The Hoot

Hoot_2One week ago tonight, I was privileged to attend The Hoover Hootenanny in Asbury Park, N.J.. This was the sixth go-round for the Hootenanny, but, for one reason or another—mostly because they’re in Asbury Park and I live a thousand miles away in St. Louis—I was never able to attend before. But this year, with a favorable work schedule, a newly retired wife and the realization that, hey, I’m not gettin’ any younger, I decided to make the trip. It didn’t take too much work to convince Jean to come along with me.

Put on by my college friend and the Best Man at our wedding, Geoff, along with his wife, Tatiana, the Hoover Hootenanny is a gathering of their enormous circle of friends, most of whom play music in one form or another. So “the Hoot” is music, from start to finish.

We flew from St. Louis Saturday morning, and arrived in Asbury Park early in the afternoon, with enough time to recharge a little before heading over to Geoff’s house. They actually have a barn in their back yard—Tatiana said when they were house-hunting and she saw the barn, she decided immediately that the house was for them—which makes a perfect backdrop for a small wooden stage. One of their sons had created a banner with caricatures of many past Hootenanny performers to hang behind the stage.

For a bunch of mostly amateur musicians, the quality of the music was surprisingly good. There was a wide range of styles, from punk to metal to country to folk. In the reverse of a typical lineup, Geoff scheduled the louder acts toward the beginning, with the country and folk performers near the end, in part to try to keep the neighbors happy.

Geoff asked me and a few other friends to sing backup on a couple of songs he performed with his old band The Noise. We did David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, followed by Prince’s Purple Rain; both iconic songs by artists who had died since the last Hoot. Maybe our versions weren’t the most melodic renditions of those songs ever, but those of us on the stage and I think everybody in the crowd had a great time. The purple confetti during the second song added a nice touch.

Speaking of the crowd, the Hoover back yard could not have held many more people. Everyone said it was the most-attended Hoot yet. Me, I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Here are a few pictures from the Hoot, that will perhaps show the variety of stage acts that night.

List: Top Five Story Songs — No. 1

This week, it’s been all about Story Songs, those songs that adopt their own meanings, sometimes far from what the original artists meant. Previous editions are here and here and here and here. And finally, we come to:

1. Stay Free, by The Clash.

Way back then, in the early early 1980s, we wrote letters. Lots of letters. On actual paper, which went into real envelopes, which that spent several days in transit before they were delivered.

My friend Geoff was back in New York, and I was in St. Louis, and for a couple of years there, it was extremely rare that there wasn’t a piece of paper in my typewriter, representing a letter-in-progress. Mostly to Geoff, and later to Jean, but also to other friends.

Geoff, in particular, soon got bored with sending letters in plain white envelopes, so my mailbox got a lot more colorful, with envelopes made out of pages torn out of rock magazines and folded around the letters inside, with my address scrawled on the outside under a stamp.

Basically, the outsides of our mailings became as much an outlet for creativity as the insides. Geoff, of course, was always much more creative than I was.

So yes, letters also went to other people, one of whom was my brother Jim. In the spring and early summer of 1980, we hung out a lot together, but by July of that year he found the weather and the attitudes of St. Louis to be too stifling, and picked up and moved to Provincetown, Mass., where he had some friends and where, I think, he had lived for a time previously.  That summer, I was sorry to see him go, but I always knew it was important for him, and I knew that once he got back to Provincetown, he was happier and, frankly, where he belonged.

He was from St. Louis, but he was at home in P-town.

Sometime in the late winter/early spring of 1981, I sent him a long letter. And on the outside of the envelope, I wrote the following song lyrics:

‘Cause time has passed and things have changed,
I move any way I want to go.
And I’ll never forget the feeling I got
when I heard that you’d got home.

And I’ll never forget the smile on my face
‘Cause I knew where you would be,
And if you’re in the Crown tonight,
Have a drink on me.

But go easy,
Step lightly,
Stay free.

They’re the closing lines from the song Stay Free, from The Clash’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope album. I thought they pretty well summed up how I felt about Jim at that point. (The “Crown” reference was a bonus; the previous year when we were in town and working at our Dad’s company, we would often have lunch together at Crown Candy Kitchen, a landmark in north St. Louis.)

Anyway, I sent the letter off and didn’t think much more about it, until that summer, when I took the train to the East Coast to visit both Jim, in Provincetown, and Geoff, in New York.

It was my first visit to P-town, and I was able to spend the better part of a week there. Jim had some friends who were Clash fans, and he was actually starting to listen to Sandinista! a little bit; it was beyond his usual range, but his musical tastes were always eclectic.

These friends had taken him to see the Clash movie Rude Boy, and he told me—I can still visualize him telling me this—that when they played that song in the movie, for the first time he recognized the lyric from my envelope. He had thought that I had just written it, so when he saw the lyrics sung out before him in the movie theater, it was a revelation. I think I would have written “—Strummer Jones” at the bottom of the lyric on the envelope, but at the time he received it he probably wouldn’t have known who Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were.

I wish I could remember our conversation more clearly, but for the most part it’s lost to time. I know, however, that he appreciated the sentiment, and the fact that he remembered the lyric over the several months between my letter and his seeing Rude Boy was fantastic.

So anyway, the song has always, for me, sort of encapsulated everything I felt about Jim and Provincetown. And my favorite part is that he got it; he was right there with me on it.

