Monday

January 1973: CARLY SIMON - You're So Vain


Mom needed to find a place for me to go before and after school, so she got me hooked up with some of the other mother’s in the apartment complex. This was basically how I made my first new pals, and it wasn’t optimal conditions because it was borne of car pooling to school during bad weather and babysitting, rather than genuine friendship.

I genuinely loved the sound and feel of “You’re So Vain;” it had both a tense and languid tone and the chorus was undeniably great to sing along to... if you could carry a tune.

During the school day, it had begun to snow, getting heavier as the day went on. When school let out, the mother of an apartment kid was standing at the entrance to gather us all up and drive us back home, because the weather was too bad for all of us to be walking.

I saw all the kids piling into this little Chevy Vega, and decided I’d rather walk home in the snow, but the mother made me get in. So now, we’re all packed in tight, with the heater blasting and the windows fogging, while we sat forever in the parking lot, waiting for the buses to clear out so we could move.

And in this physically uncomfortable situation, “You’re So Vain” comes over the car radio, and the mother starts singing along during the chorus, because – really - how can you resist? Problem was, this lady gave “off key” a new meaning; I swear nearby dogs were howling.

After what seemed forever, the mother’s own kid finally yelled out, “Mommy, stop singing!” To which Mommy halts the yowling only long enough to say, “But I love this song!” and quickly jumps back in just in time to bray “Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you now!”

For the next year or so, just the sound of Carly Simon’s voice made me wince because it instantly conjured this horrific moment.

"You're So Vain" by Carly Simon.
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December 1972: NEIL DIAMOND - Moods


Even though my parents were now leading separate lives, they decided to band together one last time for the family Christmas gathering at my Uncle Art & Aunt Marie’s house in Whitney Chase, a subdivision close to our apartment complex. Maybe they were trying to keep up appearances in front of the family (like they didn’t know, or something?), or maybe trying to let me briefly revisit the sense of being a family again, but whatever the reason, it failed. Everyone was uncomfortable, and I didn’t have near as much fun as I normally did at these events because too many family members wound up stroking my hair and looking at me sadly. Pity and Santa just don’t mix.

The first Christmas morning with just me and Mom was much better. It was a relief that Santa was able to find me inside this apartment complex, and didn’t mix up my gifts with any of the other kids in the building (a valid worry for a 7 year old). I knew “he” got it right because I got a long, gold necklace with a large round medallion with a cursive “P” in the middle (I still have it to this day), a way to acknowledge my new name.

And from a co-worker, Mom got a copy of the latest Neil Diamond album, Moods. “Song Sung Blue” was a huge hit, and Mom sung along with it on the radio with a fervor I didn’t quite understand. But there was a song on the album that made us both really happy, “Gitchy Goomy.”

It was upbeat and relentlessly tuneful, causing both of us to play the song over and over, singing along and doing a little jitterbug in the living room. Plus, the guy on the album cover was really, really cute; we both agreed on this important point. So, Neil Diamond forever owns a warm spot in my heart for providing us moments of pure joy in an otherwise bleak holiday season.

"Gitchy Goomy" by Neil Diamond.
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December 1972: HELEN REDDY - I Am Woman


From the get go, this was a polarizing song. I only knew that I didn’t like the sound of the singer’s voice, like she had something stuck in her throat and she didn’t bother to clear it before singing. But in the context of what was happening to my Mom, Barb, it must have really annoyed her for other reasons.

Barb had always paid her own way until she got married at age 30. She’d had her own credit cards (her first one coming from the Libson’s in Mid-Town St. Louis in the late 1950s ) and checking account up until she got married, when everything changed over to joint accounts. But now that she was newly single, she had to start all over again, and while the checking account was easy, credit cards were not.

It seems that going from Miss to Mrs. had wiped her previous financial slate clean, and now that she was returning to Miss, Mastercard considered her a blank slate with no credit history and refused to issue her a card. Even though they could see the excellent credit record attached to her Social Security number, being a divorcee made her an untested, financial risk in their eyes and they shut her out.

Atop the pain of a busted marriage and the fear of a strange new future as a divorced, single mom, she had to fight for her financial independence against institutions that were, basically, punishing women for no longer being a Mrs.

This was not an “I Am Woman” Women’s Liberation situation, this was “yes, I’ve paid the price…” but not with a credit card? You bastards! She fought Mastercard, and she won, and thankfully, she was now able to feed and clothe us. “I am strong, I am invincible,” I am credit worthy once again.

Here's more about Barb being an Accidental Feminist.

"I Am Woman" by Helen Reddy.
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November 1972: GILBERT O'SULLIVAN - Clair


Mom and I were both a bit shell shocked and had trouble sleeping at night. One cold night, we were on the couch, with me lying over my Mother’s lap. The entire apartment was dark except for one lamp on the end table, and the glow from the Zenith stereo playing the radio.

