On the demise of Red Lobster

I’ve been seeing a lot of news stories about the impending demise of Red Lobster.

Red Lobster was established the year I was born (1968). Therefore, I have never known a world without it. But if the bankruptcy speculations are true, I may have to adjust.

Red Lobster memories?

I have one Red Lobster memory I will share with you.

I had my first date at a Red Lobster in 1984. I did not yet have my driver’s license, and the girl drove.

She was out of my league, the off-and-on girlfriend of the quarterback. (I know that sounds like a cliché from an 80s teen movie, but it’s true.)

I had convinced her to go out with me by dint of sheer chutzpah. Nevertheless, I lacked the experience and finesse to close the deal. So it never went anywhere.

That outcome was a disappointment to me at the time. But like so many of the slings and arrows of adolescence, it has become a bittersweet, almost pleasant memory, forty years on.

That same Red Lobster is still in operation, and still on the east side of Cincinnati. For now.

I eat there about once per quarter. And sometimes when I do, I remember that long-ago date, the guileless youth I used to be, and the trivial matters that once struck me as important.

Like so much else in the present world, Red Lobster does not seem nearly as good today as it was in 1984.

A few months ago, I would have written that impression off to my own middle-aged jadedness. But now, we can surmise, the market has come to the exact same conclusion. Red Lobster is not the restaurant chain that it was in 1984.

-ET

‘Cycle of the Werewolf’ memories

Some books bring back memories. And so it is for me, with Stephen King’s illustrated novella, Cycle of the Werewolf.

I remember purchasing this book at the B. Dalton bookstore in Cincinnati’s Beechmont Mall in the mid-1980s. I had only recently become a Stephen King fan, and I was working my way through his entire oeuvre, which then consisted of about ten years’ worth of novels and collections.

The copy I bought in the 1980s has long since been lost. I’m glad to see that the book is still available, with the original illustrations from Bernie Wrightson. 

You can get a copy of Cycle of the Werewolf on Amazon by clicking here

-ET

Rambo VI on the way, apparently

There is yet another Rambo film in the works, apparently. Sylvester Stallone, age 77, will return to his iconic role for the final (?) time, perhaps.

I have been a Rambo fan since the first movie came out in 1982. Rambo III (1988), in which John Rambo went to Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, was the best of the bunch, in my opinion. But all of the movies have been watchable, if not exactly profound.

I will freely admit that much of my love for this movie franchise is pure 1980s nostalgia. I miss that more optimistic, sensible decade. So long as Rambo movies keep coming out, the 1980s aren’t truly dead, perhaps. The insanity of the 21st century, while pernicious as a bad rash, can still be banished to the sewers from which it came. We can hope.

But I have another, and even more personal reason for my tireless loyalty to the Rambo brand.

Sylvester Stallone was born in 1946, the same year as both my parents. I’m now in my mid-50s. But so long as there is an active action hero old enough to be my dad, I’m not really so old, am I? Something to ponder during my next trip to the gym.

At any rate, I will never completely lose my faith in Western civilization, so long as there is another Rambo movie to look forward to. After that, all bets are off.

-ET

Donuts and World War II

You have to love the nutritional rationalizations of the early to mid-20th century. The above poster exhorts us to eat more donuts in order that we may do more to support the war effort. But don’t forget to buy war stamps, while you’re at it!

In the 1940s, few Americans were alert to the risks of heart disease or diabetes.

Of course, our obesity rates were also much, much lower. While sweets were eaten without guilt, they were eaten in small quantities. And most people were far more physically active, even though no one had a Planet Fitness membership.

-ET

 

Molly Ringwald’s diverse anxieties

Molly Ringwald was born the same year I was, and her movies were part of the teen culture in which I came of age.

I don’t think I would have ever described myself as a Molly Ringwald “fan”, exactly, but nor was I a detractor. Like most Gen Xers, I saw her movies, in the same spirit that I watched MTV and listened to bands like Journey and Bon Jovi. Pop culture was more monolithic in those pre-Internet times, and you kind of took what they gave you.

I enjoyed Ringwald’s performance in The Breakfast Club (1985), a movie that almost all people my age have seen at least once.

