Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Rod Stewart, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Singing is cathartic for me. I can’t imagine not singing. I do most of my singing while driving, listening to my favorite songs on my car stereo.

I dated Alison the summer I turned 19. She was small and lovely and smart and gentle, and I was happy to keep her company.

And that’s all I really wanted: her companionship. I was such a late bloomer. I think she was interested in more. I’m sure I frustrated her.

At least we had old TV shows and music in common. Many of our evenings were spent snuggled on the couch in her parents’ family room in front of the TV. The Monkees was being rerun on MTV and we watched episode after episode. I made her cassette tapes of the six or seven Monkees albums my brother owned. I made her a mixtape of some of my favorite songs.

And then Alison made me a mixtape of her music, too. She favored singer-songwriters with something to say, their spare arrangements cradling words of love or pain. I don’t know what became of that tape, but I remember it leaned heavily on Carole King, Carly Simon, James Taylor, and Bob Dylan.

I found one Dylan song especially hard to access, a delicate tune called “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.” It spoke of a love experienced as a refuge, a love in which he found identity — words that wanted to fill me with smoldering joy but for Dylan’s brooding guitar and voice, a sharp counterpoint that I couldn’t reconcile. If he had found that kind of love, then why did he sound like he wanted to put a bullet in his brain?

EveryPictureTellsAStory

I sought new music voraciously then. I had joined my college’s radio station as a disk jockey, and regularly borrowed short stacks of records from our vast collection — about 5,000 LPs — of rock, pop, and jazz reaching back 25 years. The songs I discovered then still heavily influence my personal playlist. One of those short stacks included Rod Stewart’s 1971 album Every Picture Tells a Story. I wasn’t a big Rod Stewart fan, but I remembered hearing “Maggie May” on the radio as a boy and wanted to hear the rest of the album that song came from. On it was a cover of Dylan’s love song. Where Dylan broods, Stewart soars, bringing out joy found in this love. He also makes the song more melodic and therefore a real joy to sing.

If Alison knew me at all, she would understand. But if I knew her at all, I’m sure she would tried to convince me of the strengths in Dylan’s recording.

Click Play to listen to “Tomorrow Is A Long Time.”

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Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Carpenters, “A Song For You”

Every Friday for a while I’ll be sharing songs I love to sing and telling stories about their place in my life. Here I tell a story about the first celebrity death that hit me hard. I wrote this before the recent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, deaths that did not hit me particularly hard but did deeply affect many of my friends, and maybe you. It’s just part of being human to mourn the loss of people we didn’t really know, but whose work made us feel like we did. I wish somebody had explained that to me when I was a kid.

It could well be my first memory. Workday mornings, Dad’s alarm blaring, I’d get down out of bed and pad quietly into his room. If I lay still on the corner of his bed, he’d let me stay. While he got dressed in the dim light of his side-table lamp, his clock radio played softly on the Hit Parade station. I must have been three, because that’s how old I was when the Carpenters’ “Close to You” went to number one. Hit Parade played it every morning and I so looked forward to it. When it played, I’d close my eyes to see colors that flowed and shifted as Karen Carpenter sang. Such joy!

Growing up in the 1970s as I did, it was easy to be a Carpenters fan because their music saturated radio: “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “It’s Going to Take Some Time,” “Rainy Days and Mondays.” I especially loved “Only Yesterday.” I used to glide back and forth on our back-yard swing and sing it over and over again. I was in love with Karen Carpenter’s voice!

Those early records remained such radio staples that it was easy not to notice that the duo had few hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their early success brought enormous pressure, and they struggled to handle it. Richard wound up addicted to Quaaludes, a sedative. Karen dieted compulsively, to the point of damaging her health. Her case thrust anorexia nervosa into the public consciousness. Not only did they take time off to rest and recover, but the few songs they did release in those years just didn’t connect with as many people. Few became radio hits.

