Friday, October 25, 2013

Loving Linda's Voice

Well I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari
Tehatchapi to Tonopah...

driven every kinda rig that's ever been made

driven the back roads so I wouldn't get weighed...
  • Willin', by Lowell George
(Willin')


Linda Ronstadt included this truck driving tune on her Heart Like a Wheel album in 1975, a song performed originally by Little Feat. Driving my bus route a few weeks ago, I was humming along to the words of this song, not wanting to torture my passengers with the warbling horror that is my singing voice. Suddenly I choked up and couldn't hum it any more.

The news had recently broken that my favorite lady vocalist, the crooner of my youth, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The muscles surrounding her vocal chords have been irreversibly damaged, and she said one day she discovered could not sing a note. Her velvety, multi-octave, supercharged instrument is forever silenced. Her interview with Diane Sawyer was fascinating. Linda displayed a matter-of-fact acceptance of her forced retirement. Although her sadness was evident when she discussed it, there was no whining. I admire her gritty attitude and steely toughness.

I've been playing a lot of Linda's music lately, from the country-rock albums of the 70s to her collaborations of 1940s standards with Nelson Riddle. I've Got A Crush On You, a Sinatra standard, is so seductive it sounds as if she's crooning it directly to her listeners. For my birthday earlier this month, my wife gave me Linda's autobiography, Simple Dreams. It gives a no-frills look at her life without the Hollywood gossip nonsense that pervades (perverts, maybe?) most of today's “tell all” tomes of musical stardom. You can tell she is a person of high class as she low-keys some of rock's most historic moments she was part of: backup singer with James Taylor on Neil Young's Heart of Gold; gracefully giving her blessing to the parting of two band mates who left to form the Eagles; and countless stories behind some of her greatest songs and the arrangements which made her renditions of them so special.

(I've Got A Crush On You)

Perhaps it's an unhealthy to love the music of one artist so completely, but her unique ability to send shivers down my spine with a single musical note is a talent few other musicians have. My justification for such unrequited love is balanced by the fact I have an equal affinity for everything James Taylor as well. But James still has his craft. Bonnie Raitt retains her magic, and many other artists I am so very fond of are still ticking along. However, none of them (sorry, Bonnie) graced my teenage bedroom walls in poster form. Linda has been with me since I was eight, when I first heard her sing Long Long Time and Different Drum with the Stone Poneys, and I've never grown tired of her. Some bands or artists never evolved, and some just fizzled away. Linda constantly tested new waters, refusing to be typecast into any one genre.

We have similar backgrounds in that I, too, was raised in the Arizona desert with wonderful parents. My father was also an incredibly gifted musician. Early on I learned how powerful an instrument the human voice can be. Dad was an extremely talented tenor soloist and classical guitarist. He twice sang the tenor solos of Handel's Messiah at Eastern Arizona College in the early 70s. Dad constantly practiced his vocal exercises; his soaring tenor going up the scale and down again are forever etched into my childhood memories. His main focus of interest were the rich and haunting music of the Appalachian Mountains, railroad and hobo songs, and Old English folk tunes such as Queen Jane and Greensleeves.

Like Linda's brother Pete, who later became Tucson's Chief of Police, I once sang boy soprano in a choir. I learned early on the power of a properly-tuned, practiced voice. While I never advanced my musical ability as adolescence warbled my own instrument, I was keen as to what constitutes a powerful voice. As a result, nowadays the only thing I can play is the radio or an iPod.

While I loved the Beatles and other rock bands of my youth, my vocal tastes also ranged from Nat King Cole to Ella Fitzgerald, and instrumental geniuses from Louis Armstrong to Andres Segovia and Herbie Mann. While other kids my age found one particular type of music and stuck with it, I was enjoying the craft of many different artists others may have labeled “sissy music”. Disco disgusted me because it seemed plastic and trendy. Country intrigued me for its storytelling quality and rugged individualism. Rock fueled my already-excited libido, while the velvety-smooth Karen Carpenter soothed teenage angst. Linda, with her haunting and powerful vocals, her twists and turns in musical styles, and modest personality, never failed to entrance me. That's not even mentioning her natural beauty, inside and out.