Ringwald was a gifted teen actress. She was also a gifted twentysomething adult actress in the 1994 television miniseries, The Stand. She starred as Frannie Goldsmith, the heroine of Stephen King’s beloved apocalyptic horror novel.

So I have no qualms with Molly Ringwald the thespian. I have been far less impressed with Molly Ringwald the public person. In recent years, she’s become a fashionably left-leaning celebrity gadfly, mouthing all the familiar slogans when goaded by journalists and interviewers.

Most particularly, Ringwald seems to feel a compulsive need to apologize for the John Hughes teen movies that made her famous. Bashing the creations of the late Hughes (1950 – 2009) has become a peculiar obsession of hers.

Case-in-point: during a recent interview, Ringwald declared:

“Those [John Hughes] movies are very white and they don’t really represent what it is to be a teenager in a school in America today.”

“Very white”? Did she really just say that?

I’ll overlook the obvious non sequitur here: John Hughes was a Baby Boomer who made movies about teenage life in the mid-1980s. Although he technically wrote about Gen Xers, he was probably thinking about Baby Boomers most of the time. At any rate, Hughes never aspired to depict teen life in the mid-2020s. The mid-2020s were still forty years in the future, and many of those yet unborn teens’ parents hadn’t even met yet.

But that isn’t what Ringwald is really getting at. She is implying that because Hughes’s movies did not feature racially diverse casts, there was somehow something retrograde, or even racist about them.

Pop culture in the 1980s actually was quite diverse. Yes, it was the decade of Molly Ringwald, Bruce Springsteen, and Madonna. But it was also the decade of Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, and Billy Ocean. We all watched The Cosby Show on television. Eddie Murphy was on everyone’s list of favorite comedians, both in stand-up and in film.

(In many ways, the music scene was far more diverse in the 1980s than it is now. Black artists got proportionately more mainstream attention, whereas nowadays everything in the pop music space is maniacally focused on blonde, vapid Taylor Swift.)

But what about those movies of John Hughes? It isn’t technically inaccurate to say that they were “white”, if we must call them that. There is no evidence that John Hughes was specifically opposed to racial or cultural diversity, but racial and cultural diversity clearly weren’t his focus.

And…so what? Diversity, in the best sense of that word, doesn’t mean—or shouldn’t mean—that every film, TV series, novel, and toothpaste commercial is suspect if it doesn’t contain a box-checked, racially diverse cast of characters. If everything is box-checked to death, then that becomes the norm, and nothing is truly diverse. Diversity, when carried to ideological extremes, can become monochromatic, predictable, and boring.

I don’t remember ever watching The Cosby Show, and saying, “Where the heck are all the Asian Americans and Native American characters? Where are the Jewish and Muslim characters?”

Real life itself, moreover, is not always diverse. During the 1980s, I attended a suburban high school not unlike the one depicted in The Breakfast Club. There were a handful of Filipino students, and a few kids with partial Japanese heritage. Other than that, my high school was as white as Wonder Bread. I make no apology for this. The degree of racial and ethnic diversity in one’s environment has always depended on where one lives.

Molly Ringwald is old enough—and smart enough, I suspect—to realize her own folly. Her hand-wringing about her 40-year-old movies being “white” seems to be her way of keeping herself “relevant” in a chaotic twenty-first-century culture that is neurotically obsessed with identity politics.

I would have a lot more respect for Ringwald if she would simply own her past performances (which were quite good, on the whole) rather than pandering to the diverse but intolerant present. Not even Claire Standish was such an abject conformist.

-ET

Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish in The Breakfast Club (1985)

The Greatest American Hero: actually, not as bad as you might imagine

The Greatest American Hero was a comedy-drama superhero series that ran for three seasons, from 1981 to 1983.

Here’s the premise: Ralph Hinkley, (later Hanley—I’ll explain why in a moment) is a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles public school system. Extraterrestrials bestow on him a suit that gives him superhero powers.

After that, Ralph (played by William Katt) works with his FBI sidekick, Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) to thwart criminals, and accomplish the usual superhero endeavors.

