Category Archives: Songs


No Turd, No Canine

I love a good study of something that can’t be measured, which is why I fell immediately for some sparkling new research I saw yesterday about jealousy in dogs. It is even more wonderful than another obscure bit of science that I used to love about contagious canine yawning.

It’s not that I’m fickle, but after caring so much about what dogs must think when I yawn at them, I do need something fresh to occupy my mind and keep the excitement alive.

This latest experiment is just so charming.

Researchers emotionally provoked thirty six dogs by having the owners, in the presence of their pets, give attention to three different things – a book, a moving, barking toy dog, and a pumpkin-shaped Halloween candy bucket.

The book was read aloud. The toy dog and the bucket were talked to and petted like they were real animals.

The actual dogs were not interested in their human’s interaction with the book, but had a negative reaction when their owners coddled the fake canine.

A certain amount of butt-sniffing was done with regard to that toy dog. There was no similar behavior around the Jack-O-Lantern bucket because neither dogs nor science can tell us where a pumpkin’s butt is located. Is it on the bottom or at the stem? Time to fund another study.

At any rate, the canines showed a significant amount of alarm when it seemed like there was a new (phony) dog on the scene.

The conclusion: Dogs get jealous.

An alternate conclusion: Dogs get embarrassed for you when you act like a plastic bucket and a scentless stuffed dog are really alive.

But if dogs do get jealous, they will need songs to soothe them through their pain. My nomination: Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

No one loves you like I do
You’re my man, and I’m “Old Blue”
But then you picked up a new dog at the store
Between me and that pup
You know I loved you more.
So it took me by surprise when I snuffed
and found out your new pet was stuffed
Don’t you know that no turd means it’s not canine?
Fundamental to the design.
Let me tell you no turd means that’s no canine!
That’s the news that comes from behind.
Honey Honey, yeah.

What’s your favorite song about betrayal?

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Freedom Underground

On this Fourth of July in our nation’s capitol, thousands will celebrate the American Way of Life and look to the sky in wonder. But they would be just as awestruck if they could see what’s going on beneath their feet, where a massive project is underway to dig a drainage tunnel that will help clean up Washington D.C.’s rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia.

The capitol city is separating its storm and sanitary sewer systems, a $ 2.6 billion twenty year project to prevent the overflow of raw sewage into the rivers – something the Twin Cities achieved in 1995 but a calamity that still happens regularly in our federal city to the tune of about 3 billion gallons each year.

When I think about the privileges we share as Americans, I recognize that much of it comes from the founders and the military and the sacred documents and all the other things we regularly celebrate on the Fourth.

But a lot of it also has to do with infrastructure.

A country left festering in its own sewage cannot advance the health and welfare of its citizens, so when we’re being grateful for our peace and prosperity let’s remember to thank the people who keep our own poop out of the streets.

Just as Francis Scott Key swiped an old drinking tune and wrote new words to celebrate an icon of freedom that was partially obscured by darkness, I propose we sing an ode to this completely invisible but oh-so-necessary subterranean tunnel project.

It’s not that weird. Key’s original lyrics feature three extra verses that we never use, and one of them already includes the word “pollution.”

Down where no one can see, out of mind out of sight,
excess leakage is bailed from the rivulets streaming.
It’s as airless as Mars, and with even less light.
But we’re digging our way to a future that’s gleaming.

In the laser’s red glare, tunnel builders know where
they are heading tonight, although we’re unaware.
Oh say does that underground excavator still pave
through the sand of under D.C., and the loam of the brave?

Who deserves an ode?

Anniversary 2

Sweet Adeline, Surprisingly

Today’s post comes from Clyde in Mankato.

When Harmon Killebrew died two years ago, I mourned a bit for my mother. She was a dedicated and savvy baseball fan. It occurred to me that Harmon’s death took away the last popular cultural link to my mother, who greatly admired his play and demeanor.