As she scratched my back, “Oh Clair” came over the airwaves, and I keyed in on the singer trying to get the girl he was babysitting to go to sleep, while Mom was doing the same with me. But I didn’t get to learn the outcome of Gilbert’s story because I drifted away to sleep.

"Clair" by Gilbert O'Sullivan.
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November 1972: ARLO GUTHRIE - City of New Orleans


My parent’s legal separation was on the books, and it was time for me and Mom to move out of the house. I remember the Mayflower moving van in the driveway at the ranch, and then cut to being inside our 2-bedroom apartment in Black Jack, with my Dad hanging pictures on the one fake wood panel wall in the tiny living room, his way of helping out before he went back to wherever it was that he was now living.

We were to live in the Whisper Lake apartment complex for 13 years, but at this moment, it was strange. I’d always lived in houses with front and back yards (or in the case of the ranch, acres of yard!) and houses separated by driveways. The apartment complex was a series of courts and tall buildings surrounded by cars, and the neighbors were only a wall or floor away, and you could hear them, which meant I had to learn to be more quiet since they could hear us, as well.

This strange new environment meant I was going to a new grade school – J.E. Jury Elementary – which was a short walk away from the apartments. Mom brings me into the administration office to register me for class, and as she’s filling out the paperwork she explains to the ladies behind the desk that even though my name is officially Patricia, everyone calls me Toby, so please make note of that and call her by that name.

I abruptly interrupted this exchange to boldly state, in no uncertain terms, that I was to be called “Pat.” Mom’s outward shock certainly matched my inward shock: where did that come from? Even at the moment I said it, I didn’t like the name Pat, but I also didn’t want anyone in my new life calling me by a nickname my Dad had given me. Since he left, he could take his nickname with him!

In retrospect, that was the moment I had summoned forth the identity confusion that would plague me until I hit my early 30s. From then on, half the people in my life called my Toby, the other half called me Pat, which would get confusing for everyone when a new friend and my Mom were both calling for me at the same time by two different names!

With this exchange finished, a teacher’s aide walked me down the hall and down the stairs to my new classroom. I stared out the windows as we walked the long hallway with a song playing in my head: “Good morning, America, how are ya? Say, don’t you know me? I’m your native son…”

"City of New Orleans" by Arlo Guthrie.
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Tuesday

September 1972: DANNY O'KEEFE - Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues

I hadn’t yet logged enough time to have any memories of first grade at Brown Elementary when, one day after school, Dad sat me down on the back porch for a talk.

He pointed to the horse pasture and told me that Sugar was gone, and that he was leaving, too. He said something about “divorce,” and started to cry. I didn’t understand the meaning of that word, but because he was crying, I started crying, as well.

After he left the house, I ran into my parents’ bedroom and saw that all the things atop his chest of drawers – a golf trophy, a tray for his watch, a little jar that held change and such – were gone. Only upon sight of the empty spaces did I finally understand the magnitude of his words. He was gone. He took his stuff and the pony, and he was gone.

Obviously, the folks had conducted all the heartbreak and details of dissolving a marriage as quietly as possible. Nothing was said before or during, and not much was said after, either. The oceans of silence may have been more traumatic than the crashing waves of discord that classically accompanies divorce.

The memories of the remainder of September and all of October are (blissfully?) unavailable to me, save for bidding a teary farewell to my dog Trouble, who was off to the pound. Maybe this mental rest stop was necessary to prepare for a new level of awareness coming my way.

Whereas things previously floated by on the whimsy of an idyllic childhood, my mind would too soon snap to attention, monitoring all the details around me and trying to fit pieces into a puzzle that made no sense. Though all the adults around me went out of their way to keep me from comprehending on an intellectual level, the emotional level could not be controlled by them, and that aspect was on the surface and all too active. I disappeared into the ether for a bit, and only the radio would be able to pull me back into a new reality.

"Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues" as done by Dwight Yoakam.
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September 1972: RICK NELSON - Garden Party

It’s time to start First Grade!

I was so happy to finally start real, official school. Even though by dint of birth date I could’t do kindergarten on schedule, I was already a voracious reader and had honed my writing skills with ballpoint pen all over my album jackets. Now it was time to fine-tune these skills and experience the pleasure of carrying a thermos of soup and Tupperware full of peaches in my very own lunch box.

The anticipated joys of 1st grade were quickly squelched by the cutest boy in the 2nd grade telling me I looked like the Jack-in-the-Box clown. At nursery school, we only insulted each other because we were friends, but I didn’t know this kid at all and he instantly hated me? This is what the big leagues are like?

