The Selvedge Yard did a fantastic piece on Peter Tosh a few months back that I just revisited. It’s crazy how many crucial stories by which I’m fascinated intersect at Peter Tosh — Jamaican history, The Wailers and Bob Marley, the almighty Island Records (I just now ordered The Story of Island Records: Keep On Running), The Glimmer Twins (Mick Jagger & Keith Richards production team), and Rolling Stones Records, to name but a few.
The single most significant contribution he’s made to my life, however, is the opening track on his second solo album Equal Rights (1977). This version of “Get Up, Stand Up” (co-written with Marley, the original was on The Wailers’ classic 1973 album Burnin’) contains the most ripping guitar line I’ve ever heard. It’s fucking sick. If ever I’ve heard an R-rated guitar solo, this is it. I remember the first time I heard it as clear as day. I was in my early-20s and was en route from Indiana back to Fargo for the holidays. Waylaid by a blizzard, my companions (my girlfriend, brother and musician friend June Panic) & I stayed in the Twin Cities with a good friend of June’s, a Bowie-esque fellow known simply as Bakken. Because we’d been driving for over 15 hours (with the last three or four hours on pins & needles due to the dangerous weather), all of us but June crashed out the minute we walked in the door. I was able to tune out the boombox and all the music that June and Bakken were jamming into the wee hours of the night. Until this guitar solo tore a gigantic ganja-soaked, dick-shaped hole through my psyche. I bolted up. “What the fuck is this?!?!?!” I asked. I had to know. Through the smoky haze that filled the small apartment I was handed the cassette case. Ahhhh. So that’s the sound of Tosh, I thought to myself. I laid back down but could not sleep. I’d been roused too thoroughly by the Tosh. I bought the album the next day.
(photo by Lynn Goldsmith)
Before I turned my pre-adolescent brain to rock n roll statistics, I had a few years of total immersion in baseball. From the age of 10 to 15 I was a whore for all things MLB-related. Spring would come and with the thaw came baseball. The only thing more exciting than opening day was the first day that the new season of baseball cards would hit the shelves. My neighbor JP, my brother Ben and I would bike over to Piggly Wiggly and drop twenty to thirty bucks (each) on whatever brand came in first (it was usually Topps) and spend the whole morning opening packs (chewing mega-wads of gum if indeed it was Topps that came in, as that was the only brand that actually came with gum; Fleer came with stickers and Donruss came with puzzle pieces). We’d marvel at each card, getting to know that year’s design, holding up our heroes, acquainting ourselves with new faces and names, trying to assess which rookies looked the most like future stars, adrenaline PUMPING the whole time. The only greater sensation was the less frequent release of new Star Wars or G.I. Joe action figures. After that initial buzz wore off, we’d spend the rest of the year memorizing stats, aping the commentators, doing our best to sound like we knew what we were talking about, like we had a voice worth hearing.
Baseball’s best players were nothing short of rock stars. Those who were heroic on the field were held up like titans, and they were rewarded in the eyes of fans for being consistent. It was one thing to have a great season, but to stack up a series of great seasons was how you became a legend. When I first started to pay attention to baseball it was 1985. The stars were Dwight Gooden (though in his rookie year, he was my fave), Steve Garvey, Rod Carew, Tom Seaver, Dale Murphy, Kirk Gibson, Eddie Murray, Rickey Henderson, Nolan Ryan, and George Brett. Of all those players, Brett most closely resembled a movie star. He was baseball’s Spartacus. A batting champ who could hit homers and field the ball, he led his team to a World Series victory that year. And we was willing to raise a stink or — even better — get into a brawl on the field.
There are so many incredible George Brett stories, but there’s only one greatest George Brett story. And luckily for us (thanks to the wonders of Youtube), we’ve got it captured straight from the horse’s patute. Yes, it’s the infamous “George Brett shitting himself story” and it is a must hear. There’s much I could say about it, but it’s best left to Brett himself. It’s his greatest story. You deserve to hear it from him.
Long before Gordon Lightfoot was a Canadian folk legend, he was a legend in my father’s white Riviera convertible. It was the early ’80s and that’s the only place he existed in my small world, but it was a place where music dominated. It was a place where my small world felt huge. Of the dozens of cassettes my father had in his otherwise spotless car, Gord’s Gold stood out in a special way to me. As a perennial passenger (though in hindsight I’d like to say that I was the GTO-in-training), there was ample time to sit and stare at all the cassettes trying to make sense of the music we were cruising to; trying to connect whatever dots I possibly could with the strange and intoxicating sounds coming out of the speakers; mythologizing without even knowing it; superimposing and fusing the seemingly disparate visual fundamentals of color, shape, texture and my ever-evolving sense of beauty with the audio dimension in which I was immersed. He had a name that could have easily placed him in a position of high rank in the Star Wars universe and — looking a great deal like my father (perm-and-all) — had an especially-rugged handsomeness that appealed to this particularly Indiana Jones-obsessed youth.
And the songs sounded like a day with Dad.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. As a DJ at WIUS here in Bloomington, I had the pleasure of having up-and-coming singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith on my radio show. I’d fallen in love with his debut and was lucky enough to hustle him onto my show when he passed through town opening for John Hiatt (at what was then called Mars). We chatted awkwardly (as two shy souls are prone to do) for about 15 minutes before he started to play some songs with his acoustic guitar and a voice which came from another time. Among the songs was Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness”, originally released on his ‘66 debut Lightfoot! and then re-packaged in ‘75 as the opening track on Gord’s Gold.
Ribbon of darkness over me / Since my true love walked out the door
Tears I never had before / Ribbon of Darkness over me
I taped that radio program. Though I haven’t listened to it since the day it was taped, I think about digging out that cassette three or four times a year, negotiating my humility for a chance to once again hear Ron’s performance of that song to an audience of one. It remains one of my favorite folk songs of all time. A universal tune that is so well-written as to allow the singer performing it to wear it like a costume, to fill it with his own particularities, to take the universal and give it a sense of time & place.
Oh how I wish your heart could see / How mine just aches and breaks all day
Come on home and take away / This ribbon of darkness over me