Then a few days after that my wife asked me, “Who was the Italian singer your mother was so gaga over?” “Jerry Vale,” I answered. Ah, there was one more pop culture link to my mother.

However, Jerry Vale died last weekend.


Now to describe my mother as gaga over anything seems a large stretch, but in fact she was exactly gaga over Jerry Vale, not dissimilarly to Elvis fans. When I was in junior high I was puzzled and embarrassed by her response to a Jerry Vale song on the radio, which was quite common on KDAL radio in the late 50′s and early 60′s.

My mother’s name was Adeline, but no one ever called her Sweet Adeline, not even my father, who could be quite tender and loving to her, in deep contrast to his normal pattern of behavior. My mother turned into some other person when Jerry Vale sang, a person I never otherwise saw. It was not only his voice, but she freely admitted it was also the handsome face. Today I realize how delightful and just simply human was this sharp contrast in her character.

Ten years ago my son, who loves and collects all forms of music, told me he had discovered the perfect Italian crooner. He wondered if I had ever heard of Jerry Vale. I treasure that moment of the wheel turning all the way around.

My father also had his contrast in character that embarrassed me back then. Looie was usually a coarse, harsh, angry, insensitive man, exactly like the father in my novelized version of my childhood. That same man loved to dance. He danced (meaning the old time dances like waltzes, polkas, and schottisches) with great relish and accomplishment.

Anniversary 2

A group of people in our neighborhood, Knife River Valley, held monthly dances in an old school house. My father’s favorite was the broom dance, a form of musical chairs while dancing. If you were left without a partner after the music stopped, you had to dance with the broom. My father’s turns with the broom was graceful, in tempo, and unselfconsciously funny. Oh, how embarrassed I was! Luckily I later grew old enough to be left home alone or with my sister.

What unexpected contrasts did your parents have in their character? Or you?


Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Relationship watchers across the galaxy are deeply upset and universally disappointed over the unexpected break-up of asteroid P / 2013 R3.

“I’m devastated”, said Haley Stalker, a pop culture romance maven who got word via Twitter that there had been another major parting of ways.

“After TomKat and Bennifer split so suddenly I promised myself I was done following stars. “They’re so unstable! P / 2013 R3 wasn’t flashy, but solid as rock, or so I thought”.

Friends of P / 2013 R3 were equally nonplussed. Telesto, speaking for all the moons of Saturn, said “We’ve all seen comets dissolve and meteors just vaporize, but asteroids have always represented commitment and solidity. We thought P / 2013 R3 was literally set in stone.”

The dramatic dissolution was caught on camera by a paparazzi named Hubble S. Telescope, who has a history of taking photos that show heavenly bodies in a brutally realistic light.

We may never know why P / 2013 R3 couldn’t hold it together, but the pain of parting has been captured over and over again in songs like this one:

What are some of your favorite break-up songs?



Finally, something to bring us all together – the searing pain of wintry weather. It seems like just about every part of the United states is experiencing some form of frostbitten misery this week.

It’s enough to make even the most self-indulgent winter-smug Minnesotan finally feel understood. And while we’ve been trained not to say it, the temptation is irresistible. Especially if it can be sung:

Though the weather outside if frightful.
Winter suffering’s insightful.
Don’t believe us? Well now you know!
Told you so, told you so, told you so!

While it’s true we don’t get typhoons here,
and we’ve just a few baboons here,
there’s calamity in the snow!
Told you so, told you so, told you so!

Though we surely complain enough,
You’ve reacted like you didn’t care.
Mother Nature has called your bluff.
Now there’s frostbite everywhere!

Feeling sympathy’s not verboten.
We are all part Minnesotan.
Hypothermia leaves a glow!
Told you so, told you so, told you so!

Ever say “told you so”?


Keeping the Customer Satisfied

Today’s post comes from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden at Wendell Wilkie High School.

Hey Mr. C.,

Me and my buddies were talking last night about how weird it is that Bob Dylan’s electric guitar from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival sold for almost one million dollars.


