Tag Archives: cars

#192 – Sweet Caroline

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#192 – Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond

 – There are a few pop culture bandwagons I’ve been happy to miss. I’ve never owned a pet rock; could care less if anyone ever solves a Rubik’s Cube, and was never into the cult of Neil Diamond.

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it for the legions of fans who are.

Diamond has sold multi-millions of records, is one of the top pop songwriters of all time and his concerts still sell out. He’s also been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I get it.

I also loved the dedication and humor sent his way in the film Saving Silverman and the characters’ tribute band, Diamonds in the Rough. Neil made a cameo appearance, which definitely made him a cool guy in my mind. And way back in 1966 I loved Cherry Cherry and was thoroughly impressed when I learned he had written the classic I’m a Believer for The Monkees.

But when it came to my personal tastes in 1969, Neil and Sweet Caroline were nowhere to be found. The music scene was splitting off into different extremes ranging from Woodstock rockers (Classic Rocker preferred) to bubble gum schlockers (Classic Rocker avoidance). Diamond didn’t seem to fit into either category. To my ears, his songs were aimed for a crowd that would now be called Adult Contemporary and not played on the FM rock stations I preferred.

But as I’ve written before, not too many cars in 1969 were equipped with FM radios. And since my pals and I were sixteen years old with newly earned driver’s licenses, AM Top 40 was still our cruisin’ music and we could only hear the current pop chart hits.

Not so sweet memories

One of the songs we heard constantly over our car radios in the fall of 1969 was Sweet Caroline. It definitely has a catchy tune, which seems to be a requisite to land on this Dream Song List, and has obviously stayed with me. Since I’ve never owned a copy and can’t remember the last time I’ve heard it, waking up with this tune running through my head on the morning of June 28th definitely places it into the subliminal category.

And yes, it brings back memories. But they’re not the best…

I was one of the younger members of my high school class and almost all my friends had been driving for months before I was even old enough for a temporary license. That meant I spent a lot of time hanging out at home waiting for rides. Fortunately, my best pal Kevin was as psyched as most sixteen year olds about driving and could always be relied on to be my chauffeur.

Cruisin’ around together gave us plenty of time to talk about a lot of stuff, including who was (or in my case, who would be) the better driver. We even made a bet which one would be the first to have an accident. Yeah, it’s the kind of stuff sixteen year olds would talk about, but at least we were cool enough not to bet on ourselves.

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When I finally scored my driver’s license we were two weeks into August 1969. That made life very different, even though I was still working the same job I’d had since turning ten years old. Don’t worry; we’re not dealing with unlawful child labor when I say that. My job was the chief dishwasher, bread slicer and floor sweeper at our family bakery. As baby boomers will know, parents and grandparents were allowed to put the kids to work so we could pay for our own record collections. For me a was a good deal because while the other kids were sleeping in or watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was collecting a pay envelope and peddling off on my bike to buy the latest Top 40 vinyl releases.

So on a Wednesday morning about two weeks into August 1969, my dad asked me to take my mom’s car to pick up a vacuum cleaner from a local repair shop and drop it off at home. I not only looked at the opportunity as a break from shoving baking pans into an overheated washer, but also a chance to drive.

I was psyched, but you already know what’s coming… right?

I was almost home when I thought I saw one of my younger neighborhood pals walking along the sidewalk. What could be cooler than a “older” sixteen year old pulling up and offering him a ride? Yeah, I thought so too – but when I looked out the passenger window it wasn’t him.

Too bad I wasn’t looking at the road instead.

This was a residential section, so fortunately I wasn’t going more than 25-30 mph. But even at that non-freeway snail’s pace things can happen fast. When I turned my attention back to driving, I had a few split seconds to realize the car in front of me had stopped to make a left turn.

Cue the sound effects!

Okay, let’s take a moment here to imagine your favorite comedy movie where the idiot behind the wheel drives off a cliff or high bridge. The film goes to slow motion and you see everyone in the car go bug-eyed with their mouths hanging open and in a low, slow-mo sound effect they all go, “OH $#$%%#!!!

In my case I envision a Blues Brothers car chase. The cowboys, Nazi’s and police in hot pursuit of Jake and Elwood demonstrate that slow-mo movie look and sound as they fly through the air, hurl off a road, or spin through a mall upside down.