But that was nothing compared to my teacher, Mrs. Brown, dressing me down in front of the entire class for turning in my writing assignment in cursive, rather than the wobbly, uncertain block print my classmates were struggling with. I was used to stern words for bad behavior, but this confused me because I didn’t understand what was bad about cursive and what I did wrong.

That night, in tears, I told Mom about this, and we struck a deal: I’d play along with what they wanted at school, but at home I was free to cursive all I wanted.

“You can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.”

"Garden Party" by Rick Nelson.
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August 1972: BREAD - Guitar Man & THREE DOG NIGHT - Black & White

Even while distracted by The Electric Company and The Bugaloos, I could tell something was wrong. Dad wasn’t around the house much, and even though he was mowing the grass right on schedule, his long absences were odd.

And even though that meant Mom and I spent more solo time together, she seemed distracted. Then on one gray, misty early morning as she drove me to nursery school, I picked up on a deep sadness seeping out of her. She said nothing, so I said nothing while bleakly watching a rain-soaked soybean field out the passenger window as Bread sang, “Then the lights begin to flicker and the sound is getting dim…”

A bit later, I got to “go bumming” with my Dad on a Saturday morning. This used to be a normal routine for us, and I loved tagging along while he took care of business, but it just wasn’t happening as much as it once did.

As were heading back home, “Black & White” by Three Dog Night came over the AM radio, and me merrily singing along was interrupted by Dad giving me a pop quiz: “Do you know what this song is really about?”

I recalled seeing an animated version of the song on The Sonny & Cher Show, but no, that wasn’t it. He proceeded to give me a basic overview of the song’s symbolism being about racial equality (“black ink is black people, the white page is white people”), which threw me off because one thing I knew for sure is that Dad didn’t like colored people. So what was he getting at?

In light of what was coming around the bend, I realize in retrospect that my Dad was probably trying to diffuse massive guilt by taking a stab at imparting racial harmony, which was probably easier for him to swallow than the things that could have been said.

"Guitar Man" by Bread.
"Black & White" by Three Dog Night.
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August 1972: CHICAGO - Saturday in the Park & DANIEL BOONE - Beautiful Sunday

It was all about the weekends, because Dad bought a carriage (which he spray painted bright yellow) to hook up to my pony Sugar, and he’d drive me and the older kids on the block up and down our country street. “Saturday in the Park” and “Beautiful Sunday” exactly embodied how I felt during these moments.

Staying horse-related, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter always brings back a great memory of the sound of a blue-black, prize-winning pony stampeding down the street, dragging a cart behind him and barreling into our driveway.

Dad decided to breed Sugar with Billy Blue Blazes, who lived at Farmer Don’s place many miles further down Douglas Road. Seems bringing Sugar to Billy’s crib wasn’t producing the desired result, so when Sugar went back into heat, they’d bring Billy to Sugar.

Turns out Sugar was at the height of heat during the middle of a family gathering at our house, and relatives be damned, this was happening! Sugar was brought out to the driveway. Billy Blue Blazes was unhooked from the cart, and without any fanfare, he got right to humping. Naturally, this bit of equestrian procreation brought the entire family to the picture window to watch, and Billy gave them a bit of show by pooping while humping!

This attempt turned out to be the one that took, and good thing, because Great Aunt Lilly about fainted from the shock and indignation of watching animal sex. But if this was so absolutely upsetting, why didn’t she just look away?

"Saturday in the Park" by Chicago.
"Beautiful Sunday" by Daniel Boone.
"Popcorn" by Hot Butter.
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July 1972: THE SWEET - Little Willy


Oh yes, one’s first vinyl LP is a major milestone, but nothing is sweeter than being introduced to the immediate pop gratification of singles.

Once again, Kmart was the place where a vinyl addiction took seed. Mom let me pick out any song I wanted, and the selection of this 45 rpm actually had more to do with the familiar gray and black Bell Records label (hello, Partridge Family) showing through the round cut-out of the single jacket than it did with an urgent need to possess this song. But it was a great choice; I played the crap out of this raucous single, and it brought about my first experience with musical criticism.

The B-Side to “Little Willy” was “Man From Mecca.” Musically, I found it crude and boring, while lyrically, I couldn’t think of anything more stupid than lines such as, “Like a white mouse hiding in a house.” Note that the B-side was written by the band, while the A-side was by Chinn & Chapman, the latter of whom would be part of another musical explosion in my world, before the decade ended. Here's a bit more about The Sweet experience.

Listen to "Little Willy" by The Sweet.
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July 1972: LOOKING GLASS - Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)

This song has made a lot of people groan for a lot of decades, but from the point of view of a 6 year old, it was just perfect. It was a story song, ripe with imagery of unrequited love, lost love and sea-faring men drinking and admiring Brandy’s jewelry (you know, “a braided chain made from the finest silver from the North of Spain”…a place that Three Dog Night guy had never been to, so Spain was an intriguing place, yes?).