Linda seemed destined to be a country star when she burst onto the scene in the 70s. Yet throughout her career she has explored so many different styles, each of her albums broadened my cochlear horizons to genres I hadn't bothered to explore. She could go from country to rock to Sinatra to Mexican to Broadway to Cajun to folk with an ease I've never seen from another artist. Her braving the critics' wrath to sing whatever interested her always impressed me. And each time she experimented with a different type of music, she nailed it. While my beloved wife does not like Linda and cringes whenever I express my love for her wonderful voice, she grudgingly accepts my one-sided, 45-year long-distance love affair with her.

(Colorado)

Somehow, I do not own every one of Linda's recordings. I've seen her in concert twice: once at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix in 1976, and once in Tucson in the 80s. The first show I remember this beautiful woman on a revolving stage, belting out Lose Again to an ecstatic crowd and giggling shyly afterward as the crowd erupted in ear-shattering applause. Her “thank you” sounded like it came from a little girl, not the icon she was in the process of becoming. In 1975, I first heard the album Don't Cry Now, a largely country-oriented group of songs. I was instantly mesmerized, and eager to hear more. Her soulful rendition of Colorado, written by her longtime pal John David Souther, is simply amazing. Next came Prisoner in Disguise, which included my favorite tune of that era, Silver Blue, another of JD Souther's creations. Her release of Hasten Down the Wind brought us an even more refined and powerful bluesy rock tempered with her searing rendition of Willie Nelson's Crazy and Karla Bonoff's haunting Someone to Lay Down Beside Me. Also found on this album is a song she wrote herself in Spanish, Lo Siento Mi Vida. Try as I might to sing along, her effortless transition from low to high notes was impossible to imitate. In addition to Simple Dreams, where she treated us to Blue Bayou and Ooh Baby Baby, she included a Warren Zevon tune, Carmelita, which aptly explores the darker shade of night. Each of her releases surprised and transfixed me. I could write an article on each album, but these four probably catapulted her from undeserved near obscurity to superstar status. In each new release, you could hear the improvement in her voice. It has always been obvious that she is a perfectionist, always striving to find exciting canyons for her voice to soar.

(Lose Again)

I was afforded a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Count Basie when he brought his orchestra to play at the community college I attended. As editor of the student newspaper, I assigned myself the honor of interviewing this musical icon. However, given my love for music and true understanding of this man's historical importance in American history, I should have given the assignment to another reporter. I was mesmerized, entranced, and too excited to be effective. I had listened to his recordings and those of his peers from my earliest years. As he exited stage left after the concert, the Count was met by two beautiful women. They simultaneously kissed him on either cheek. One placed a fresh cigar in his mouth and the other lit it as they escorted him backstage where I was waiting to meet him. He warmly shook my hand and put his arm around my shoulders as we walked to his dressing room where he graciously offered me 15 minutes of his time. I was in awe of this man for his historic contribution to jazz. This made for an awkward interview. I was simply too starstruck to ask a question. This tickled his funny bone and he smiled. “We're both just people, you and me,” he said quietly, trying to soothe my nerves. “So relax... ask whatever you want.” His generosity helped, but it was easily the worst interview I ever conducted. Here we were, in the middle of Podunk, USA at a tiny community college miles from nowhere, and all I could think of to ask was “So how do you like our campus?” Good grief! A musical icon at the level of Duke Ellington and Satchmo, yet that was all I could think of to ask! The rest of my questions were equally horrible, and as I sat at the typewriter the next day, I panicked at the lack of a substantial quote in my notebook. Most of what I had written the night before was illegible. The results of that wonderful opportunity were weak at best, and I was treated to a well-deserved smack on the head with a rolled-up newspaper by my journalism professor.


So given this bit of personal history, I've often wondered how I would react if I had the chance to meet Linda. I would like to think I've learned from the Basie incident. Fantasies of being stoic and not drooling on her, enjoying fascinating conversation, and having witty and intelligent things to say are what I would hope for. People who have met Linda, including my daughter as a child, remember her being loving, sweet and fun to be around. Of course, meeting her is far from a realistic possibility. The closest I've come is through my daughter's recollections and the wonderful gift from my mother-in-law of an autographed CD of Linda's last solo recording, Hummin' to Myself.

