, hey, it’s Billie Holiday.  I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places…)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town – Bruce Springsteen (I finally understood his genius)
Gallows Pole – Led Zeppelin   (Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while…)
Windmills Of Your Mind = Dusty Springfield (Maybe the best sixties pop lyric of all time and her voice.  Her voice.)
Been Caught Stealin’ – Jane’s Addiction (Rhythm and riff are stunning and Farrell’s voice)
Back To Black – Amy Winehouse  (Incredible songwriter and a voice like Billie Holiday.  Sad.)
Hissing Of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell (She can tell a story and sing and play)
Heart Of The Sunrise – Yes  (Glorious build, truly orchestral.  It is what it says.)
Higher Ground – Stevie Wonder  (A wise and spiritual song)
The Boys of Summer – Don Henley  (Few songs capture a time and a mood so well)
Girlfriend Is Better – Talking Heads  (Intellectual funk.  Stop making sense, making sense.)
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, Second Movement (Feels spiritual to me)