Believe it or not, we studied this in class – how revolutionary it was to play a plugged-in instrument at a folk festival and how Dylan got booed for doing it. Our history teacher, Mrs. Barbary-Allen, said Dylan was a traitor and she hoped he spent the rest of his days tormented by remorse for the horrible thing he had done. Then she went on for a while about how Dylan couldn’t feel any remorse because he was the Devil and he killed Buddy Holly and threw his body off the levee from the back of a Chevy and there was no justice in the world and then told us to read chapter 7 and put her head down on the desk and wept.

It was kind of awkward.

We found later that Dylan left the guitar on a plane and ignored the guy who tried to give it back to him, so that guy’s family finally sold it and got all this money.

I bet someone’s feeling remorse now!

As high school sophomores, whenever some kind of real-world surprise comes along we’re always told to “let that be a lesson to you.” But in this one, we’re not sure what the lesson is. That’s why I’m writing to ask for you help.


Sugar, Um, High

So now there is research to suggest that people with lower blood sugar levels have better memories and superior brain health compared to those with high blood sugar. That’s serious stuff, and a great cause of concern for someone with an incurable sweet tooth (like me)!


But the comforting news is – I’ll forget all about this alarming food-health connection after I polish off these delicious frosted brownies.

There is a cliche that those who are disappointed in love can find some solace in a sweets binge. Maybe now we know why. Or as the famous Nat King Cole could have said:

Unforgettable, that’s what you are
Or at least until I eat this bar.
Chocolate chips that whisper ‘Yum’ to me.
Now your name does not quite come to me.
In a few bites, you’ve dropped from my sights.

Unforgettable, make no mistake.
That’s what you were ’til I had this cake.
A delight I used to share with you.
Now I’m stuffed, and unaware of you.
And that means there’s more dessert for me too.

What is your “comfort” food?


Music: The Most Powerful Art Form

Today’s guest post comes from Chris in Owatonna.

How many times have you been to an art museum, looked at a certain painting or sculpture, and started to choke up or cry, feel joy or triumph?

I certainly don’t recall any extreme emotional moments looking at art.

How many times have you looked at a photograph, read a book or a poem, watched a play, or experienced any other art form, and been moved to tears or other powerful emotions?

Once or twice? I’ll admit I’ve done that on rare occasions. A few years ago, I surprisingly choked up at the climax of The Help by Katherine Stockett. And yes, it was the book, not the movie.

Now, how many times has music brought you to tears of either extreme joy or great sorrow?

For me, dozens of times.

Right now, I bet some of you are saying, “Wait a sec. What about movies? Lots of movies make me cry. What about the ability of the filmmakers and actors to elicit such powerful responses?”

To that, I say try watching the movie with the sound turned off or the music edited out somehow. Example: the scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life where Harry makes the toast to “My big brother George, the richest man in town.” Everyone singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing sets up that line. Without the music, it’s just a happy party. The song signifies the town coming together for George and the apparent miracle that saves him. That’s why my waterworks start. The old cliché, “Cue the violins,” rings true because without an effective musical score, most movies would carry much less emotional impact.

This leads me to my point. I’ve stumbled across another one of those rare moments: a song that is arranged and sung so powerfully, so perfectly, that it stunned me into silence, then brought tears to my eyes. The last time that happened was the first time I heard Eva Cassidy sing Over the Rainbow on the Morning Show way back in February of 2000. I remember that day as vividly as September 11, 2001. It was just before 8:00 and I was cleaning up my breakfast dishes. Through the whoosh of the water, I heard this sweet voice and simple accompaniment. Mesmerized, I turned off the water, went to the living room, turned up the volume, and listened attentively. When she hit the last high note, then finished with that gorgeous chord progression and final arpeggio on the guitar, I melted. I couldn’t buy the CD fast enough, and when I got it, listened continuously for days. I’m sure I listened 100 times that first day, putting it on endless replay. By now, I’ve listened to Eva sing Over the Rainbow THOUSANDS of times. It can still make me cry on occasion, at the right moment for whatever reason.

