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I immediately connected with this song, even though I was unaware of the historical reference behind it.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.


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.


Challenger disaster +37 years

I was a senior in high school on January 28, 1986. The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger occurred that day at 11:39 a.m., EST.

The explosion took place just 73 seconds into the shuttle’s flight, and killed all seven crew members. Among the dead was Christa McAuliffe, a Massachusetts teacher who had been a guest astronaut. 

That year I had a part-time job in my school’s cafeteria. I was operating a soda machine in the lunch line when the students began filing in, talking about what had happened. This was one of those national tragedies that was announced in classrooms, rather like the assassination of JFK, when my parents were in high school.

The Reagan Administration had been hoping to revive interest in the U.S. space program, as well as to inject some life into math and science education. (Even then, there were concerns that American students were falling behind their global counterparts in math and science.) The presence of teacher Christa McAuliffe on the mission was a key part of that effort. McAuliffe’s inclusion would have been a good idea, perhaps, if not for what happened.

Christa McAuliffe in 1985

I’m not going to exaggerate, and say that the Challenger disaster depressed me for a month, or anything like that. I was sorry for the loss of life, of course. But in 1986 I was a self-absorbed teenager, and this was a faraway event. 

The disaster did have a sobering effect on me, though. At my present age (I’ll let you do the math), I am acutely aware that life is fragile, and that bad things happen to good people. I wasn’t as aware of this in 1986. Continue reading “Challenger disaster +37 years”

My grandmother’s favorite TV show

I didn’t realize that all four of The Golden Girls had passed. Betty White, the last of them, died on New Year’s Eve, 2021.

But I suppose I should not be surprised, given that the show has been off the air for 30 years, and the actresses were rather advanced in years even when the show was filmed.

Back in the day, I wasn’t a fan of The Golden Girls (1985-1992), not because I actively disliked it, but because I was outside the show’s target demographic. I was between the ages of 17 and 24 while The Golden Girls was in primetime. A sitcom about four elderly women was difficult for me to relate to at the time, I guess.

But my grandmother, who was born the same year as Betty White and Beatrice Arthur (1922), absolutely loved it. My grandfather, born in 1921, watched it, too. (My grandfather loved television, and would watch almost anything.)

I have fond memories of dropping by my grandparents’ house in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to find them both tuned in to this much loved, bygone television show. The show delighted my grandmother to no end. 

So I suppose I am a fan of The Golden Girls, after all. I just didn’t know it back then.

Kirstie Alley (1951-2022)

Actress Kirstie Alley has passed away following a long battle with cancer, according to the late actress’s spokespersons.

I remember Kirstie Alley as Saavik in The Wrath of Khan, the 1982 Star Trek movie. But my fondest onscreen memories of her are from her long role (1987-93) as Rebecca Howe on Cheers. Alley joined Cheers after the situation comedy had already been running for five years. She replaced Shelley Long as the show’s female lead.

Cheers was already the best sitcom on television, and Kirstie Alley made it even better. Many of her scenes opposite Ted Danson can still make me guffaw.

A great actress who leaves behind some memorable performances. Some of television comedy’s best, in fact. 

Kirstie Alley, 71, R.I.P.

Loretta Lynn and the American dream

I won’t lie: I barely know Tim McGraw from Buck Owens. Country music has never been my cup of tea. 

But who can’t relate to the song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”? 

Whatever your musical tastes, it’s inspiring to think that a girl born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky at the height of the Great Depression could grow up to become instantly recognizable, even to those of us who don’t listen to much country music. 

She also brought joy to millions of people with her music for more than six decades. You might not be a rabid Loretta Lynn fan, but you probably know someone who is. Here in southern Ohio, I know plenty of them.

Loretta Lynn, 90, RIP.

PJ O’Rourke (1947 – 2022)

I was browsing in a Barnes & Noble superstore back in the mid-90s one day, when I happened to come across a book entitled All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty

The author of the book was P.J. O’Rourke. 

I was only vaguely aware of O’Rourke at that time. I knew that he was a political commentator. But a different kind of political commentator: O’Rourke brought humor to controversial issues that made most everyone else mad. 

That was his reputation, anyway. So I decided to give the above title a try.

Suffice it to say that All the Trouble in the World not only kept my attention, it also made me laugh out loud. I was instantly hooked, and I have been a fan of O’Rourke’s ever since.

The mid-1990s were more laid-back, less angry times. The culture wars were already flaring up here and there; but mostly they were on a low simmer. 

I immediately recognized O’Rourke as a man who saw things as I did. He was a conservative-leaning moderate, who had no patience for pointy-headed double-talk, and the histrionics of what is now called “wokeness”.

But at the same time, PJ O’Rourke was not mean-spirited. He sought to point out the flaws in the philosophy that had already come to be known as the New Left. Having flirted with the New Left himself in his college days, O’Rourke knew firsthand that political leftism is an  intellectual disorder, but not an incurable one. He also realized that persuasion and humor could win a lot more hearts and minds than shrill denunciations.

In more recent years, O’Rourke has been somewhat mismatched to the times: a genuinely funny man in an age that has lost its sense of humor. Nevertheless, he maintained a following… myself included.

I found out today that PJ O’Rourke has passed away at the age of 74. He was apparently suffering from some serious lung-related issues.

While by no means a young man, his output had continued at more or less the pace of a book a year. I had looked forward to reading the essays and collections that he had yet to write.

This is one literary figure whom I will sorely miss. PJ O’Rourke, age 74, RIP.