|Nothing in life beats speeding down a sloping curving road with the windows open and Nick Lowe blasting on a late fall day, right up to the moment when you see the sign that says BUMP. Right up to and possibly including, since it’s a rare thing to get all four wheels off the ground in a Honda CR-V. At least it prepares you for the next BUMP, which comes immediately afterwards. But I still have shocks and teeth, so it was okay. And yes, I was driving alone, en route to pick up Gnat from her Best School Day Ever. (Field Trip to the museum to look at stuffed animals and dinosaur bones and Real Skeletons.) I was inordinately happy for several solid reasons:
1. It felt like a Friday
2. It felt like a Friday that would be followed two days later by another Friday, with Thanksgiving in the middle
3. My column for next Tuesday was finished, more or less, and I had a few minutes to answer 7% of the mail
4. I like Nick Lowe
5. No snow this late? Fine. I remember years when the snow laid on the ground three feet, four feet deep by now; in 1983, a winter I remember well (convergence of new apartment, new job, new romance) I took the train back to Fargo, and from here to there the entire world was white and fresh and silent. There’s something about winter and snow that eliminates sound, and in that immense and roofless vacancy you sense another presence, something that doesn’t move. Doesn’t have to. And you don’t have to be in a field in the middle of an empty state to feel it; I get it here in the city. No cars, no planes, no voices, no sound. It’s remarkable. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like driving on dry streets the day before Thanksgiving with the stereo set to brain-pureeing levels, either.
6. Parent-teacher conference in the morning. Bottom line: I have a remarkable daughter. Of course they’re going to say that, and of course I’m going to want to hear that, but the teacher seemed quite taken with Gnat. The first thing she mentioned was her sense of confidence and self-esteem. I like the first term, but not the second. Confidence comes from experience, but self-esteem comes from self-regard, which isn’t always the clearest judge of character. This goes back to the conversation I had with Gnat about goodness – would Daddy rather someone said “She’s so pretty” or “She’s so smart” or “She’s so good”? Pretty fades, smart can trick you, but good gives you a compass.
And so on. Great talk. The teacher noted that she’d like to meet Gnat in 20 years. “Me too,” I thought. I mean, I hope it works out that way. You never know. Can’t take anything for granted.
7. Afterwards I took Gnat to Annie’s Parlour in Dinkytown. I want to go to Burger King, she said. But there’s no Burger King around here. There used to be, when I lived here, but it’s gone. And before that it was the 10 o’clock Scholar, where Dylan played.
Speaking of which: “Like A Rolling Stone” is, according to Rolling Stone, the top rock song of all time. Oh please. Oh please. Puts me in mind of a mean song I recorded with my old band, Scotus and the Pronouncers. By “old band” I mean three guys who got together in my apartment in DC for an afternoon and cut two tracks: “It Ain’t A Party (‘Til Somebody Dies)” and “F*** the Sixties,” both written by Brett “Dawg” Davis. The lyrics to the latter number were clear and concise: "F the 60s / the 60s are dead / F the 60s / Get it through your f’ing head!”) The name of the band, incidentally, was pure wire-service geekery; SCOTUS is wire-service abbreviation for the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Pronouncer was a regular AP feature that gave pronunciation guides for names in the news. No tapes survive, alas. Brett does, though; in a just world his books would sell millions.
Anyway – “Like A Rolling Stone” is a rock song in the same sense that “Tommy” is an opera. A rock song rocks, and this is one instance where a tautology comes in handy. To name that tune a rock song, let alone the best, shows how much people have invested in the era, and why: because the music meant something, man. It was heavy, it was deep. Whatever. I remember when it came on the jukebox at the Valli, the air just left the room: oh great, six minutes of ORGAN music and nasally accusations. How did it feel? It felt boring, Bob.
“Satisfaction” is a good number two, and might even be a good number one; it has the simplest hook possible, and it rocks. Number three, “Imagine,” is somnambulant tripe, and it does not rock. It nods off like a junkie and burns a hole on that nice white piano. Number five: “Respect” is a great song, although I am content never to hear it again. And I still think she sings “You’re ruinin’ our food! And I ain’t lyin’!” at the end. Also, it is not rock. It is soul. Number seven: “Johnny B. Goode,” aka every other Chuck Berry song. Number eight: “Hey Jude.” Mm-hmm. Na na na nanana na, na na na na, hey Jude. Words to live by. (Not to be confused with "na na na na, na na na na, hey heyay, goodbye," which posits an entirely different moral construct.)
I just realized that the list is the “Greatest songs of all time,” which is even stupider. The list has nothing from before the pre-rock / proto-rock era, as if popular music began in 1948 (“Rollin’ Stone, Muddy Waters). Idiots.
My number one? Well, it’s not the best song ever, but it has everything you need to know about rock. A fleet fingerered twangy guitar solo! A geeky singer! Catchy as ebola, and it works if you’re 18 or 70. Can we all agree on this? We can have knife-fights over #2, but we owe it to ROCK to choose something that actually rocks. And this does. You have to unlearn about 40 years of habit to realize why, but it's worth it. See, here's the problem these curators of the Holy Flame of Boomerism can't admit: something doesn't have to be good to ROCK. I mean, "Everybody's Working for the Weekend" is formulaic bombast, but does it ROCK? It rocks.
Yes, I was playing that as I drove fast and bad today, too.
8. Anyway. She wanted Burger King because they had Spongebob toys. “But Annie’s Parlour has ice cream.”
Oh well great! Let’s go there.
I parked the Galileo and we stood on the corner of (positively) 4th street and 14th, an intersection I crossed a dozen times a day when I lived in Dinkytown. (1977-1986.) Originally, Annie’s was called Greenstreets. Same owner as Annie’s Parlour, which back then was a cramped & “funky” burger / malt shop on the West Bank. Then Greenstreets became Annie’s. They opened one in Uptown when I moved there, and at first I thought I was being stalked. The original and the third closed, leaving the Dinkytown locale. This is important why? Because every date in college years always ended up Annie’s, and because for most the early 80s I took my afternoon coffee at Greenstreets, after the lunch traffic thinned out. Smoked and read and wrote and played the jukebox and tried to look beguilingly literary. Hadn’t been back in more tha 15 years.
They haven’t changed the tablecloths or the menu or the carpet. Or the view. (It looks out over the gates of the old Campus.) Walking in with Gnat felt marvelous. One of those moments where you realize that a certain place had an unclosed parenthesis. And now:
So I’m thankful for that; I’m thankful for more things than I can describe at the moment, which is either a sign of honest, clear-headed evaluation of my blessed life, or, more likely, the onset of a manic cycle. Or maybe the happy nexus of both! I’ll take it. And because we are going over to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, this means no leftovers, which means PIZZA on Second Friday. I’m so cheerful I won’t even hack at Hugh for slagging me on his site, despite the fact that my remarks about Petula being “an American voice” was a sly reference to his mischaracterization of Ms. Clark. I was gracious enough not to rub his nose in it yesterday. See what it gets me? Well, I won’t point out that he referred to “The Ukraine” on the show today, because I know that’s his way of speaking. “We were right to invade The Iraq,” he said to me the other day, “even though The France objected.” It’s just his way. Why do you think it’s “The Hugh Hewitt Show”? Because his friends call him “The Hugh Hewitt.”
Final note, as I close: time elapsed from visit to museum to shrieking nightmare about skeletons was eight hours, 17 minutes. Could have been shorter. It wasn’t. For which I am – well, you know.