Ralph is also aided by his divorce lawyer, Pam Davidson (played by Connie Sellecca).

The show premiered on March 18, 1981. On March 30, 1981, a whackjob named John Hinkley Jr. shot then-President Reagan and three other individuals. This was an association that the show’s producers obviously wanted to avoid. So Ralph Hinkley became Ralph Hanley.

Was The Greatest American Hero great TV? Oh, heavens no—not even by the modest standards of the early 1980s. But I would submit that this was not bad TV, either.

I watched The Greatest American Hero on occasion. It was light entertainment, with a bit of light action, and tolerably likable characters who were lightly drawn.

The Greatest American Hero was also responsible for giving a generation of adolescent boys a crush on Connie Sellecca.

A personal note here, on the international reach of this show and the aforementioned actress. In the mid-1990s, I worked with a Taiwanese man who was about my age. We were discussing American pop culture one day, and he went out of his way to express an appreciation for both The Greatest American Hero and Connie Sellecca. Make of that what you will.

-ET

Reading John Jakes, again

I discovered the books of historical novelist John Jakes (1932 – 2023) as a high school student during the 1980s. The television miniseries adaptation of his Civil War epic, North and South, aired in 1985.

North and South was extremely well-done for a network (ABC) television production of the mid-1980s. The cast included Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Lesley-Anne Down, and Parker Stevenson. The sets were realistic and the production values were high.

After watching that, I decided to give John Jakes’s books a try. I read North and South (1982), plus the subsequent two books in the North and South trilogy, Love and War (1984) and Heaven and Hell (1987).

Then I delved into The Kent Family Chronicles. The books in this long family saga were published between 1974 and 1979. These are the books that really put Jakes on the map as an author of commercial historical fiction.

I emphasize commercial. John Jakes never strove for the painstaking historical accuracy of Jeff Shaara, or his approximate contemporary, James Michener. Jakes’s first objective was always to entertain. If the reader learned something about the American Revolution or the Civil War along the way, that was icing on the cake.

As a result, John Jakes’s novels lie somewhere along the spectrum between literary fiction and potboilers. His characters are memorable and he imparts a sense of time and place. But these are plot-driven stories.

At the same time, Jakes’s plots have a way of being simultaneously difficult to believe and predictable. Almost all of his books have a Forrest Gump aspect. His characters are ordinary men and women, but they all seem to rub shoulders with figures from your high school history classes.

That said, Jakes is one of the few authors whose books pleased both the teenage me and the fiftysomething me. This past year, I started rereading The Kent Family Chronicles, and catching up on the few installments I missed back in the 1980s. I have changed as much as any person changes between the ages of 17 and 55, but I still find these books to be page-turners.

This past week, I started listening to the audiobook version of California Gold. This one was published in 1989, after Jakes’s long run of success with The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold is the story of Mack Chance, a Pennsylvania coal miner’s son who walks to California to seek his fortune in the 1880s.

I will be honest with the reader: I don’t like California Gold as much as Jakes’s earlier bestsellers. California Gold is episodic in structure, and the main character is far less likable than some of Jakes’s earlier creations. In California Gold, Jakes indulges his tendency to pay lip service to the issues of the day (in this case: the budding American labor movement and early feminism) through the voices of his characters. Most of these pronouncements are politically correct and clichéd.

Worst of all, California Gold employs sex scenes as spice for low points in the plot. This is always a sign that a writer is struggling for ideas, or boring himself as he writes. When Jakes wrote California Gold, he may have been a little burned out, after writing The Kent Family Chronicles and the North and South trilogy.

California Gold, though, won’t be tossed aside on my did-not-finish (DNF) pile. This is still a good novel. Just not the caliber of novel I’d come to expect from John Jakes. No novelist, unfortunately, can hit one out of the park every time.

-ET

**Quick link to John Jakes’s titles on Amazon

Was ‘Caress of Steel’ underrated?

Nearly half a century after Rush’s third album tanked in the marketplace, I’ve seen this case made on the Internet. The argument is especially prevalent in the YouTube comments where the album’s two enduring songs (“Bastille Day” and “Lakeside Park”) appear in video form.