Meanwhile, I was just a teen who loved to hear and sing the songs from my favorite band. I had no idea the challenges Karen and Richard faced; all I knew of them as people came from their smiling personas on their frequent TV specials. And then, while idly watching TV one February evening in 1983, I caught this news brief on ABC:

I was shocked so deeply, so sharply, that I felt like I had suddenly been set on fire. The report went by so fast that part of me wasn’t even sure I had really heard it. There was no Internet to check for confirmation, and we didn’t have cable so I couldn’t switch to the fledgling CNN for more information.

I was deeply confused by the depth of my reaction. So much pain, so much grief, over a woman I didn’t actually know! I told my mom, my dad; they said they were sorry, but they were clearly surprised by how hard I was taking the news and didn’t know how to comfort me. I felt alone with my grief, which I couldn’t shake. Nobody knew how important Karen’s voice was to me. I scarcely knew until Karen died.

I had just one Carpenters album, a gift from my parents several years before. I ached to buy more so I could hear more of their songs. I saved my meager allowance and I did chores for neighbors for money for weeks and weeks until I had saved enough to buy another. Money in pocket, I rode the city bus to the mall, walked into Musicland, and picked an album out almost at random: A Song For You, from 1973.

ASongForYou

I came right back home and put the platter on my record player. The title track opened the album, and shortly Karen sang these words:

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

I could scarcely believe what I heard, and my head spun. I knew it wasn’t possible for Karen’s words to be a direct message for me, yet how could I not let them penetrate and help me grieve? At last, I cried openly. I began to move on.

I would buy the rest of the Carpenters’ catalog over the next couple years. Their music remains a beloved part of the soundtrack of my life. And I’ll always be grateful that fate, or perhaps random chance, delivered “A Song For You” to me first.

Click Play to listen to “A Song For You.”

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Stories Told

Welcome to Thorntown

State Road 47 is a winding and lovely drive in western Indiana. It begins in the wild terrain around Turkey Run State Park. As it heads east, those steep hills become the rolling terrain of quiet farmland. The road curves frequently around old farm boundaries and around terrain challenges. But the fun ends at Thorntown as the road straightens out for the rest of its route to Sheridan, thirty minutes north of Indianapolis.

Thorntown, a well-kept small town lined with tidy homes, churches, and shops, is at the center of what was briefly the 64,000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve, where the Eel River Tribe of the Miami Indians lived. Thorntown gets its name from the Miami name for the place, Kawiakiungi, which means “place of thorns.” Here’s what you see as you swing across the bridge and enter Thorntown from the east. At any moment, you expect it to start snowing, and Jimmy Stewart to come running through town shouting, “Merry Christmas you old broken-down Building and Loan!”

Welcome to Thorntown

As much as I have always liked State Road 47, I used to dislike Thorntown because its 30 MPH speed limit interrupted my swift progress. When my ex-wife and I were dating many years ago, she and I passed through Thorntown on our way to a camping trip. We needed both of our small cars to haul all the gear; she followed me. As usual, I didn’t see the speed limit signs at the edge of town, but this time the law was ready for me. A police car pulled out of somebody’s driveway with lights flashing and siren blaring. I pulled over and the officer, a big Sheriff Buford type with the buzz cut and the mirrored aviator sunglasses, began to give me a chewin’ out. His face pinched, he was wondering with considerable volume if I had skill enough to read speed-limit signs when my now-ex, who by the way was lovely and slender with blue-grey eyes and a big mess of blonde hair, pulled around in front of me and stopped. Sheriff Buford seemed annoyed and waddled purposefully toward her car. He was gone for quite some time, but when he came back, he was chuckling and smiling. He told me to just take it slow through town and wished me a good weekend!

Since this happened before everybody had cell phones, I had to wait about two hours until we reached our campsite to ask just what the heck happened. She said, “When he came up, I rolled down the window, batted my eyelashes at him, and said, ‘If you give him a ticket, you have to give me one too, because I was following him!’ He laughed and laughed and I guessed when you drove off that he let us off the hook.”

This did not do anything to improve my opinion about Thorntown.

I’ve matured considerably since then. I’ve also become much better at noticing the speed limit signs at the outskirts of small towns, so I’m much less likely to attract police attention. So now I not only bear no ill will against Thorntown, but I find its entrance from the east to be quite lovely. You swing around this little curve and over a small bridge, and then suddenly the town unfolds before you, as if it had been folded snugly into the pages of a pop-up book. Just be sure to be going 30 MPH by the time you cross that bridge.

