“Crystal Blue Persuasion” – Tommy James and the Shondells
Sometimes, when I’m tired of the dead-end jobs I usually find myself in, I think about going back to graduate school and finishing out the MA I started 8 or so years ago. Yeah, I know my time's run out for finishing that one out. I’d have to start over, but when I left I said I was taking a year off, so it amuses me to think that this is all just one really long, freaking break. I think about how much fun I had in college, and what great things I could do with a higher degree.
Then I look at my wife. For as long as I’ve known her (and we’re coming up on ten years now) she has been a student. For as long as we’ve been dating, and then married, she’s been a graduate student. I’ve seen first hand the hard work, frustration, anger, and absolute horror being stuck in graduate school can be.
Like everybody who eventually attends college, during my senior year of high school I had to take the ACT exams. It was an all- day affair taking place at my local junior college in Claremore, Oklahoma. How I did on that exam would effect the colleges I could get into and the scholarships I might receive. "Nervous" is the word one might describe my feelings just before taking the exam; "petrified" is the word I’d choose.
On my way to the exam, that early Saturday morning, I heard this song, in cover version by Concrete Blonde. I didn’t even know who Tommy James was – I thought it was some crazy retro psychedelic juice being spilled by Johnette Napolitano and company. My surprise was great when I realized it was some “oldie” that my mother even knew.
Regardless of who sang it first, that song eased my tensions ever so slightly and allowed me to do fairly well on that exam. I went onto college and (partially) graduate school and lived mostly happy.
But I still have nightmares about those tiny little squares you had to fill in with a No. 2 pencil.
“Steamroller” – James Taylor
From Greatest Hits
My first two years of college I lived in the dormitories. I lived in one of those dorms that all the rooms opened up to the outside world, hotel-like. We even had our own bathroom. My particular dorm was on the far side of campus, and my room opened up to a rather large, open field. I suspect the powers-that-be have built something large and ugly there now, but at the time it was our playground.
Every semester, to wind out some of the stress of mid-terms, we would have a big cook-out. The first time was very unorganized – with only a few people brining anything, but everybody trying to eat. But as the semesters rolled we got it down to a science – ledgers for who would bring what, and vouchers for who brought, and thus who could eat.
Like schmucks though, we never caught on that starting a grill, and cooking a few dozen hamburgers, hot dogs, shrimp, and steaks took a lot of time. We’d usually start cooking around 11pm and so the festivities wouldn’t even really get started until after midnight.
One early morn, say around threeish, one young man not partying, crept out of his dorm room in nothing but his boxers and a scowl on his face. “Guys, can you keep it down?” he asked, “I’m trying to sleep, and I have to get up early.”
We apologized profusely, and promised to keep things much quieter.
Then, still with a scowl, he saw the grill and the hamburgers and asked, ”Can I have one of those?”
The scowl left pretty quickly as he filled himself on our tasty meats.
Inevitably, my roommate, would cool the festivities well into the early dawn with this James Taylor album finishing up the party with something like a bang with “Steamroller.”
“Sexy M.F.” – Prince
From Diamonds and Pearls
My first real job was for a construction company, working on an EPA project eliminating high lead content from residential yards. I worked as a property inspector/safety photographer and spent half my day out in the field and the other half in an office.
It was a fun job in many ways, and I had a really great boss – she was also a very petite, gentle-looking woman who could make a drunken sailor in Taiwan blush with her filthy mouth. I also enjoyed being able to work out in the field, and drive my own truck, while still being able to sit in the comfort of the office on particularly nasty weather days.
The problem with the office, was the office assistant. She was horrible. Literally on her second day on the job, she asked me to come help her because her floppy disk wouldn’t go into the drive – she had it turned upside down and facing the wrong way. This was the lady in charge of all our office paperwork, and she didn’t even know how to insert a floppy! There were many more problems involving her complete lack of office sense, but a big one also involved this song.
As anyone who has ever worked construction knows, it can get pretty rough and tumble at times. Most workers like to work hard and play hard. Sometimes in the same breath. Like I said my boss could throw down with the toughest of men. Our office assistant liked to get a little raunchy herself, and too many's the time I had to sit and listen to her describe the previous night's sexual exploits. It was always kinky, always graphic, and always way more than I wanted to hear. But I let it slide, because I had other battles to wage.
One rainy day I brought some Prince albums to work and played them at a pretty high volume. This song came on, and with my boss saying she liked it I turned it up another notch. If you’ve never heard this song, all I can say is that it’s got a real hard beat, and it often repeats it’s title without the initials (and I’ll only give you two guesses as to what those letters stand for.)
Little Miss Office filed a complaint against me. Nothing formal, thank Matthew Broderick, but a pretty vehement verbal railing to my boss's boss. I couldn’t believe it; everyday she heard worse language coming from nearly everybody, and she herself laid on such a raunchy load every morning that I thought it inconceivable she would complain about such a great song.
Luckily my boss vouched for me and nothing was made of it.
Later the whole joint was raided by the FBI, and I moved to Tennessee. So it all worked out.