29 Years Ago, Just Yesterday

I’m not sure this is part of my scary October theme this year or not, but I find time a scary concept. I remember places and faces by songs that were hits at the time or that I just liked. The other day, I posted a song to Facebook, and my friend Larry Miller, the godfather of free-form radio, posted a song to match. When I told him what a great pick it was, Larry responded: “As you well know, Dan, old DJ’s always have just the right song for any occasion,” and that is the truth. Most of us have a cacophony of songs constantly playing in our heads, just waiting to be called to the surface.

On October 8, Billy Joe Royal’s earthly trip came to an end. Most people know his 1965 hit Down in the Boondocks” but not his first release for Atlantic Records in the mid-1980’s, "Burned Like a Rocket," when he was poised for a comeback. The track was climbing the country singles chart when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and "…radio dropped it like a hot potato,” as Royal said in a 2010 interview with Billboard. Another friend, Brian Edwards, wrote on Facebook: “I remember at the old 97.7 FM, his 1986 comeback song "Burned Like a Rocket” was in the rotation the day the Challenger blew, and Michael Page <the program director> told me not to play it. Because of that accident, Billy Joe never got the hit he should have with that great song.”  (As it happened, Dan Sanders was the highly-rated morning man at the time.)

A third friend, musician Asa Brebner, who has a list of band credits that includes some 30 groups, among them the Boomtown Rats, Journey, Jim Carroll, Hall and Oates, the Cars, and many more, mused one day: “I was reflecting on my recent past and then realized it was not so recent.” When I think back to 1986, I have lived at least three different lives since then. But time collapses memories and makes years into minutes. My recent past is not so recent, either, and to borrow a song title from John Prine, I may have broken the “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” and that scares the hell out of me.

The people who are present in my memory are much older now and some have left this earth, but in my mind that day in 1986 is as fresh as an hour ago. I played “Burned Like a Rocket” that morning before the disaster and left “Old 97.7” after my shift to interview for a job at a station now called “The River.” When I went inside, everyone was huddled in the conference room watching the news. But I did get the job.

Twenty-nine years ago, I was the morning man, Asa was playing the hell out of a guitar, Larry was holding forth at some radio station or other, and Billy Joe Royal was making a comeback. If you’re over 40, what where you doing twenty-nine years ago, just yesterday?

There’s more on time and other things and as always a rock-and-roll timeline on the shores of Rambling Harbor. I hope you’ll join me there.





New England, the Crow, the Cracker, and Me

There is an angry beauty about New England in the fall. Rolling thunder bounces from dark cloud to darker cloud, and the Atlantic Ocean turns colder and more unsympathetic, whipped into frenzy with wind gusts that can make small people suddenly do their best Mary Poppins impression. The humpbacks begin their journey to the Caribbean, as the little town of Rambling Harbor becomes clogged with boats on trailers straining to make their way around roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass. It’s Rambling Harbor getting ready for fall, the season of mysteries that always enshrouds old New England towns, especially villages on harbors and oceans.

There is folklore that crows are attracted to shiny objects. I say folklore because apparently crows are just plain attracted to things, and any thing that might glitter would catch their eye. Based on that legend, I lovingly called my wife Crow Woman, one of many nicknames, and this one loosely based on some Native American idea. If she were walking down the street, a $500 bill on the pavement would not catch her eye as quickly as a shiny bobble in a window. Price was never the point, shiny was.

I love Ritz Crackers. During the first spring after my wife died, I found myself standing in the backyard, very early one quiet, beautiful morning. This was not a place I usually went. I was taking care of my landlady’s plants while she was away. Suddenly a crow landed on a nearby lawn chair, left an almost complete Ritz cracker on the arm, and flew away. I was stunned and when I regained some of my senses, I went inside to get my camera. It took me a couple of minutes, and I figured this thing-loving crow would have returned for his Ritz. It’s that Ritz in the picture. The crow never   returned.

Maybe it’s the early darkness, the angry sky, and the raging ocean, or maybe it’s just being in old New England that makes us so aware of the possibilities. What could be more perfect than a New England fall, bursting with color, spirits, and mystery?

There will be more stories of hauntings and mysteries and of course a rock-and-roll timeline on the shores of Rambling Harbor.  Join me there.



Spooky October

 With the beginning of the so-called season of the witch, I thought I would recount an old and true tail of spirits. I like the term spirits instead of ghosts.

The old one stands proud and beautiful in the moonlight. Such great beauty often hides deep secrets. Softly she rocks on the water, her bones groaning but still strong. The very bones are the timbers that rejected the British cannonballs in the war of 1812, defeating four of their best warships, the timbers on which 308 sailors lost their lives and gave their bones to mingle in Old Ironsides forever. The voices of those long gone have been heard to speak in whispers, and visions of a young cabin boy have been seen. Do souls still linger on the ship they loved and died for? Many say they still walk the planks of Old Ironsides, the USS Constitution. It is reported that some sailors refuse to descend into the lower decks at night, fearing that would send them hurling through time and space into her resting past—or is it resting?

While sailors may be reluctant, I have a group of friends who went running hell bent (pardon the expression) to investigate these bumps in the night and disembodied voices, the vision of the boy and the eerie knowledge that these souls were indeed still protecting their beloved ship. My friends are well known as S.P.I.R.I.T.S. of New England and are the only crew who has been allowed to spend the night on Old Ironsides.  While investigations of this type never contain absolute proof, I know this group well enough to believe they have probably experienced what the sailors who would rather stay above deck fear. You can check them out here http://spiritsofnewengland.org/

My friends believe that the souls they encountered were as curious about them as they were about the spirits. Curious about them, hmm, curious about them—it makes me wonder if there is truly overlapping time. Are these souls people just living in their own space and place in whatever grand design there is? Could it be we are the spirits and don’t know it? Is our time being visited by those from some distant future or past world? Are they paranormal investigators, hundreds of years into tomorrow, trying to understand why there are voices from the 21st century? Are we the present, the past, the future, or all of these at once?

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells was instrumental in moving the concept of time travel to the forefront of the public imagination, but it is well known that Einstein, in his theory of relativity, cited that time travel was possible. Einstein said he wished he could ride a lightning bolt, and then he would move fast enough to travel through time.

Perhaps there are no so-called spirits, just different people living in different periods in the illusion of a man-made system of counting minutes, hours, and days called time.

I hope you will spend a little time on the shores of Rambling Harbor with me as we continue to explore spooky October and other scary stuff like life.


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