Friday, June 05, 2015

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 5: A Song That Reminds You Of Someone

I was really lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented musicians (and devoted music-lovers) during my graduate school years at Penn State. I say "lucky" because, despite its popular sobriquet, "Happy Valley" is most definitely not a happiness-inspiring place to live, at least not for a city girl. State College is a tiny college town in the middle of Pennsylvania Amish country. It's about a 3hr drive from anything interesting, it's largely dominated by frat-bro culture and there's this disgusting, brownish-gray, Spam-like substance called "scrapple" that they serve for breakfast and claim is a meat.

To relieve boredom and agony during my time there, I played music. A lot of music.  And I played the lion's share of it with Doug Anderson (pictured above on the left), aka "Ol' Moose," who also started up the alt-country-ish band (Philbilly Cadillac) that was my saving grace for the several years I played ans sang in it. Philbilly Cadillac was made up of a rotating hodgepodge of Penn State faculty and grad students, anchored always by Doug, with a few other consistent members (myself, Mike Schleeter, and Celia Millington-Wyckoff). We "practiced" in Doug's basement, which became something like a sanctuary for many of us, a place to get away from University minutiae and the countless other irritations and indignities of State College parochial life.  Sometimes we showed up, plugged in, cracked open our beers and played loud and fast and messy all night long.  Other times, we were quieter, more reflective, more careful, even tender, with how we played the songs that meant so much to us.  Those were good times and I miss them.

Anyway, a lot of the music from those years reminds me of Doug and the other guys we played with, but probably none more than this one, Little Feat's 1971 "Willin'":



Doug's was a bona fide connoisseur of  truckers' songs. They were his specialty-- especially the ones that involved some combination of weed, whites and/or wine-- and Doug had exactly the right sort of baritone depth and idiosyncratic phrasing to pull them off without ever sounding like it was his first rodeo. Just listen for yourself: here's a live recording of Philbilly Cadillac performing "Willin'" with Doug on lead vocals.  I don't hear "Willin'" often enough anymore, which is a shame because it is a fantastic song, but on the rare occasions that I do, I'm always reminded of Doug, of Philbilly Cadillac, of our practices and shows, of drinking beers and picking guitars and shooting the sh*t.

Friendships that are born of, organically sustained by, and narrated over and over again in song are as excellent as they are rare.  They remain alive and present even when the friend is absent. I feel really fortunate to have a friend like Doug, and I'm thankful to be reminded of him from time to time by the music we both love..

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