#197 – I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) by Grand Funk Railroad
– There used to be a small diner in the small town where I grew up. There were only eight stools attached to the floor in front of a counter and when they were full you stood and waited for one to open up. If you waited or decided to go “take out,” you crammed into the tight space between the stools and a wall until your order was made, bagged and rung up on the cash register. Then you looked for another place to sit down and eat.
As weekend working stiffs starting our senior year in high school during the early fall of 1970, my two best friends and I would meet at the diner every Saturday around 11:30 am. If there was a lunch rush, which meant more than eight people because it was a very small town, we’d beat the competition by grabbing our stools before noon.
At the wise old age of seventeen we had already figured out how to maneuver a time clock for our benefit.
The diner had a jukebox, though I can’t remember where it fit in such a small place. There were also a couple counter jukeboxes attached to the… well, counter. We would grab our stools, flip through the pages of songs, insert a quarter (three plays as opposed to only one for a dime) and punch in the codes. It was mandatory to have a soundtrack while talking and lunching on greasy hamburgers, fries and cokes.
The cook’s work area wasn’t any larger than where we sat tight to the counter. He had the usual grill and space for the general chaos it took to whip up our lunch orders. And there was always a ham in a slow cooking rotation over the grill. This detail has stayed with me because while leaning over the counter talking with us one Saturday, the cook suddenly turned, sneezed loudly, and then continued our conversation.
The three of us decided not to order the ham.
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I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) was an every Saturday play on the jukebox that fall, along with Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The third song for our quarter was selected by whichever one of us was fastest to punch in the code for whatever he wanted to hear.
This 1970 hit by Grand Funk Railroad mentally takes me back to these diner days. It also took over my mental state on the morning of May 23rd. I’m sure it hasn’t been decades since I’ve heard it, but it’s been long enough for the song to punch its way into the subliminal category of Dream Songs.
Grand Funk was a hot new band at the time. Since our small town on the south shore of Lake Erie wasn’t far from their home base of Detroit, we knew their story. Okay, to be factual they were out of Flint Michigan, but close enough. Two of the trio, Mark Farner (guitar) and Don Brewer (drums), had morphed their way out of the band Terry Knight & The Pack. Terry’s Pack was known for their remake of I (Who Have Nothing) and I had watched them on the Cleveland based pop music television show Upbeat. So it was kind of cool to see these same guys with “mop tops” in the mid-1960’s morph into 70’s rockers. As Grand Funker’s, Farner had hair down to the middle of his back and Brewer added about a foot to his height with an Afro.
But to be honest, I wasn’t completely sold on Grand Funk. Later that fall they came out with a live double album called… well, Live Album. I bought it and… well, didn’t care for it. Hey – we all have our own tastes in music and I didn’t say that to upset any GF fans. To each his own. But as far as my tastes, I’ve always been a huge fan of Keith Richards and John Lennon on rhythm guitars. Grand Funk was a 3-piece at the time and when hearing a band playing live, I like a fuller sound.
So when I had the opportunity to see Grand Funk later that same year in Cleveland, I turned it down. And that story takes me back to the diner days. Or maybe in this case, it was diner daze…
Our 3-piece band of pals would use our Saturday lunch breaks to review Friday nights. We were basically good kids, but also typical teenagers. We’d all been decent athletes playing basketball and running track, but small minded people in small towns during the late 1960’s could make it tough to be both a jock and a rocker. For example, I remember my hair being – maybe – about two inches long on top, but still off my ears and shirt collar (school dress code). But our small minded basketball coach delighted in tugging the hair on a few of us that didn’t follow crewcut athletes as fashion icons and thought Mark Farner and Don Brewer looked cool.
Of course as he snuck up on us for the hair tug he felt compelled to say, “You look like a girl.“
Geez coach, maybe that’s why more than a few of us felt compelled to cut you from our team and head for the music department. By my second year in high school I could play the heck out of a trumpet. My luncheon buddies obviously felt the same way and manned the saxophone section.
The band director never said anything about our hair. And we were having a lot more fun than running laps or doing pushups because we missed a foul shot.
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To kick the fun up another level, we joined the marching bad. On a personal note, if you had asked whether I’d like to ride a school bus to an away football game with a bunch of sweaty guys in smelly uniforms or sit next to cute girls on the band bus, my answer was (and still would be) a no-brainer. It was the same for my two pals.
But to repeat myself, we were typical teenagers. That means we weren’t exactly angels. So as a means of pushing the envelope when it came to respectable behavior, one of my pals took a bottle of Triple Sec from his parents’ liquor cabinet. If you’re not familiar with that particular brand of booze, let’s just say it’s not meant to be consumed on its own. It’s usually mixed with Tequila and a sour mix for Margarittas.
But for a couple seventeen year old guys, that was a lesson that still had to be learned.
I was invited to join them for a Triple Sec drinking session before marching with the band during a Friday night home football game. To keep my stellar reputation in tact… okay, I won’t go that far with an angel routine, but I turned them down. One of the cute girls on the marching band bus had agreed to a date and I was picking her up on the way. I would see them at the game.
I won’t go into all the gory details except to say – yeah – they were seen. Two saxophone players who had completely drained a bottle of Triple Sec before joining the band to march across the field were very noticeable. The result was a three day school suspension for each.
And of course, the rest of us laughed and LAUGHED! That’s what teenagers do and we did it well.
The next day at our Saturday lunch meeting I had never in my young life seen anyone that hung over. I helped fill in the missing pieces from their staggering performance the night before while listening to I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) and Cinnamon Girl. I don’t remember the third song that morning, but I’m sure it was my choice since I doubt they really wanted to hear anything louder than a pin dropping.
One of the benefits of being suspended from school means you don’t have to go to school.
So one of the them took the opportunity to buy tickets for the upcoming Grand Funk Railroad concert in Cleveland. He snuck into the school that afternoon, because one of the disadvantages of suspension was not being allowed to walk through the front doors, and hid out in the band room. I got word he was there and met in one of the rehearsal rooms where he told me he had an extra ticket for the concert.
Sure, I’ll go! But then he dropped a bomb louder than a pin dropping. It wasn’t a gift – I had to pay him for the ticket.
Sorry pal. I don’t remember the cost and I know it was nowhere near what a concert ticket costs today, but I was on a weekend worker budget. I had already bought tickets to take my cute marching band girlfriend to the annual Christmas rock concert held at Cleveland’s Public Hall. And also based on Live Album, I took a pass on Grand Funk.
One of our other buddies coughed up the cash and they had a blast.
As for our Christmas concert, the headlining act got stuck in a snowstorm in Pittsburgh and missed the show. Sad ending? Not really. The replacement was Little Richard. And since that show has gone down as one of the many highlights of my concert daze, I’m sure we compared notes over who had the better time while lunching on greasy burgers, fries and cokes in the diner the next Saturday. Right after we punched in the code for I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) on the counter jukebox.
Here’s a video of Grand Funk performing I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) live at New York’s Shea Stadium in 1971. And you know what? They sound pretty darn good! Maybe I should’ve taken that ticket…
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