The idea here is that Caress of Steel was given short shrift by both music fans and critics in 1975.

“This album was underrated!” one YouTube commenter opined.

“Actually one of the best Rush albums ever,” declared another.

I can see two motivations for the above arguments. The first is the underdog spirit that tends to appeal to all diehard Rush fans. Rush fans tend to be reflexive contrarians. If the audience and critics didn’t “get” something, isn’t that resounding proof of how good it actually was?

The second motivation may be diehard fandom itself. Older Rush fans like me have been devoted to the band’s music for decades (since 1982, in my case). We don’t want to believe that Rush ever made a song—let alone an entire album—that wasn’t absolutely brilliant.

But in this instance, I have to agree with the consensus view. (And yes, this pains me as yet another reflexively contrarian Rush fan.) Caress of Steel was Rush’s least listenable album. I was first exposed to it in the early 1980s, and I still don’t quite “get” it myself. I’ve given the album 40 years, and I’ve listened to it as a teen, a young adult, and a middle-aged man. Isn’t that enough time?

There are only really two completely satisfactory songs on the album, the aforementioned “Bastille Day” and “Lakeside Park”. (I will grant you the merits of “I Think I’m Going Bald” if you want to push for that one.)

I never warmed up to “The Necromancer”. “The Fountain of Lamneth” has a few good musical moments. But the idea behind the song simply doesn’t support the twenty-minute composition. And it’s very hard to follow, or even understand.

Caress of Steel goes down in history as the Rush album that nearly sunk the band as a going concern. The album was marked by poor record store sales, low concert turnout, and threats by Mercury to pull the plug on Rush—which had yet to really prove itself in the marketplace.

Caress of Steel is best remembered as a transitional effort. It was not a good album, as Rush albums go.

It was, however, the album that enabled the band to work out its kinks in the difficult endeavor of the progressive concept album. After the Caress of Steel misstep, Rush produced its three great concept albums of the 1970s: 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres.

These albums would be commercial successes, and they would prove that Rush’s brand of progressive rock could succeed in the marketplace…until the band changed its style yet again, in the early 1980s.

-ET

**View RUSH CDs and vinyl on Amazon**

My first Atari, Christmas 1981

Atari 2600 (1980 – 1982)

There really was something special about growing up in an era when video games were not old hat, but something brand-new and on the cutting edge of the technology of that time.

I suppose I like my 21st-century iPhone and my MacBook as much as the next person, but they are tools for me, not objects of indulgence. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything quite as much as that first Atari console I received for Christmas in 1981.

Did I have a favorite game? Of course I did. Space Invaders, hands down. Missile Command came in a close second, though.

**Shop for retro video game consoles on Amazon (quick link)**

Classical music in small doses 

Amadeus, the biographical drama about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the mid-1980s. Starring F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, and Elizabeth Berridge, Amadeus brought the famed 18th-century composer and his times to life.

Amadeus remains one of my favorite movies of all time. But when I saw it for the first time, as a teenager in the 1980s, I was inspired: I had a sudden desire to learn more about classical music, or at least about Mozart.

This was more than a little out of character for me at the time. As a teenager, my musical tastes ran the gamut from Journey to Iron Maiden, usually settling on Rush and Def Leppard.

So I read a Mozart biography. I was already an avid reader, after all. Then it came time to listen to the actual music. That’s when my inspiration fell flat.

I found that Mozart the man was a lot more interesting than his music. At least to my then 17-year-old ears. Nothing would dethrone rock music, with its more accessible themes and pounding rhythms.

Almost 40 years later, I still prefer rock music. In fact, I still mostly prefer the rock music I listened to in the 1980s.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1781 portrait
**View Mozart biographies on Amazon**

Recently, however, I took another dive into classical music.

Classical music, like popular, contemporary music, is a mixed bag. Some of it is turgid and simply too dense for modern ears. Some pieces, though, are well worth listening to, even if they were composed in another era.

Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is one such piece. For the longest time, I mistakenly assumed that this arrangement was written for the 1986 Vietnam War movie, Platoon, in which it is prominently figured.

