Originally posted December 9, 2009:
I missed a birthday on Sunday. Didn’t even think about it until it was past. But it’s not like someone’s out there saddened or even annoyed that I forgot about him or her. My mustache doesn’t care.
It was December 6, 1973, when I headed out of Fredericia, Denmark, for a two-week hitchhiking tour through Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. To save room in my toiletries case, I left my razor and my shaving cream behind. I think the plan was to go a few weeks without shaving and then take a look in the mirror and make a decision. If what I saw wasn’t too ridiculous, I’d continue to let my beard and mustache grow.
Through misadventure – and the lack of traffic for hitchhiking, the result of an oil embargo – I ended up back in Denmark after a week instead of two. But I still foreswore shaving, waiting to see how things went. Based on photos taken on Christmas Day – not quite three weeks into the project – things weren’t going well. It almost looked as if I’d not washed my chin and upper lip for a while.
But it was so much easier not to shave, and facial foliage was in style at the time, especially among young folks. And at the very least, it meant ten minutes more of sleep some mornings. Eventually, I began trimming the beard and mustache, but I kept both until December 1975. I was in the middle of an internship at a Twin Cities television station, and I thought that losing the beard might give me a better chance of getting on the air during the last two months of the quarter; shaving off the beard might also, I thought, give me a better chance of being employed by the station after I graduated. I kept the mustache, but hey, it was 1975. Lots of guys had mustaches.
The beard came back during my days in Monticello, but only for two years, I think. I also grew a beard in during my first year of graduate school, and shaved it off as I prepared to move back to Minnesota. Finally, around Thanksgiving in 1987, I quit shaving again, and I’ve had a beard ever since.
Through all of that, the mustache has remained. I guess if there were a real moment of choice, it came in December 1975, when I shaved off my first beard. I’m not sure why I kept the mustache then, but I’ve not thought seriously about shaving it off since then.
So my mustache is thirty-six years old this week. It’s a little bit neater these days than it was during my college years or my years of scuffling in the late 1990s. My monthly visits to Tom the Barber keep both the beard and mustache trimmed, if not quite as short as the Texas Gal would like. (To be honest, I think she’d prefer to see both of them gone, but she knows that idea is a non-starter.)
So what were we listening to during the week that I set aside my razor? Here are a few selections.
A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, December 8, 1973)
“If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” by the Staple Singers (No. 12)
“Mind Games” by John Lennon (No. 24)
“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson (No. 34)
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano (No. 61)
“Ain’t Got No Home” by The Band (No. 83)
“Love Has No Pride” by Linda Ronstadt (No. 92)
The Staple Singers’ “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” moves along in a sweet, mellow groove, as did most of the Staples’ tunes. It’s clearly derivative of their own “I’ll Take You There,” which went to No. 1 in the spring of 1972. But that didn’t seem to bother listeners a lot: “If You’re Ready” went to No. 9, giving the Staples their second Top Ten hit, and it went to No.1 on the R&B chart, just as “I’ll Take You There” had. The Staples would have two more Top 40 hits in the next two years, with the second of them – “Let’s Do It Again” – reaching No. 1 on both the Top 40 and R&B charts.
If I have my John Lennon history correct, “Mind Games” and the similarly titled album were the first bits of Lennon’s work to surface from the period he spent in California that’s come to be known as the Lost Weekend or something like that. (This is not so, as was pointed out by a comment from a reader: Mind Games was released before Lennon embarked on his Lost Weekend.) One of the Rolling Stone record guides basically said the album was the product of a musician whose music had no other purpose than to continue his career. I think it’s a little better than that. “Mind Games” went to No. 18.
Not long ago, Rolling Stone published a lengthy feature on Kris Kristofferson, an interesting portrait of the man, flaws and all. I read it, went back and listened to more of his music than I have in some time, and I came to the same judgment I did long ago: A limited actor, a limited singer and a hell of a songwriter. His “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” was one of the first songs that made me wish I could ever write anything that good. Kristofferson’s “Why Me” went to No. 16 and made it to No. 1 on the country chart.
I retain a soft spot for the Latin-tinged pop-rock of El Chicano (as well as for the music of Malo, a similar group of the time), so when the group pops up in a chart I’m examining, it’s likely the record will show up here. “Tell Her She’s Lovely” is particularly engaging to me, what with the dual guitar figure that pops up at the twelve-second mark to lead the way onward. The single barely made the Top 40, spending one week at No. 40.
The Band’s “Ain’t Got No Home” never came close to making the Top 40. Pulled from Moondog Matinee, the group’s album of covers of vintage rock ’n’ roll and R&B tunes, “Ain’t Got No Home” was a version of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 1957 hit that even included a vocal imitation of Henry’s frog-like croak at the 1:35 mark. The record had been in the Hot 100 for three weeks as of December 8, 1973, and had only gotten as high as No. 83. Two weeks later, “Ain’t Got No Home” peaked at No. 73 for two weeks; two weeks after that, the record was gone from the Hot 100.
The other night, catching up with the massive concert celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Texas Gal and I heard Bonnie Raitt perform “Love Has No Pride.” As Raitt sang, the Texas Gal noted that she preferred Linda Ronstadt’s version. I tend to lean toward Raitt’s 1972 version from Give It Up, but I’ll gladly acknowledge that Ronstadt did a hell of a job on the song. The single version – which this may or may not be – peaked at No. 51 in mid-January 1974. (Another version of the song that I should likely post one of these days is the 1977 recording by Libby Titus, who co-wrote the song with Eric Kaz.)