This young man’s name is Sam Robson, and the performance I’ve linked of him belongs in the rarified strata of Eva’s best singing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I only wish he’d put it onto a CD so I could buy a copy. In the few weeks since I first heard this, I’ve listened at least 100 times and can’t get it out of my head. Please listen on your best speakers, or better yet, with a good pair of headphones. And no distractions or multitasking. Just soak up this most beautiful noise.

What music moves you to tears?


Waves of Blame

Frantic last minute maneuvers in Congress may yet avert a financial default by the U.S. Government.

Here’s hoping.


But anyone who cannot pay her bills should be prepared to offer an explanation. In the 1930′s, Popeye’s friend, J. Wellington Wimpy, had such an excuse as his catchphrase.  Though “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” would not convince many people to float a loan in 2013.

But I think a disappointing message is received better when it is sung, and it just so happens that Wimpy’s signature dodge fits perfectly into the lovely, lyrical almost-our-national-anthem “America the Beautiful.”  I couldn’t resist, although it feels like sacrilege to replace “purple mountains majesty” with what amounts an empty promise.  But I contend that these are only song lyrics, and they are not nearly as awful as what is about to happen to our real national finances.

Some party bull. Some outright lies.
Recurring waves of blame.
Our fingers point to other guys
And they point back the same.
America! America!
Has self-inflicted ills.
A deadbeat now. A bum, somehow.
Defaulting on her bills!

We’ll gladly pay you Tuesday
for a hamburger today!
We have to be selective
which expenses we defray.
America! America!
The budget is a tool!
Each party hopes the other dopes
will seem the bigger fool!

A manufactured crisis
is something that we still make.
The part that isn’t nice is
that it takes so long to break!
America! America!
I hope we can agree
next time to skip the brinkmanship,
and please don’t furlough me!

The original “Boy Scout” version of America the Beautiful has eight verses. I couldn’t come up with that many, but everything has been downsized since the sequester took effect.

In this case, that’s probably for the best.

Should some songs be off-limits to parodists?   If so, which ones?  

The Ballad of Bo Xilai

China is beating us in the race to build a high speed rail network – a contest many of us did not know we were in, not to mention losing. But there you have it – Chinese trains go faster on an ever expanding network of rails with robust growth among passengers. Before long they’ll be schlepping more people around their country on steel wheels than we do in ours using the old standbys – rubber tires, wings and airport rage.

But no matter how advanced they become in the bullet train department, one area where China will have a tough time overcoming us is in the realm of grisly railroad legends, particularly folk songs like “The Wreck of the Old 97″ and “Casey Jones.” Don’t get me wrong – I believe the Chinese people are capable of any achievement, but they’ll need a sudden surge in faulty equipment and careless operators to catch up to the standard we’ve set for putting the throttle down and saying “to Hell with it all” if it means the train will come in on time.


We are still the world leaders in Reckless Bravado.

The most recent Chinese character to emerge with that Casey Jones brand of swagger isn’t a railroad man at all, but the convicted, disgraced politician Bo Xilai. Apparently he embezzled, lied, bribed people and tried to cover up the fact that his wife murdered a British businessman. Driving a train into the ditch is apparently the only thing he didn’t do.

Come all you peasants if you wanna chat
about a reckless guy and a bureaucrat
Bo Xilai was that fellas name
And the party hierarchy’s where he played his game.

The Party people told him “You’re the man”.
He had proletariat in the palm of his hand.
He had the charm and skill and a rockin’ wife
with political ambition and a sharpened knife.

Bo Xilai. What an up-and-comer!
Bo Xilai. Indulging every urge.
Bo Xilai. Getting busted is a bummer
It’s a drag to be the loser in a party purge.

What’s your favorite tragic ballad?