Linda's voice cannot be silenced, thanks to her many recordings. My clumsy choice of adjectives cannot begin to do justice to her contributions to my musical memory. History will rightfully list her as the first Queen of Rock and an enduring legend. In my heart, just below my wife (who will always reign supreme where love is concerned), Linda is challenges my father as my favorite vocalist. My father's hearing is so poor now, he cannot hear the music well enough to play or sing. Linda's voice is silenced by a devastating disease. The loss of these wonderful voices saddens me, but I have recordings of them both. Dad would understand if she sometimes edges ahead of him, because he's the one who introduced me to the wonders of the vocal instrument. Thank you Dad, and thank you Linda, for you both have given me gifts I can enjoy several lifetimes over.

Vaya con dios.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

40 Days and Holding...

It has been too long since I posted, but just FYI, this full-time gig has me (once again) trying to get accustomed to the schedule. Life as a family man who drives a bus is a challenge. Of course, my family gets top priority, so this little exercise of fun gets shoved back a few pegs. However, I have been working on an entry to post here. It is a deviation from this blog's normal subject matter, but it is very important to me, therefore it needs to be shared. It is a tribute to a musician I hold in the highest esteem.

Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience. Peace be with you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Full Time and Rollin' Along

Finger has healed, on to bigger and better things these days. Took the wife's birthday off yesterday and realized that it was my first paid day off since my last job was outsourced over four years ago! It was lovely lounging around, watching a movie, baking a cake and making her birthday dinner of Eggs Benedict. Best and tastiest Hollandaise sauce I've ever created! With my own birthday sneaking up on me soon, I can think of a dozen meals my beloved might create for me. But in the meantime it's been too long since I tortured y'all, so it's time for another long-winded tome before I head out again.

The other night it rained. Hard. First time in about three months, and it was nice. Lightning, thunder, the works. As I rolled up to the Burnside Bridge I looked out across the river at my adopted hometown and realized just how much I LOVE PORTLAND! Its people, the scenery, the strangeness that makes Portland so fun a city to live in. Then a couple of people boarded and began berating each other. Sigh. It was nice while it lasted!

My bus riders are each treated to a smile and a greeting when they board. It is my belief that they are each entitled to a smooth, trouble-free ride to their destination. With two of them arguing it makes the rest of us uncomfortable. I was in no mood for trouble. It was a holiday for crying out loud! People should have been laid back, as 99% of them were, not crabby. So I told them both to knock it off, politely. Then the back-and-forth continued, this time about whose fault it was they were arguing. I stopped and informed them my bus is not the place for their petty grievances. Both plead innocent, blaming the other for the problem. I maintained they were both assholes (not using that descriptive word, of course), and that if their shenanigans continued I would commence singing for their assigned torture and punishment. So one of them began singing a sordid tune, his tone made worse by the amount of alcohol he had consumed. Big mistake. The other then complained about his choice of entertainment.

Surely you are expecting a fiery end to this incident, but luckily the first rider exited the next stop. It should have ended the problem, but then the other decided he should move closer to the driver and berate me for letting the other harass him. I calmly told him it takes two to tango, and that I merely drive the 40,000 pound behemoth down the road. I'm not a referee, nor will I take sides. His tone made me nervous and reminded me of another drunk I had been closely associated with earlier in life. But I calmly let him know that how others affect him is his own responsibility, and all I ask is people be respectful of others while I drive. Then he exited, muttering expletives under his .25-something BAC breath. I closed the door before he could finish and continued on.

So far I've been lucky (knock on wood). I just began full time this past week. New routes, longer and later hours than usual. It takes a lot out of a person. When you have the “problem rider”, it tests your patience, customer service, and survival skills. It is hard enough to drive a bus without your cargo acting up. I have only encountered the occasional grouchy rider, and I don't know how I'll handle the severe cases until they rear their ugly heads. Hopefully my father's calm side will overshadow my mother's fiery Irish blood.