I was wrong about that. “Adagio for Strings” was composed in 1938, long before either Platoon or the Vietnam War.

“Adagio for Strings” is practically dripping with pathos. It is the perfect song to listen to when you are coping with sadness or tragedy. This music simultaneously amplifies your grief and gives it catharsis. You feel both better and worse after listening.

“Adagio for Strings” was broadcast over the radio in the USA upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It was played at the funeral of Albert Einstein ten years later. The composition was one of JFK’s favorites; and it was played at his funeral, too, in 1963.

Most of the time, though, you’ll be in the mood for something more uplifting. That will mean digging into the oeuvre of one or more of the classical composers.

While the best-known composers (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, etc.) all have their merits, I am going to steer you toward Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) instead.

Dvorak was born almost a century after Mozart and Beethoven, and longer than that after Bach. To my philistine ear, Dvorak’s music sounds more modern, while still falling within the realm of the classical.

Antonin Dvorak

I would recommend starting with Symphony Number 9, Aus der Neuen Welt (“From the New World”). This is arguably Dvorak’s most accessible work, and my personal favorite at present. Symphony Number 9 contains a lot of moods. It takes you up and down, and round again.

This is not the story of an older adult turning away from the pop culture of his youth for more sophisticated fare. Far from it. Dvorak is not going to replace Def Leppard on my personal playlist. Bach and Mozart have not supplanted Rush and AC/DC. 

But time has made me more musically open-minded. Almost 40 years after I was inspired by the movie Amadeus, I have, at long last, developed a genuine appreciation for classical music.

But that is a qualified appreciation, for an art form that I still prefer in measured doses.

-ET

The bygone, venerable 8-track

Members of my generation lived to see plenty of changes in the ways popular music is consumed. We were born in the golden age of the vinyl album. As adults, many of us are learning to cope with streaming music services.

Throughout most of the 1980s, the audio cassette tape was the most popular means of buying music and listening to it. When I see nostalgic Facebook posts about physical music media from the 1980s, the cassette tape is most often the subject.

But there was another musical format that was already dying out as the 1980s began, but which was actually quite good, by the standards of the time. I’m talking about the venerable 8-track tape.

The 8-track was a plastic cartridge that had dimensions of 5.25 x 4 x 0.8 inches. Like the audio cassette, the 8-track contained a magnetic tape. But unlike the audio cassette, the 8-track was much less prone to kinking and tangling.

The 8-track was actually 1960s technology. The 8-track took off in the middle of that decade, when auto manufacturers began offering 8-track players as factory-installed options in new vehicles. Throughout the 1970s, 8-track players were popular options on new cars. 8-tracks were further popularized by subscription music services like Columbia House.

Columbia House magazine ad from the late 1970s/early 1980s

I purchased my first home stereo system for my bedroom in 1982, with money I had saved from my grass-cutting job. I bought it at Sears, which was one of the best places to buy mid-level home audio equipment at that time. The stereo included an AM/FM radio, a turntable for vinyl records, a cassette deck, and an 8-track player

I quickly discovered that I liked the 8-track format the best, because of its relatively compact size and ease of use. That spring I bought 8-track versions of Foreigner 4, Styx’s Paradise Theater, and the Eagles Live album. All of these produced good sound (again, by the standards of that era), and none of them ever jammed or tangled. I was convinced that I had found my musical format.

It has often been my destiny to jump on a trend just as it is nearing its end. Little did I know that my beloved 8-track was already in steep decline.

8-track sales in the USA peaked in 1978, and began falling after that. The culprit was the slightly more compact, but far more error-prone audio cassette. This was the format that all the retailers were suddenly pushing. By the early 1980s, cassette players were also replacing 8-track players in cars.

I would like to say that I yielded to the march of technological progress, but this wouldn’t be truly accurate. The audio cassette, invented in 1963, was slightly older technology than the 8-track.

I did, however, yield to the march of commercial trends, simply because I had no choice. Nineteen-eighty-three was the year that retailers began phasing out 8-tracks in stores. You could still purchase them from subscription services, but they were disappearing from the shelves of mall record stores and general merchandisers like K-Mart. By early 1984, the venerable 8-track had completely vanished.