*****

My Clash-fan friends won’t believe this—and will probably berate and shun me when they read it—but I’ve never seen Rude Boy. But as I was preparing this post, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I have finally seen the Stay Free scene. It’s a little raw, compared to the album version, but hey, it’s the Clash. And it’s great. Here:

Who’s Next

The story behind this album cover is supposedly that The Who had asked Stanley Kubrick to direct the movie version of their album Tommy. Kubrick declined; in response, they pissed on this concrete monolith, a reference to his film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

A good portion of my summer vacation in 1971 was spent trailing my two older brothers and cousin around Brainerd, Minn., visiting every record store and head shop in hopes of finding the new album by The Who. My cousin had just seen them in concert at the Mississippi River Festival, and “obsessed” is not too strong a word to describe his quest to find the record. That show at MRF lives on in St. Louis lore as one of the best …Keep reading

Why Should I Care If I Have To Cut My Hair?

“I’ve got to move with the fashions, or be outcast…”

The story of our WHO weekend in 1980 continues. Episode 1 is here.

After our adventure in Columbia, Geoff and I rode the bus back to St. Louis on Monday, arriving mid-afternoon at the downtown bus station. I showed him around a bit; I think it was his first visit to the city, other than trips in and out of the airport. I still remember his question: “Where are all the people?” Yes, St. Louis in mid-afternoon is a ghost town compared to NYC, but hey, it’s home.

We got a ride home from my dad, going home on highway 40, which took us past the Checkerdome, with the marquee: “The WHO – Sold Out” We’d be back there in a few hours, and … Keep reading …

A One-Way Drive In 1980

Preface: Maybe I have a strong internal calendar. I seem to remember a lot of key dates in my life ; I remember way more birthdays than I have a right to; and if I hear it’s the anniversary of something or other, it always seems to be more interesting to me than to the people around me. Whatever. Some people know important things; I know anniversaries. Anyway, 30 years ago this month I saw what still stands up as my favorite concert of all time — The Who at the Checkerdome in St. Louis. As I’ve thought about that show and all of the events that surrounded it, it occurred to me that that whole year of 1980 was one of the most significant in my life. I selected and started attending a new, out-of-state college; I cast my first presidential vote; I turned 21; I flew for the first time, and saw the ocean for the first time; and, most importantly, I met the girl I would end up spending the rest of my life with. So I decided I’d devote a few pages of this blog to the year of 1980, sort of following along as it happened, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight. For those who shared at least part of that year with me, I hope this brings back good memories. If not, the money-back guarantee applies. All posts in this series will be in the category “1980,” for those playing the home version of our game. -js


The spring of 1980 found me living at my parents’ house, after 2-1/2 years at the University of Missouri. I’d left Mizzou at the end of the fall semester in 1979, with plans to finish my schoolin’ at a smaller college somewhere. First, though, I was going to take a semester off.

My friend Geoff was also back at home after having left Mizzou, but he had already started his second college stint, at CW Post in New York city. We had a literary friendship — we typed dozens, probably hundreds of letters back and forth, mostly, but not exclusively, talking about whatever music we were listening to. Music was a critical element of our friendship. We each “discovered” the Who’s Next album at about the same time, a thousand miles apart and almost a year before we met each other, and we both, I think, remain firm in the belief that it’s the greatest rock album of all time.

Who’s Next was released in 1971, but by 1980 the band had seen more than its share … Keep reading

London Calling

It was 30 years ago this spring that music–both my own and the world’s at large–got an incredible jolt. The Clash album London Calling was released in England in December of 1979, and in the U.S. in January 1980. Normally I’m not an “early adopter” of new music, but thanks to my good friend Geoff, I had purchased it by early spring. The album grabbed hold of me immediately, and has never loosened its grip.

In early 1980, I was taking a semester off between two years at Mizzou and an expected transfer to a smaller school; Geoff was back in his New York home, having already transferred from Mizzou to CW Post. We stayed in touch through the U.S. Mail, occasionally sending each other cassettes of music we were listening to. One he sent me … Keep reading

Thanks Joe!

Joe S. in 1981

Way, way back in 1981, I traveled to Provincetown, Mass., to visit my brother, and then to New York to visit my friend Geoff, spending about a week in each place. While I was in New York, another friend of Geoff’s, Joe Streno, hung out with us for a couple of days. We all had a lot of common interests — mostly revolving around music — and we had a great time. We saw a concert, we took some pictures, we talked about dying my hair red. This was nearly three decades ago — the first year of the REAGAN administration, for Pete’s sake — and although Geoff and I have of course stayed in contact, for years since then I had no reason to think about Joe.

Enter Facebook. Geoff and I both got into it last year, and there was Joe, commenting on Geoff’s posts. Soon, Joe and I were Facebook friends, and before long we were exchanging the photos on Facebook that we originally shot on film back in 1981. This is one of the coolest things about Facebook — the ability to connect with someone who you haven’t seen in years and who lives thousands of miles away, and pick up old conversations or start new ones.

So anyway, Joe lives in Seattle now, apparently running a computer consulting business, and operating two blogs, one personal and one professional. So when I got the idea of starting a blog, I asked him for some pointers.

And man, did he come through. Not only did he steer me toward WordPress, but he gave me all kinds of ideas and encouragement to get started. I sent him the link to my first post, and within hours not only did he have some more cool suggestions, but he actually went to the trouble to design a new header for the blog! A big Springsteen fan (see  this post of his for some cool photos) he apparently liked the “middle aged in middle America” line from my “about me” page, and created the “Greetings from Asbury Park” postcard-type header you see above. Way above and beyond the call, I’d say. In one fell swoop, he gave this blog a new, more focused identity, and a much nicer graphical appearance. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn about blogging, but he has given me an immense headstart. All this from a guy I haven’t seen or talked to since Sandinista! was new.

So anyway, a big Thank You to Joe, and for anyone else in the Seattle area in need of Macintosh help, look him up!