Autumn in the Midwest is a time of tumultuous change. The weather ranges from warm and sunny to cold, rainy and gloomy. We can run the heat and the air conditioning in the same week, sometimes in the same day. I’ve seen snow flurries in early October and mid-70s two weeks before Christmas, which we paid for with 15 inches of snow in January.
The houses and groves that were obscured for three months by eight-foot green corn are visible once again. The farmers have harvested acres of dried stalks, reducing the fields to vast Viet Cong punji traps. Soybean fields are little more than sawdust now. The leaves turn red, yellow and brown, reminding us of summer’s passing, before they all fall off like a stripper’s outfit. Some asshole will soon be violating local clean-air ordinances and my asthmatic lungs by furtively burning them in his yard, trying to recapture memories of his youth.
I’ve arranged the music in my CD library by genre, alphabetically by artist or composer, and chronologically by season. Here’s a list of songs that reminds me of the time between mid-September and Thanksgiving.
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Live) (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young from Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More -1970). Late summer-early fall. The skies are clear blue and the humidity is gone. For years I heard “Asking me said she so free/how can you catch the spiral?” thinking they were singing about football.
Ramblin’ Man: (Allman Brothers Band: Brothers and Sisters-1973). Driving back to Urbana, a big, warm full moon just above the horizon. Life was good.
Green-Eyed Lady: (Sugarloaf, single version
: 1970). Cruisin’ around town, listening to AM radio in Craig’s van. It was cool enough for a light jacket,
warm enough to get into trouble. We found it when he pulled into the local drive-in restaurant and ordered “a waitress with nothing on it.” The owner stormed out. “Goddam kids, get the hell out of my parking lot.”
Midnite Cruiser: (Steely Dan: Can’t Buy a Thrill-1972) “No time is better than now.” We wouldn’t realize that until way too late.
Animal Zoo: (Spirit: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus-1970). Oh no, something went wrong / Well you’re much too fat and a little too long. This song, along with the pseudo-orgasmic Morning Will Come made this album a campus cult classic in 1973.
No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature: (The Guess Who: The Best of The Guess Who-1970). Lonely feeling deep inside / Find a corner where I can hide. It’s Friday night at the Homecoming bonfire. You can see her face glowing in the firelight, the soft sweater over her breasts and you can imagine the fresh smell of her hair. But you’re not one of the cool kids. You’re in the background and she doesn’t know how you feel. High school was never so cruel.
Glad: (Traffic: John Barleycorn Must Die-1970). I like this, if for no other reason, it was used in a short film from The Best of the 1974 New York Erotic Film Festival. A sweet young thing, a pro football game playing on an old color TV, the one with the picture tube shaped like a fishbowl, and erotic acts with a soccer ball.
Gimme Shelter: (Rolling Stones: Let It Bleed-1969). Few things are more chilling than Merry Clayton singing, “Rape, murder. It’s just a shot away,” on this apocalyptic song, which was also used in a Red Cross PSA and the Call of Duty Black Ops trailer, “There’s a Soldier in All of Us.”
Hellbound Train (Savoy Brown: Hellbound Train-1972). This was a fitting song for late October: a lost soul’s journey on the train to Hell. It starts out with a slow, mournful resignation, becoming louder, faster and inevitable. The LP version stopped abruptly, adding to the creep factor. The US CD release fades out, which I discovered only after I’d dumped my vinyl copy. The original ending is on The Savoy Brown Collection.
Friends and Gallows Pole (Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin III-1970). Friends minor overtones is a desperate drive through a cold, dark rain. Gallows Pole reminds me of the illustrations for Alfred Noyes’ poem, The Highwayman, which I read in the World Book Encyclopedia’s Childcraft Series. Here’s a live version.
Battle of Evermore: (Led Zeppelin: Untitled fourth album-1971). Another Tolkien-inspired song: The Queen of Light, the Prince of Peace, the Dark Lord and the ring wraiths. The common folk “pick up your swords and fly.”
Tangled Up in Blue and Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts: (Bob Dylan: Blood on the
Tracks-1975). Dylan is a master of telling long, complicated stories in a few verses. Dylan’s son, Jakob, feels the album is “my parents talking,” though Dylan denies any autobiographical meaning. There have been two screenplays written for Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts, but none of them have been produced. I imagined the story told through a series of those unreal 3-D slides for the old View Master.
Bad Side of the Moon (Elton John: 11-17-70-1971). It’s cold, dark and damp outside, but if you were one of the 125 lucky people in the A&R Recording Studio in New York City on November 17, 1970, it was pretty toasty as some 23-year old kid named Elton John blew them away.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald: (Gordon Lightfoot: Summertime Dream-1976). The haunting song about the Edmund Fitzgerald, a
bulk iron-ore freighter which broke up and sank during a storm on Lake Superior, November 10, 1975. None of the 29 crew survived. On July 17, 1999 the wreck’s site was consecrated and deemed off-limits to divers during a private ceremony attended by family and Gordon Lightfoot. This year marks the 40th anniversary.