Thursday, January 29, 2009

GMVW # 56: "White or Rye?"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 56:  White or Rye?
Song: My Old School by Steely Dan
(Songwriter: Donald Fagen)
January 29, 2009

I’m willing to bet everyone has strong memories of when they broke off on their own for the first time.  It can be quite a transition.  For me, that moment was when I left the confines of
17 Park Road
and Franklin for North Adams State College and the Berkshires in the late summer of 1980.  The independence that came with being on my own was tricky to deal with on a number of levels.  One was rebellion.  Having since read the books ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘A Separate Peace’, I can relate to the storylines and the characters.  The remnants of 60’s and 70’s ideals were still alive and kicking.  There was ambivalence in the air, directed at society’s expectations:  Why am I here? Where is this taking me?  Why shouldn’t I try something completely different?  Is there a better way forward?  Lucky for me, Mom and Dad were great role models.  They showed me that you can strive for achievement in a not-so-self-centered way (which was a big issue for teenagers in those days) and still make a connection with the mainstream.  A number of kids I knew in North Adams were not so lucky.  They rebelled against just about everything. 

It’s easy to point at drugs, alcohol, and sloth as the reason why many students ‘dropped out’ in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but often there was an element of disappointment in what lay ahead that many kids struggled with (which critics can often overlook).  It was a big hurdle to clear.  John Lennon expressed it best in the song ‘Working Class Hero’ (covered by Green Day in Gem # 18).  Lyrics like those (easily found with a Google search) can resonate with an open-minded kid weighing out his/her options.  Next thing you know, a roommate could be mid-semester AWOL, off forming a band, joining the Hari Krishnas, building a log cabin in the forest, starting a republic on a South Pacific Island, training for a triathlon, following a girlfriend to Mexico (a hint at this week’s Gem), or….they would trudge off to class and make the best of it. In spurts, that’s what I did, but the path to ‘enlightenment’ was never a straight one.  I often confronted my inner Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) self.  One memory is detailed at the bottom of this email.

This week’s Gem, ‘My Old School’ by Steely Dan, does a great job capturing the open mind of a kid on his/her own in a college atmosphere. The Gem video is an early version of the song, with the inimitable Donald Fagen singing the lead.  The second link is a more recent live version (I believe Jen and Dale saw this tour).  Finally, since the subject is Steely Dan, I can’t close without my pick for most creative album title of all time: ‘Katy Lied’ (with a katydid immerging from fog on the cover).

There have been many a rebels in my life, starting with Dad:  Here’s a toast to all.

- Pete

“ It was still September
When your daddy was quite surprised
To find you with the working girls
In the county jail ”

A Holden Caulfield-like memory:

Mac and I made the trek to Ottawa in late winter, 1983, to reconnect with the Carleton University crowd (where I spent the previous year) for a long weekend.  I hitchhiked from North Adams up Rte 7 in western Vermont and met up with Mac in Burlington.  The two of us then continued the hitching to Montreal (a story in itself) where Bob, having appreciated our effort, graciously drove the 2 hours from Ottawa to pick us up.  After a great weekend, we took a bus back to Montreal, where we planned to take another bus to Burlington.  When we arrived in Montreal, however, we had a change of heart.  The decision to stay put was at least partially due to the outrageous cost of the bus tickets to Burlington, but was also likely driven by not wanting to miss an opportunity to take in the Montreal night life.  We had no bank/credit cards and just enough cash for a few beers.  Finding a place to stay?  How to get out of the city the next day?  We would figure all that out later. 

We helped close down
Wellington Street
, and when we walked out of the last pub of the night, it was pouring out.  A local YMCA proved impossible to get into.  After roaming the streets for a while, we came up with a thought:  McGill University.  A TV lounge, perhaps?  Sure enough, we found a dorm, but the door was locked.  Somehow we were able to get in (Mac may have to help here…I remember a security guard, a student, a shrub and a skunk, not necessarily in that order).  We then made a B-line for the lounge, where we angled the couches to face the opposite wall.  This was to prove insightful… before falling asleep, I watched as a night-patrol flashlight scan of the room passed overhead.  The next day we slipped out of the dorm, split a breakfast, and spent the remainder of our cash on a subway ride over the St. Lawrence River, where a highway awaited our thumbs pointed south.


About the Video: Steely Dan made for TV version some time not long after the release of the album.  Fagan is to the right of the rest of the band on piano.

Video Rating: 1.5 (Good but could possibly be a bit better)

Best Feedback: Jack

Hi Pete:

Good to hear from you.  Incidentally, your tale of going to Canada and hitchhiking through Vermont was quite intriguing! :-)  Didn't know Steely Dan was in your repertoire!  A very good and eclectic taste in music! :-)  

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