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Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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By on April 22, 2014 in See It Here

April 22, 2014

Circling the Circles

When I was attending Indiana University and majoring in journalism, there was an “elective” in the class schedule that focused on the meaning of rock and roll songs. This was a no-brainer (yes, a play on words) so I took the class, only because the interplanetary rock collecting class was full.

Remember, this was the ’70’s. There were lots of classes like that. While we’re on the topic, there was a class on violence in Shakespeare and we spent an entire semester on the Bard’s 1602 tragedy, “Troilus and Cressida” where something like 18 people are killed in the first act. The class became an incomplete because the prof killed himself while grading papers.

OK, back to the story I’m trying to tell.

I was also working at a radio station playing albums on Saturday nights (it was called AOR at the time which stood for “Album-Oriented Rock” but I chose a lower-rent version called “All Over the Road”). Program directors of radio stations in college towns don’t listen on Saturday nights so I played whatever worked with the moment.

I had come across an album by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen and figured right away this was worthy of airplay, just because their name sounded cool. There was a tune called “Down to Seeds and Stems  Again” that was a mix of bluegrass and rock that I knew would work with the audience. Look, it’s a Saturday Night in a college town and people who weren’t out drinking were listening to the radio and sharing doobies, (not the brothers).

It became a popular tune and I remember playing it more than once during my three-hour shift and getting phone calls from the same voices saying “wow, that sure sounds familiar.” I suggested they may have heard the tune an hour earlier and there was always that wonderful slow-motion pause as the wheels turned to put 2 and 2 together in order to equal 5.

I liked the words and used it in the meaning of rock and roll songs class.

“I saw your other man today, he was wearing my brand new shows, and I’m down to seeds and stems again, too.”

I wrote a paper saying this was someone who had lost everything and was suddenly faced with the basics and looking at the big picture: “who am I-why am I here and WTF do I do now?” The prof gave me a “C” saying I completely missed the theme and this was about someone saying when they feel bad, they smoke dope and the song is about realizing they’re at the bottom of the bag with nothing usable. Everyone in the class agreed. I was a nitwit. I mentioned it on the air to my radio audience and they agreed with the class.

Jump ahead 30 years. I’m interviewing Bill Kirchen, lead guitar player for the Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen at a bar in Annandale, Virginia for a story about his being nominated for a Grammy Award (I remember him saying he’d been “Graminated  for a Nommy”). When I told him about my college class experience the room turned cold real fast. “It’s about dope,” he said looking straight at me. “It’s about going through life and realizing you’ve got no dope left.” He paused and then smiled. “But yeah,” he added, “there’s nothing wrong with the other way.”

I’ve been told I think too much but those words written by Shakespeare or Commander Cody are done for all of us. Don Henley of the Eagles was once asked what the words to “Hotel California” mean and he answered, “whatever it means to you is fine by me.” Put another way, that phony rock and roll professor at Indiana University should have given me an “A.”

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