Category Archives: Detroit

#197 – I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)

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#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.

3 plays 4 a quarter

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.

Detroit Suburbs? Just a guess.

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.

The title says it all

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.

Nasty Stuff!

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.

They had a blast!

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…

 

To purchase Greatest Hits: Grand Funk Railroad with I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home) visit amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

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#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

 – The television sitcom Leave It To Beaver portrayed the television image of Middle America in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Everything was perfect. The family unit included a nice house, a mom and a dad, and two kids. Dad supported the family; mom took care of the family and any problems the kids were in could be solved by the family within a half hour episode.

Were things really that simple? Maybe on television, but not in real life.

The 1960’s, as many of us remember the decade, was simmering in the background. The show was broadcast into our living rooms each week in glorious black and white beginning October 4, 1957 until signing off on June 20, 1963. Elvis was still pre-army when viewers first met the Cleaver family and when the final episode aired we were only five months away from JFK’s fateful trip to Dallas.

In May 1963 Bob Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, with songs about civil rights and nuclear war. In August Dr. Martin Luther King declared “I have a dream” in Washington D.C. and went on to be named Time Magazine’s Man Of The Year. And The Beatles were gearing up for a televised surprise attack on our senses that came on February 9, 1964.

Along with many other factors including The Space Race, The Cold War and The Vietnam War, our generation was in for a change. A BIG change. The sitcoms – and many are considered classic and still very entertaining – were far from being reality shows for the era.

The Cleavers

Leave It To Beaver was one of the moving picture postcards of The American Dream delivered into our living rooms every week. As referred to above, it was broadcast in black and white. But when you think about it, there really was no “black and white” on television during these years. Except for African Americans appearing as guest stars or supporting players, the first black leading character on a network series didn’t happen until 1965 when Bill Cosby starred in I Spy with Robert Culp.

As a member of the younger edge of baby boomers (I was five years younger than Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver), Leave It To Beaver was one of my weekly looks at the outside world. But it really didn’t seem that much different from where I was growing up in northern Ohio. School, friends, girls (not always the same as “friends”), dealing with teenagers and respecting adult authority were about as deep as things got. I was fortunate that my parents were always more open than some of the others. My mother was from Detroit and they both enjoyed taking me on weekend excursions to other big cities such as Cleveland, New York and Chicago.

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In all honesty, that’s where I’d see minorities. But the cities to me were exotic places with energy, excitement and adventures on every block and didn’t seem to exclude anyone because of color, sex or religion. As a young visitor in those days before the race-related riots of the 1960’s, I was never exposed to any inner city problems. Like the Cleavers and their social circle in Leave It To Beaver, it was life in a protected bubble. But these youthful real world experiences in big cities helped me form the opinion there were no reasons why we all couldn’t – or shouldn’t – live together.

Not The Cleavers

So when I write about the dramatic changes that still make the 1960’s the most talked about and studied decade of the Twentieth Century, The American Dream and The American Reality on how the 60’s played out serve as bookends. Start with Leave It To Beaver and end with the film Woodstock and you’ll understand why Boomers are so passionate about this decade of change.

For the first generation to be accused of having television as an adult authority figure, sitcoms were our windows to the outside world. And just like race, sex and religion, what we learned from television went a long way in defining how we look at the world – and how the world looks at us.

One of my favorite (and funniest) personal examples happened more than twenty years after Leave It To Beaver faded off into rerun land. I was living in New York City and breaking into the comedy biz. Before ending up with my career “behind the scenes,” I did stand-up comedy. But once again in all honesty, I lacked the necessary edge that in my opinion makes seasoned NYC comedians the funniest. After one particular bleak performance on stage at a famous comedy club, a couple of my black comedian friends (while laughing) told me I was too “white bread” to be truly funny. I was too Ricky Nelson from Ozzie and Harriett, which is another television postcard of 1950’s and 60’s American Dream.

And you know what? I laughed with them because it was true. There was no way around the stereotyping. But looking back, even my friends didn’t get it right. I was more Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver in the 60’s than the cool Ricky Nelson from the 50’s.

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The Leave It To Beaver Theme Song (actual title; The Toy Parade) is a classic example of the catchy tunes that lured viewers to their television sets and can still set off nostalgic memories for the boomer generation. I’ll even go out on a limb and say most of us can hum it all the way through (there are lyrics, but never heard on the show) just like we can sing I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. This particular TV tune waxed nostalgic in my waking mind on May 9th. Since it doesn’t fit the classic rock requirements to be on my digital playlist, I can’t remember the last time I heard it and The Toy Parade falls onto the subliminal side of the Dream Song List.

Eddie Haskell

One comic element of Leave It To Beaver that has stayed real for me through the decades is the supporting character Eddie Haskell. If I were to ever list my all-time favorite television characters, he would have to be in the Top 10. Played by Ken Osmond who later left showbiz to become a police officer, Eddie Haskell embodies the heart, soul and devious mind of every wise guy kid who ever stirred up any type of trouble and tried to schmooze his way out of it by being overly polite and agreeable toward whatever adult authority was coming down on him.

My dad, who had a wonderful sense of humor and could make me laugh until I cried, would compare my friends and me to Eddie Haskell whenever we tried to talk our way out of whatever predicament we had gotten ourselves into. And I also used it to describe my son to anyone that might remember the legendary TV name.

Since he was born in 1995, I’m sure Paul has no idea who Eddie Haskell is. But when someone from my generation gushed over how nice and polite he was while growing up, I reminded them of this iconic television character. They knew immediately what I was talking about. Kids can still be typical kids before the BIG changes of adulthood and no different than we were growing up in the 60’s. And similar to when we started asserting our independence while moving into our teenage years, there were many times at home when I felt I was talking to Eddie Haskell in all his American Dream wise guy glory.

The only glitch in the process was that I had grown out of my Eddie Haskell phase. I’ve reverted back to being The Beaver.

The theme song arrangement changed during the years, with the final season using a “swing” style. Below is the opening sequence to Leave It To Beaver from season four, which is the one that scored on this list.

If you’re a dedicated fan, you can purchase the complete Leave It To Beaver series on DVD from Amazon.com. Also separate seasons and episodes are available through the link.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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