Many, many years later, when I first heard the voice of Nash Kato from Urge Overkill, he sounded so familiar to me… where had I heard that voice before? It was on a port in the western bay that served a hundred ships a day! I considered that another plus for UO.

Listen to "Brandy" by Looking Glass.
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June 1972: MOUTH & MacNEAL - How Do You Do?


It was a glorious summer. The smell of the grass after Dad cut it with the riding mower, playing in the sandbox as the sun set, the smell of Sugar’s feed inside the tiny barn, and David Cassidy in constant rotation on the stereo. Yes, it was a glorious summer.

The joyous stomp of the beat in “How Do You Do” matched my boundless girl energy, and I always loved songs that had men and women’s voices trading off lines (like Ocean’s “Put Your Hand in the Hand"), so it was a natural favorite. To this very day, the song always conjures the scent and feel of a completely naive and free summer.

Listen to "How Do You Do" by Mouth & MacNeal.
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Monday

April 1972: SAMMY DAVIS, JR. - The Candy Man

The timing couldn’t have been better with this song. It’s Easter time and the airwaves are full of an infectious tune about a man covering things in chocolate and making the world taste good. I still believed in the Easter Bunny, and figured if that cool, cool rabbit could sing, he’d sound much like Sammy.

Easter meant an egg hunt first thing out of bed, and then we left the ranch to go to the city to see both of my grandmas, who gave me lots of candy and a paddle ball. Nothing better than getting all hopped up on malted milk and chocolate eggs and thwacking a rubber ball against plywood until either the rubber band snapped or the folks did.

So, that was the anticipation, the hope based on former Easter’s, but it all went a bit odd on Easter Eve. My Mother rolled up two pin curls on either side of my face, held down with metal clamps that felt weird while awake, and made it nearly impossible to sleep. But I went along with it because she said it would make my hair look just as nice as my new Easter dress.

On Sunday morning, she undid the pin curls, combed out my hair and it felt weird. Then I checked the mirror and I looked horrible! There was no convincing me otherwise, and I could barely hear them say so over my constant wails as I ran around my bedroom. This hairdo was ruining everything.

To get me out of the house, Mother said I could wear my white fur hat which would probably flatten those curls a bit.

It did not. And because those concrete curls wouldn’t budge, neither did the hat from my head. I wore it for the car rides, through church, through paddle ball… which created a fair bit of bratty kid tension for the family. Mother dealt with it by taking a picture of me pouting in the back seat of our fire engine red station wagon.


The minute we got back home, I removed the hat, put on my play clothes and literally dive-bombed into Trouble’s dog house, hoping a good canine roll in the dirt would make that hairdo disappear so we could separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream.

Listen to "The Candy Man" by Sammy Davis, Jr.
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March 1972: AMERICA - A Horse With No Name

Aside from thinking this song was by the same guy who also did “Heart of Gold,” (which seems an honest mistake since America was blatantly trying to ape Neil Young, right?), it caused me a little concern.

The lyrics were confusing. The desert is hot and dry and his skin burns and he’s real thirsty but he’s happy about it? And what about the horse with no name… which you let go?!

I dearly loved my pony, Sugar, and the thought of being so whacked out that “after nine days I let the horse run free” was upsetting, and brought about a disturbing question: if I rode Sugar for 9 days in a row during the hottest part of the summer, would I possibly do the same heinous thing?

Yeah, well, there were “plants and birds and rocks and things” in the pasture where I rode, and it rained fairly often in the spring, so I was safe from accidental pony abandonment.

Listen to "A Horse With No Name" by America.
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February 1972 - THREE DOG NIGHT - Never Been To Spain


My family of Catholic Democrats were continually bringing up President Richard Nixon going to China. At this time, I became vaguely aware of “politics” as the White House and the President, and was catching on quick that “Tricky Dick” was a bad man, not to be trusted. Even without listening to the grownups fret, there was no getting around the sight, sound and feel of the man when he was on TV; Nixon reminded me of Snidely Whiplash.
Ew.

And China was another geographical location I could add to my arsenal of places learned from Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain.” Because of this song I now knew of Spain, England, Las Vegas and Oklahoma (not Arizona). Plus, the singer’s voice started out real low and smooth, which was just as enticing to my ears as when all their voices rang out at full throttle.

Music history tends to completely overlook the dominance of Three Dog Night from 1969 to 1974, both on the charts and with radio listeners. Then again, maybe they don’t need a critical rethink or a re-mastered reprise, because everything you need to know is in the songs when you run across them. Even though I can barely withstand “Joy to the World” due to endless repetition, it’s still the best description of how people react to their old hits: joy.

Listen to "Never Been To Spain" by Three Dog Night.
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