I’ve told this story twice before, in 2007 and 2010.

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Preservation

Autumn on Kessler Boulevard

GeoKessler
George Kessler

George Kessler (1862-1923) was a pioneer city planner who believed that cities could be beautiful – lush and green, with limited pollution. Many American cities hired him to design their park and boulevard systems, including all three Indiana cities in which I have lived – South Bend, Terre Haute, and Indianapolis. Someday I need to write a series of posts about Kessler’s work in all three cities, because his work has shaped my very notion of what a city is.

Yet when I moved to Indianapolis almost 20 years ago, I didn’t know Kessler’s name or anything about him. But I was very drawn to the sprawling early-suburban neighborhoods along a wide, tree-lined road that bears his name. I’ve owned two houses within spitting distance of the beautiful boulevard he designed in 1922.

The boulevard skirted the city limits when it was built, but today it forms a west/north inner beltway. It begins on the west side, just east of the speedway at 16th Street, and heads north four miles to 56th Street. Then it heads east across town a bit more than seven miles, almost to Fort Benjamin Harrison on the Northeastside. Kessler was hired in 1923 to oversee the boulevard’s construction, but he passed away before much work was done. This is why the boulevard is named for him.

Kessler Boulevard is lovely end to end, but my favorite segment is on the Westside between 30th St. and about I-65. Homes were built along it in the 1950s, all  of them ranches set well back from the road. It creates a wide-open feeling that captures that 1950s feeling of prosperity and modernity. Trees line the boulevard, and when autumn comes the colors can be spectacular. I recently filmed a drive along this stretch, northbound from 30th St.

I drive this stretch all the time and I enjoy it at all times of year. Thanks, George Kessler!

Another historic Indianapolis road is the Dandy Trail. Read about it here, here, and here.

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Stories Told

Restored in Bridgeton

It’s Down the Road’s fifth blogiversary!
All month I’m reposting favorite stories from the blog’s early days.

In my early 20s not only was I out of school but I was working at things I’d long dreamed about — making software and playing music on the radio. You’d think I would feel like I was on top of the world, but somehow achieving these dreams just didn’t fulfill me. I was lonely; I became depressed.

When I felt the walls of my Terre Haute apartment closing in on me I distracted myself by going driving out in the country. One day I was driving back roads from northern Vigo County into southern Parke County and soon began seeing handmade signs pointing to Bridgeton. I was curious, so I followed the signs. The Bridgeton Road wound long, but abruptly entered a little town. Before I could even take it in, the road just as abruptly came upon a covered bridge.

Bridgeton Covered Bridge

I parked. It was still but for the wind and for water rushing beneath the bridge. Some of the structures looked like they came out of a wild-west movie, especially an old mill and what looked like a general store. I wondered whether the town was abandoned until I noticed some homes that, while in need of attention, had at some time been updated with vinyl siding and double-hung windows.

Bridgeton Covered Bridge

Even though the bridge was on the town’s northern edge, it was clearly the centerpiece, better cared for than anything around it. It needed a little attention — a coat of paint, a couple missing boards replaced — but was otherwise in excellent shape, especially considering “1868″ was painted over the entrance arch. It stood there sure, as if it thought it was the reason the town continued to exist. It seemed not to need traffic (the road had been rerouted over a concrete bridge) or even admirers to be self-sufficient.

I walked the bridge and admired it. I was delighted by its design. I could see the fingerprints of its designer and builder (J. J. Daniels, also painted over the arch) in the beams that fanned from the foundation to the roof and the regularly spaced trusses that connected its east side to its west. As I walked, the bridge stood solid, without shimmying, shaking, or groaning. The designer meant this bridge to last. And even after it was decommissioned, others clearly valued the designer’s desire and kept it in pretty good repair.