In recent years, there has been a movement to resurrect the vinyl record. I’ve noticed no similar trend aimed at bringing back the 8-track. At this point, in the early- to mid-2020s, I may be the only person left on the planet who still fondly remembers this bygone musical medium.

-ET

The story of Led Zeppelin (book recommendation/quick review)

Led Zeppelin formed in 1968, the year I was born, and disbanded in 1980, when I was twelve.

I was therefore too young to become a Led Zeppelin fan while the band was still a going concern. But Led Zeppelin was still enormously popular when I discovered rock music as a teenager in the early to mid-1980s. Lead singer Robert Plant, moreover, was then launching a solo career, and making use of the new medium of MTV.

Most of my musical interests lie in the past. I admittedly lack the patience to sort through the chaotic indie music scene on the Internet, and I shake my head disdainfully at the overhyped mediocrity of Taylor Swift. When I listen to music, I listen to the old stuff: Rush, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, and a handful of others.

Led Zeppelin is very close to the top of my list. I listen to Led Zeppelin differently than I did in the old days, though. The lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven” sound less profound to me at 55 than they did when I was 15. I now appreciate Led Zeppelin when they’re doing what they did best: raucous, bluesy rock-n-roll that had only a hint of deeper meaning: “Black Dog”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “Kashmir”, etc.

And of course, reading remains my first passion. I’m still waiting for an in-depth, definitive biography of Canadian rock band Rush. (I suspect that someone, somewhere is working on that, following the 2020 passing of Rush’s chief lyricist and drummer, Neil Peart.) But a well-researched and highly readable biography of Led Zeppelin already exists: Bob Spitz’s Led Zeppelin: The Biography.

At 688 pages and approximately 238,000 words, this is no biography for the casual reader. But if you really want to understand Led Zeppelin, its music, and the band’s cultural impact, you simply can’t beat this volume. I highly recommend it for the serious fan.

-ET

View Led Zeppelin: The Biography at Amazon

Kansas and the perils of creative indecision

Kansas was one of my favorite bands while growing up. But this was always something of a minority viewpoint. Sadly, Kansas is a band that never reached its full potential.

Kansas, like the Canadian rock trio Rush, always had an intellectual, progressive streak. Kansas always wanted to make rock music “something more”.

Here’s an example: the band’s debut, self-titled album contains a song called “Journey from Mariabronn.”

What the heck is Mariabronn, you ask? That’s a reference to German-Swiss author Herman Hesse’s 1930 novel, Narcissus and Goldmund.

Highbrow, yes. But a little too highbrow for popular music. Even in the artistically indulgent 1970s. How many 16-year-olds—either then or now—are conversant in mid-twentieth-century German classic literature?

Kansas basically had two commercially successful albums: Leftoverture (1976) and Point of Know Return (1977).

Leftoverture contains the spiritual rock anthem “Carry On Wayward Son”. This song brought the band mainstream success. This is also the Kansas song that non-devotees are most likely to recognize.

On Point of Know Return you’ll find “Dust in the Wind”, another Kansas song that still gets a fair amount of airplay.

That was about it, as far as commercial success went for Kansas. Although the band soldiered on for years (a version of Kansas continues as a going concern today), the group was fading out by the mid-1980s.

Kansas’s songs are well-thought-out, often to the point of being abstruse. In short, most of the group’s music isn’t immediately accessible to the casual listener. And that’s a fatal flaw in rock music, where the competition is fierce, and audience attention spans are notoriously short.

Kansas was also riven by an internal philosophical dispute. Founding member and chief songwriter Kerry Livegren became a born-again Christian in 1979. He often infused Kansas’s lyrics with quasi-Christian themes. These were seldom preachy or bombastic, but their spiritual import was hard to miss.

The other members of the band weren’t on board with this new direction. Many of Kansas’s albums during the 1980s (Drastic Measures (1983), comes to mind here) contain songs that aren’t really enough of one thing or another. It wasn’t explicitly Christian music, but it wasn’t mainstream rock—or even progressive rock—either.

