Originally posted September 8, 2009:
I was reminded this weekend of the summer of 1985:
I’d returned that February to Minnesota after eighteen months in graduate school in Missouri. I was doing some free-lance work, and sometime in April, to keep the budget from stretching as thin as tissue paper, I started working weekend overnight shifts at a local convenience store. While that was sometimes interesting, and while it fulfilled its purpose of keeping us from going broke, it wasn’t a lot of fun. But we do what we have to do.
Then, one weekday afternoon around the end of May, I got a call from DQ, the editor and publisher of the Monticello paper, my old boss. He said he’d heard I was working the graveyard shift, and he wondered if I’d like to spend my summer covering sports free-lance for the Times. As one might expect, that was a better prospect than manning the counter at Tom Thumb. So I soon found myself back among familiar faces, covering town team baseball, slow-pitch softball, American Legion and Babe Ruth baseball and all the bits and pieces that make up the summer sports scene in a small town.
I’d covered all of those before, of course, during the nearly six years I’d been a reporter and then the news editor at the paper. But there was something different (different beyond the financial structure, that is). For some reason, in early 1985, baseball – the game and its history – captured my attention. I bought my first tabletop game (after occasionally battling Rob during visits to his house). I bought the first serious bits of a baseball library, with one of the first volumes being The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. And when DQ called and offered me the sports department for the summer, with its emphasis on baseball, I was ready.
I’d reported on baseball before, of course, covering six seasons of high school ball in Monticello and nearby Big Lake, and spending six summers writing accounts of the town team’s efforts. But I’d never really had more than a basic grasp of the game. Now I was digging more deeply, reading about the game’s history, yes, but also learning how to watch baseball more analytically, learning how to see a game as it was played.
The coach of Monti’s American Legion team that summer, though he was not much older than I, was one of the town’s old baseball hands. His history and that of recent baseball in Monticello were intertwined. He’d played high school and Legion ball for Monticello and for years had been the manager, organizer and No. 1 pitcher for the town team. No longer able to play, he was coaching the American Legion squad, and when he noticed how much more I’d learned about baseball and how eager I was to learn more, he invited me – during those evenings I was covering his team – to sit in the dugout and keep the scorebook.
Very soon, I was spending my evenings with the Legion team even when I wasn’t covering the game, per se. I became in some ways part of the team, and my reporting about the team and its games became better for that.
(That’s one of the unique qualities about small-town journalism, that one can sometimes be a part of the community events one reports about. Becoming attached to the local American Legion baseball team provides little chance for conflict of interest, of course, although there are scenarios where such a conflict could arise. [Given that I was covering only sports that summer, the most likely possibility, I would think, would be something regarding broken eligibility rules and forfeits.] But during my earlier years at the Monticello paper, I was a member of the local school district’s community education policy board, and I was active in Democratic politics. That works in a small town – and Monticello at the time was home to a little more than three thousand folks – because people in town know you as more than a byline in the weekly paper, and either trust you a little more or else know where to find you when they want to complain. I’d hazard that the smaller the community, the more frequently one will find folks from the local paper filling other roles in town that seem to bring the possibility of conflict of interest. As one heads up the population ladder, however, the greater distance between a reporter and his or her audience makes such involvement less frequent and less wise.)
It felt good to be accepted in the dugout and on the field that summer. Even opposing coaches of teams we played – and my use of “we” indicates how I still feel about that Monti team – recognized me and nodded at me when our paths crossed before games. The most important thing to me about that summer of American Legion baseball, however, was being a better baseball writer. I’d been okay during the six years that had come earlier. But because of my reading, because of a new-found love of the game, I was better prepared. I had a second chance to something I loved and to do it better than I had before.
I thought of that summer of 1985 and my second chance to write about baseball this weekend because this post – the first real post at my new digs on WordPress – is the start of my second chance at a music blog. I’m not sure how different this version of Echoes In The Wind will be from the one that Blogger deleted last week. Maybe very little. I do have a sense that I won’t be posting six days every week, as I ended up doing there. (The Saturday Single will continue, though, starting with No. 148 four days from now.) There may be great changes beyond the location and the appearance, or the blog may be much the same. I don’t know.
All I really know is that Echoes In The Wind has a home again.