That’s how I still picture my slow-mo self at that moment: “OH $#$%%#!!!”

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

I’ll interrupt this driving moment to make it clear no one was hurt in the making of this non-comedy movie real life action sequence. As for my mom’s car… Well, that’s another story.

Something like this.

Her car came to a sudden, crunching stop embedded into the rear of the car stopped in front of me. In slow-mo I can still see the front hood of her blue Oldsmobile Cutlass flying up in the air and landing on the road next to me. Then without any notice or fanfare, the engine dropped out with a crash accompanied by the sound of broken glass (or could it have been broken metal?). In an era before airbags, I’m sure my steel grip on the steering wheel and locked arms bracing for impact kept me from a face plant on the dashboard.

The guy I rear-ended happened to be a kid I had been going to school with since about third grade. He jumped out of his car and delivered one of the most famous lines you’d hear during a similar scene in a Hollywood movie:

“WHAT THE $#$%%#??!!!” 

At that point I figured I should probably get out of my car too. The only problem was the doors were jammed shut, so I crawled out of the window. I definitely did not feel as cool as Jake or Elwood.

Wait ’til mom hears about this!

The car was totaled. In fact, the only part that was salvageable was the AM radio, which was still playing while we waited for the police and a tow truck. And just in case you’re wondering, it was not playing Sweet Caroline.

That memory is still coming up…

Within a hour my dad had picked me up in his car and I was back at work to finish washing pans and sweeping the floor. Fortunately, my parents took it all quite well and were happy no one was hurt. And with insurance my mom got a new car.

So business as usual? Well, not quite…

My punishment would be handed out during a date in traffic court a few months later. But the real punishment that hit home for me as a sixteen year old psyched about driving came as advice from the police and even the judge, who were all frequent visitors in the family bakery. They mentioned to my parents it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to drive before traffic court, just in case I saw another neighbor walking along the street.

So until I had to face the Judge in his courtroom, rather than in our bakery, I was back to hanging out at home waiting for friends – like my pal Kevin – to drive me somewhere. It was also a good stretch of time to lose any skills a sixteen year old might continue to develop while sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Sweet Caroline? It’s coming up…

When I finally went to court, which was only about half a block from the bakery and probably with a box of our donuts in the outer office, the judge just gave me a talk about being more careful. That was it. Then I asked the BIG question: when can I start driving again?

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017 – Westlake, Ohio

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – Willoughby, Ohio

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He said I could have been driving the entire time.

Say what? “OH $#$%%#!!!” And no – I didn’t say that, but it probably ran through my mind. And with so much time away from driving, it was almost like starting from scratch. At least that’s what it felt like.

My instructor in “learning to drive again 101” was my dad. My backseat driving coach was pal Kevin. The first step was to cruise around some country roads until I got the hang of it again, so the three of us took off in mom’s new car.

I have to admit to being a bit scared. Totaling a car will do that to someone. On the two lane back roads we had some laughs with my instructor and coach joking about sharp corners, stop signs and oncoming cars. But at one point as we went under a low bridge and around a corner, a large truck was coming from the other direction. I put a steel grip on the wheel, went over the right side edge lines and slowed down to a crawl as the truck blew past us. They faked being scared (at least I hope they were faking!), but I broke out in a slight sweat. Driving wasn’t as cool for me as it was when I first got my license.

And looking back, that’s a good thing. I actually learned to be a more careful driver rather than a psyched sixteen year old with a license.

BUT – and here it is…

The song playing on the AM radio at that moment the truck blew by us? The Top 40 hit Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. And yes – it’s true. I remember that, which is why the song still carries that memory for me.

BUT there’s another part of this story that also has a steel grip in my memory bank. Remember the bet I made with my pal Kevin?

There were only a couple weeks until school started when I wrecked my mom’s car. That same evening we had marching band (very cool – don’t ever doubt that) practice at the high school. I called Kevin with my non-comedy sorrowful tale of on road destruction and asked him for a ride. Since the main attraction of being in the band was hanging out with girls, an assorted group of us piled into Kevin’s car (actually his mom’s car) after practice and…

Well… You already know what’s coming – right?