Now that I'm full time, the luck of the draw has me driving out of the Merlo garage, which is 26.4 miles from my home. My seniority number is at the bottom of the barrel, so that's how the crumbs fall. Luckily the routes I have won't be too bad (except one day on the 4), and it's only for three months until the next signup allows for others to slip in below me. In the meantime, the work at the Center garage continues. The MAX Orange line construction is proceeding, along with the remodel of the Center main building, which was built in the mid-70s. It's a mess over there, as you can see in the photos. So the bright side is I can find a parking spot easier. Once I finally get there!


It was great that team bus driver was able to fully and safely evacuate her burning bus on Highway 26 the other night. Kudos to her for acting quickly and decisively for the safety of her students. However, it meant that all westbound traffic out of downtown was completely stalled for over two hours while it was cleaned up. I was stopped on Burnside for over two hours, with nothing to do but wait it out. Luckily I didn't need to pee. I was hungry and my knee hurt, but my riders gradually got the picture and abandoned ship. So it was just the two of us: a dear lady trying to get to Fred Meyer before it closed, and myself. She boarded on Couch just before the bridge for what should have been a 10 minute ride. So we introduced ourselves and made the best of the situation. Luckily traffic moved and she was able to make it there with time to spare. Unfortunately, it took two hours longer than she bargained. All the route's westbound buses were also stuck on the same road, so no east bounders passed us for over an hour. When I finally arrived at the end of the line, it was at the same time I would have ended my route. Only my route ends at the opposite end from where I was. It had been over four hours since I'd had a break. My knees were screaming along with my empty stomach and full bladder. So after a short break I called Dispatch for instructions. Just as I figured, they asked me to make one more eastbound trip to make up for the two hours it wasn't running. No big deal, it was overtime buck$ for me! Sure was hungry when it was over though. Need to bring more snackage with me. I keep learning every day.

There have been some sweet folks riding lately, but I haven't driven the routes long enough to establish relationships yet. School is back in session and I love to tease kids, as I have three of my own. Maybe I'll have some fun today, who knows? Apologies for not having an overly-interesting entry this time, but I'm just out there doing a job. Until next time... thanks for reading and be safe out there.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Oucheriferous!

Sorry to keep you waiting for the latest edition of this rag, but I injured a finger last week and it was kinda hard to type with a big fat bandage on. More on that later, but I want to thank you for reading the past few months and to encourage you to share this blog with others. It will remain ad-free as my gift to you, and also because like you I'm annoyed with ads on almost every website I visit.

In the meantime, I hope to get back to writing this weekend, and I'll tell you a few more stories, From the Driver's Side...


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Holy Tualatin Batman!

I went over a thousand hits on my blog! Thanks everyone. Please feel free to comment; writers are greedy.

;o)
The Deacon

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Artistic Encounters...

Well it's only been a day, but I realized something I could share with you...

Over the winter signup, a very kind gentleman rode my bus and every time he exited, he'd give me a piece of candy in gratitude for a safe ride. When I started this new route, which is the same one going a different direction, I began the great pleasure of giving him a ride to downtown rather than from there. Arne was happy that I remembered his name, and I asked him where he was going every day he rides the bus. Turns out, he's an artist and spends considerable time at a gallery.

Hey, you know, artists are a dime a dozen, I figured. Then I went to the website and found he is anything but ordinary.

One reason I took this job is I enjoy interacting with people. I meet some fascinating personalities on a bus! So far I believe I've made some new good friends and had the pleasure of new acquaintances with others. I've given rides to people I know and hadn't seen in a long time. Once in a while I have the proverbial asswipe, but luckily they have been few and far between.

Take a gander at Arne's work if you like colorful art. Some are nudes, so don't look if the human body offends you. I can't afford to buy any of his work at the moment, but it is interesting and provoking.

http://www.atticgallery.com/GalleryArtists.html?step=2&bid=8&pageno=1

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sorry I haven't posted in a week or so. Getting ready for my son's high school graduation! Can't believe how fast he's grown up...

My new runs are okay. Ho hum. No new stories really, unless you count my missing a turn and having to back up the bus. Shh!

I'll be back after the weekend. One more run and I'm done for the week, and ready for a 3-day weekend, visiting with my daughter and father-in-law, and celebrating my awesome son's graduation!

Thanks for reading!