Bridgeton Covered Bridge

The bridge, and thinking of the men who built it and cared for it, soothed, calmed, and encouraged me. It put me in touch with the good people can do when something matters to them. It showed me that some things can last. I saved Bridgeton for the toughest times. It was my ace in the hole. I never remembered the way, so I just drove vaguely north into the country until I found the signs. The trips were like going to the well for a drink of peace, and I always went home comforted and refreshed.

Soon I moved away from Terre Haute. Years passed, and I never made it back to Bridgeton. Then in 2005 somebody set fire to the bridge, destroying it. I didn’t realize until the arson that so many other people had a large soft spot in their heart for this place and its bridge. Emotions flowed freely as many, many people mourned the loss of their old friend. Out of this pain, locals decided almost immediately to rebuild. A new bridge was finished just in time for the 2006 Covered Bridge Festival, an annual celebration of all of Parke County’s 31 covered bridges.

I decided to visit Bridgeton for the first time in 15 years as a detour along an autumn road trip. I was anxious. I was going to see that my old friend was gone, replaced by something new. But I was eager, too. When I reached Rockville, I detoured south on US 41 to a road that looked like a familiar turn, and as usual drove around until I found the signs pointing to Bridgeton. Soon enough I entered town, and there she was. I was excited to see her. She wasn’t an exact replica of the old bridge, but she was mighty close. (All of these photos are of the new bridge.) I felt like my old friend had never left. The designers and builders put great effort and care into rebuilding this bridge. Their fingerprints are in the two arches that span each side, and in the beams and trusses that keep her square. She is absolutely gorgeous. The postcard shot was always from the north to include the little waterfall, and now is no exception.

Bridgeton Covered Bridge

That this bridge isn’t a carbon copy of her ancestor doesn’t seem to matter. What made the old bridge special was the spirit of the people who made it, the very humanity their efforts gave it. Such spirit was captured when she was rebuilt. She may be brand new, but it’s like she’s never been gone. And I left feeling comforted and refreshed, just like always.

Originally posted 2/13/2007. Read the original here.

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Road Trips

Scenes from US 50 in southwestern Indiana

I returned to US 50 not long ago to finish exploring it across Indiana. I found some great views from Shoals west to the Illinois state line.

Although my last trip ended in Shoals, I started this trip a bit to the west in Loogootee (pronounced lo GOAD ee). Not only is there no direct route to Shoals from my Indianapolis home, but I had learned of an old alignment through Shoals and exploring it would cause me to miss the section of current US 50 between Shoals and Loogootee. I had a great time zooming through that twisty stretch during a 2006 road trip and wanted to drive it again. Here’s a photo I took from there in 2006.

US 150 near Shoals IN

I photographed the road from about the same place this time, too. I’m surprised to find the road looks less twisty in my new photo. I took the earlier photo with a Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, a film camera I owned then. It had a 38mm lens. Could my Canon PowerShot S80’s 28mm lens have straightened these curves a little? Or is it that I got this shot from just a little farther east than last time, which ate up a bit of the curve?

Scenes from US 50

For Hoosiers who grew up where the glaciers flattened everything, pretty much the northern half to two-thirds of the state, straight roads cut through level farmland. But roadbuilders of old had to go over or around southern Indana’s hills. It had to be much harder work than their northern Indiana counterparts experienced, but it sure led to fun drives like this stretch of US 50. It also led to some great views, such as this one at a little pulloff called Overlook Park.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

I had more trouble finding Jug Rock, a natural rock formation in Shoals not far from the bridge over the east fork of the White River. It’s all sandstone and is the largest “table rock” formation east of the Mississippi. It stands feet from the road, but downhill a bit and in a thick woods so it’s hard to see. It’s also not well marked. I missed the itty bitty sign and tiny pulloff three times and almost gave up looking for it!

Jug Rock

US 50 was busy this Saturday. As I waited for traffic to pass so I could get back into my car, I snapped this shot that shows the road’s character here.

Scenes from US 50

But as I mentioned earlier, this isn’t US 50’s original path. I’ll share the old alignment, which involves a county road and a state highway, next time.

Another great Indiana rock formation is in Madison along State Road 7. Check out Hanging Rock Hill.

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