Wait ’til your mom hears about this one!

We drove to a local restaurant for something to eat. When we were leaving, there were about four or five kids crammed in the backseat and three of us – Kevin driving, me in the middle and another pal Rob riding shotgun – sitting in front. Kevin made a sharp right turn out of the parking lot that caused all of us to lean left. In fact we leaned so far left that

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

Kevin was shoved against the driver’s side door with his arms locked in place. He yelled out something to the effect of a slow-mo, “OH $#$%%#!!!”

Everyone else sort of screamed. The car scraped over a concrete curb causing a stream of sparks to fly up in the air around us, smashed through a landscape of bushes, and dug a couple donut shaped ruts in the front lawn of the restaurant before coming to a stop. Once again, no one was hurt except for another mom’s car. But this time all it took was a tire change and a slow unsteady drive home.

As you can tell, Kevin won the bet, but only by a few hours. And I became a more careful driver at the age of sixteen because to tell the truth, two accidents in one day was “$#$%%#!!!”

Back to Sweet Caroline? Yeah, I know it’s a standard at Boston Red Sox Games and an uplifting, healing song for The Boson Marathon after runners and supporters were attacked by cowardly militant scums (or in more polite terms, $#$%%#!!!).

I get it.

But for me, I’d rather for-get the experience of Sweet Caroline and my sixteen year old driving experience. Hail, hail public transportation!

Here’s a video of the great (I get it!) Neil Diamond performing Sweet Caroline.

To purchase All-Time Greatest Hits by Neil Diamond with Sweet Caroline 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

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!

#193 – Mysterious Ways

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#193 – Mysterious Ways by U2

 – Based on the title of the album and band, it’s funny (to me, anyway) I associate Achtung Baby and U2 with Southern California. We’re not talking about surf music here kids. This was the group’s move away from possibly taking themselves a little too seriously (according to music critics) and into a more industrial dance-groove that I’ll go ahead and trace back to David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger) with producer Brian Eno. I’ve always associated that crunchy sound as coming out of recording sessions in Berlin Germany, where U2 also created tracks for this LP.

It’s also when lead singer Bono created his rock star parody character The Fly, which lasted through a couple albums and tours (Zoo TV). But what does this have to do with Southern California?

That just happens to be the locale where I started grooving on U2.

The Fly

I call Achtung Baby an album, but there was no vinyl involved with my ownership. I actually had it on cassette. When it came out in late 1991 I was almost a year into my move to Los Angeles from New York City and the song Mysterious Ways could be a theme song for the culture shocking experience. I know the song is about a woman’s mysterious “moves” since the video and live performances featured exotic belly dancers, but after more than a dozen years as a Manhattan resident (east coast as opposed to west coast Manhattan Beach), LA was different enough to be mysterious.

The biggest shock was having to own a car.

I essentially ditched driving after moving to NYC following college and hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car for little more than a handful of times since. Taxis, subways, buses and my feet were the only means of transportation necessary for city life. Car payments, insurance costs, gas prices, parking and road rage were non-existent for me. And if there was a Manhattan traffic jam while sitting the backseat of a taxi or during a subway delay, a quick walk down a couple city blocks would always find a different scenario or route to get me where I wanted to go.

It was never that way in LA. It was all about cars…

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I made the move to the Pacific Coast as a passenger during a cross-country drive by a pal. With a couple suitcases I was dropped off at another pal’s (who happened to be an ex-girlfriend, but we’ll save that saga for a future Dream Song) rented basement apartment in the Hollywood Hills to begin this new adventure.

And the first thing they both brought to my attention was that I was car-less.

Not quite walking distance

There was no walking in Los Angeles unless you were exercising or car-less. And since this was happening in the days pre-LA subway and my employment sights were set on Hollywood, I could either be the healthiest guy on my career path by adding miles and hours to my tired feet every day walking from The Hills, or buy a car.

I opted for motorized transportation.

But I wouldn’t settle for any car like I might have on the east coast. This was Hollywood and my goal was to fit into what I considered Southern California cool. I needed a convertible and with that in mind, I went shopping.