A Six-Pack of Again
“Back On The Street Again” by Swampwater from Swampwater 
“Don’t Let Me Down Again” by Richard Torrance & Eureka from Belle of the Ball 
“Play It Again” by Ray Thomas from From Mighty Oaks 
“Born Again” by Emily Bindiger from Emily 
“Sunshine In My Heart Again” by the Sanford/Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant Fire 
“Back Here Again” by Cold Blood from Lydia Pense & Cold Blood 
Swampwater, notes All-Music Guide, is better remembered here in the U.S. as Linda Ronstadt’s first backing band after her time with the Stone Poneys. “Back On The Street Again” comes from the group’s second album, the group’s first on RCA. (The group’s debut, on Starday/King, was similarly titled Swampwater; I’ve on occasion seen the second album, the RCA record, titled Swamp Water, but I’ve gone with the more common single-word spelling, confusing though it may be.) The song here may ring a few sonic bells in listener’s heads. The Stone Poneys recorded it for their final album, Evergreen, Vol. 2, and the Sunshine Company had a minor hit with the song, with the record spending three weeks in the Top 40, peaking at No. 36. Swampwater’s version kind of falls in a niche between the sweet pop of the Sunshine Company and early country rock, tending toward the latter when the steel guitar solo pops up.
“Don’t Let Me Down Again” is a Lindsey Buckingham tune that showed up on Buckingham Nicks in 1973 and has popped up in a few other places, including Belle of the Ball, a 1975 album by Richard Torrance and his band Eureka. Torrance’s version of the tune has some similarities to Fleetwood Mac, which entered its California rock era during the same year, 1975. Belle of the Ball was one of two albums Torrance released on the Shelter label, started by Leon Russell; three more came on Capitol. I like his stuff; it’s post-hippie California rock, but sometimes it seems just a shade more muscular than that description would lead one to expect. Some more of Torrance’s stuff just might show up here soon.
Ray Thomas is, as All-Music Guide points out, “of a handful of well-known flute players in rock music.” And he’s spent most of his professional life playing that flute for one band: The Moody Blues. From Mighty Oaks was recorded and released during the hiatus the band took between 1972’s Seventh Sojourn and 1978’s Octave. Interestingly, a look at the credits at AMG – assuming they’re complete – shows that no other member of the Moodies was involved in Thomas’ first solo album. (He also released Hopes, Wishes and Dreams in 1976.) Nevertheless, From Mighty Oaks sounds like a Moodies album, as one might expect. And it’s perhaps overdone, at times. But at the very worst, it’s pleasant, and at the time – when listeners and fans had no firm indication if the Moody Blues were going to record again – it was one of several solo projects that helped fill the gap.
Emily Bindiger is an American actress and singer. Her bio at Wikipedia is filled with impressive credits: She’s a member of the a capella group The Accidentals. She’s recorded for soundtracks for movies such as The Stepford Wives, One Life to Live, Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, Donnie Brasco, The Hudsucker Proxy, Michael Collins and many, many more. And those are just a few highlights from her entry. But Wikipedia doesn’t mention one of the most interesting things about her; nor does her page at The Accidentals website: In 1971, when she was sixteen, Emily Bindiger recorded an album of what the blog Fantasy called “folk psych” with the French band Dynastie Crisis. “Born Again” is from that album, titled simply Emily, and is a pretty good example of what the record offered. The music can be a bit spare, but I like it. (Thanks for Fantasy for the rip.)
“Sunshine In My Heart Again” is a decent track from the second album by Ed Sanford and John Townsend and their band. There is some confusion in various sources about the album’s title and the band’s name. Most sources call the album Smoke From A Distant Fire, while AMG appends the word The to the beginning. And while the band’s name on the album cover is clearly Sanford and Townsend, the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits calls the group the Sanford/Townsend Band. Of course, that latter might have been the credit on the hit single pulled from the album. The hit, as I’d imagine most of you know, was the title track, ”Smoke From A Distant Fire,” which went to No. 9 during the late summer of 1977.
“Back Here Again” comes from Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, the last album Cold Blood released during its run in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (The group has released two CDs in the past few years; the first is an album of live performances from 1973 and the second is an album of new material, 2005’s Transfusion.) Still funky, with Lydia Pense still singing well, Lydia Pense & Cold Blood – which was released in 1976 on ABC – evidently got little attention. And that was too bad. Cold Blood was one of those groups that, with a little bit of luck, could have reached the top tier. The same can be said for a lot of groups and performers, I know, but not many of them were as tight, as funky or as good as Cold Blood.