The last Kansas album I bought was Power (1986). Kerry Livegren had left the band by this time, and the remaining members cobbled together an album that was imitative of the commercial rock music that was popular at that time.

Power contained a few worthwhile songs. But by this time Kansas had simply become too unpredictable as a musical entity—even for fans like myself.

Kansas had a good run in the 1970s, but the band ultimately floundered because its members couldn’t agree on what the band was supposed to represent musically and artistically.

Kansas was never going to be Foreigner or Journey, let alone a Led Zeppelin. All the group’s movements in those mainstream directions were awkward stumbles.

Christian rock was a thing in the 1980s and beyond. (The Christian rock group Stryper, founded in 1983, still has a fan base.) But Kansas never fully cultivated that market, because at least half of the band’s members were uncomfortable with the “Christian rock” label.

So Kansas was ultimately a lot of half-hearted missteps in many competing directions. But not enough of any one thing.

What’s the lesson here? Creator, know thyself. That advice applies not only to rock bands, but to anyone trying to stand out in a marketplace filled with “me-too” offerings.

-ET

Gordon Lightfoot (1938 – 2023), his music, and me

When I was a kid in the mid-1970s, my dad used to sing this song from the radio. The refrain went:

“Sundown, you’d better take care

If I find you’ve been creepin’ round my back stair.”

This was Gordon Lightfoot’s hit song, “Sundown”, of course. In the year the song climbed the charts, 1974, I was but six years old. I therefore didn’t grasp its meaning. But the song still brings back memories of that time.

And now that I’m old enough to understand “Sundown”, I find it an unusual take on the familiar romantic love triangle: that of the cuckolded male.

Fast-forward to 1986. My high school English teacher, wanting to demonstrate how stories could be told in poems and song lyrics, played “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” for us on one of the AV department’s record players. Yet another of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs.

I immediately connected with this song, even though I was unaware of the historical reference behind it. My teacher told our class about the November 1975 shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. That gave the song even more weight. It was a work of imagination and art…but also something real.

“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was released in 1976, to commemorate the shipwreck of the previous year. It remains one of my favorite songs from a musical era that I was too young to appreciate as it was taking place.

Last November marked the 47th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This got me thinking about the song, and about Gordon Lightfoot. According to Google, Lightfoot was still touring in his eighties.

But all tours, and all lives, must come to an end. Gordon Lightfoot passed away on May 1, of natural causes.

While Lightfoot and his music were a little before my time, I always appreciated his work. There are few songs quite as haunting and memorable as “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. And whenever I hear “Sundown”, I always hear my dad singing along with the radio in the mid-1970s.

A brilliant musician, and an artistic life well-lived. Gordon Lightfoot, 84, RIP.

-ET

**View Gordon Lightfoot’s music (CDs and vinyl) on Amazon**

 

When Jerry Springer spoke at my high school

Former politician and talk show host Jerry Springer has died.

Most people know Springer for his gonzo talk show work on national television. Decades before that, he was a well-known figure in Cincinnati politics and local broadcasting.

Springer spoke at my Cincinnati-area high school in 1985. At this time, the biggest skeleton in Springer’s closet was a 1974 scandal in which Springer, then a Cincinnati City Council member, paid a sex worker with a personal check. Springer resigned from city council in a certain degree of disgrace.

Several of my male classmates couldn’t resist calling out, “Where’s the check”? while Springer was speaking at our school in 1985. Springer, a good sport, laughed off their taunts and moved on.

Jerry Springer was never one to be impeded by other people’s opinions of him. I recognized that in 1985.

After the Jerry Springer talk show debuted in 1991, I tuned in a few times. In all honesty, the show was never for me. But I didn’t watch much network television of any kind during the early 1990s. I was too busy, and my life too disjointed.

I’ll always remember the local, Cincinnati version of Jerry Springer, anyway. The speaker at my high school who wasn’t about to be deterred by an embarrassing incident from his past, or others’ ungracious insistence on calling attention to it.

Perhaps there is a lesson for all of us here. One can go far, despite being hampered by very human flaws and a less than perfect track record. The trick is to shrug off the crowd’s disdain, and keep moving forward.

Jerry Springer, 79, R.I.P.