Since I knew nothing about cars, this perception of what I needed to drive (simply based on a coolness factor similar to The Fly) pretty much stamped the word SUCKER on my forehead. In hindsight I can still see the used car dealers I spoke with, who were all typical of the comedy stereotype used car dealers, salivate when I came walking onto their lives.

Did I bring someone with knowledge to look under the car, check the engine and ask all the right mechanical questions?

Nope.

I was the new kid in town and my close pals were still back in NYC buying subway tokens and hailing cabs. I just wanted to know if the convertible top worked, if it had a cassette deck (did cars have CD players in 1991?) and if I looked Fly sitting behind the wheel.

Looking cool?

Within a few days of first discovering my shocking need for a car, I purchased a 1983 used Mustang convertible. The guy that sold it to me probably only stopped salivating long enough to run behind closed doors to pop open a bottle of Champagne and hire an expensive escort for the weekend after I paid in full with cash. Yeah, it had helped the bank account in NYC by never owning a car and never worrying about payments, insurance, gas prices and parking. Now these newly discovered options were staring me in the face along with another cost-fueled stress factor:

Repairs.

I had purchased what they call in comedy terms a lemon.

This piece of crap car broke down on the average of about once a month. I learned more about the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles by waiting for and then riding in tow trucks taking me and my lemon to various garages for repairs. But when it was running, at least the convertible top and cassette deck always worked.

So what does this have to do with Mysterious Ways?

Worth a comedy paycheck

On the positive side of my fish-out-of-water adventure to the west coast, I had landed my dream job in Hollywood. I talk about comedy terms because it was in the comedy industry as a talent coordinator (talent booker in simple terms) that was even more Fly than my pre-conceived expectations. With my first paycheck I went to a flea market off Melrose Avenue and bought a piece of Beatles memorabilia – a framed plaque containing a one inch square of bed sheet slept on by John Lennon at Detroit’s Whittier Hotel in 1964.

I know what you’re thinking… Are you kidding me?

Hey – I saw a 1964 clip of the hotel manager hawking this fan souvenir (for profit) in The Complete Beatles video a few years earlier and my comedic sense wouldn’t allow me to pass it up for only twenty-five bucks. I splurged what was left of my second paycheck on an Achtung Baby cassette.

And believe me when I say splurged. Adding regular repairs to the newly burdening costs of owning a car and renting an apartment in the San Fernando Valley, buying a new cassette was a luxury. Come to think of it, so was eating.

Music Science Class

The song that sold me on the cassette was One. When I first heard it I needed to own it. The fact that the entire album was great was a bonus. But like most music fans I had my favorite songs. One was… well, one. Another was Mysterious Ways.

Unlike a CD or with digital music, you couldn’t just punch in a number and play the track you want to hear. With a cassette it meant fast forwarding or rewinding and hoping you stopped near the beginning of the desired song. With both One and Mysterious Ways, I actually had it down to a musical science of mentally counting the seconds of fast forwarding or rewinding until hitting play for another listen.

Yeah, the things we had to do in the old days as music fans…

Mysterious Ways hit this Dream Song List on June 27th. Of course I own a copy – and have even moved up in the techno musical world by long ago ditching the cassette and adding the song to my digital playlist. But I hadn’t heard it in awhile. If you’ve been paying attention at all to any of these past Classic Rocker ramblings, that places it into the subliminal category.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017 – Plymouth, Ohio

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 – Kirtland, Ohio

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My Los Angeles car experience

So even though one of my best Southern California experiences was finally selling that used lemon convertible, Mysterious Ways and the Achtung Baby LP bring back better memories of driving from North Hollywood, into Studio City and through Laurel Canyon to my job in Hollywood. The car top was down, the volume was turned up, the weather was warm and sunny, and I was mentally counting the seconds of fast forward or rewind to hear them over again.

Of course that only happened on the days the car was running and I wasn’t using foot power to find another pay phone (pre-cell folks!) to call the next tow truck driver to give me a lift to the nearest garage. And in hindsight, I’m sure they never missed reading the word SUCKER stamped on my forehead. It was truly an era of mysterious ways for a big city guy in the sprawling Southern California Land of Angels…

Complete with a gyrating belly dancer, here’s a video for Mysterious Ways by U2 performed live during the Zoo TV Tour stop in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

To purchase Achtung Baby by U2 with Mysterious Ways 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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