It was a typical Sunday evening in the Scheinin home. There we were, my wife Sandy and I, sitting on the living room couch, twiddling our thumbs in unison and waiting for the tea kettle to come to a boil. I know that this picture sounds bland, but you’d be surprised how strongly it, and many similar moments in my life and Sandy’s life, resonate with a group of media honchos who for now will go unnamed. Let me just say that Sandy and I have been tabbed to star in a reality TV series projected to air beginning in early 2017. It’s tentative title is Action Is Overrated: Flying Low With The Scheinins. Stay tuned to this website for updates.
Earlier in the day, though, I had gone against grain and been an energetic person. In the aftermath of January’s Blizzard Jonas, which had dumped two feet of snow in my suburban Philadelphia region the previous day, I had spent three hours shoveling. Incredibly, my back hadn’t stiffened like a log. In fact it felt pretty good as, the kettle finally having tooted, Sandy and I settled back with our cuppas and I started paying attention to the tunes emanating from the radio. On most Sunday nights we flip between three stations which, at those hours, keep things on the non-bombastic side. We didn’t feel the need to scramble our brains with punk rock or heavy funk or avant garde jazz. Not that I would have minded, to tell you the truth, but I wasn’t in the mood to provoke divorce proceedings.
And at around 8 PM something wonderful happened. WPRB, Princeton University’s eclectic-minded station, played a song that changed my tunings. The song not only caught my attention, it caused me to melt and then to float. I liked that. “Oh wow,” I said to myself. “I wouldn’t mind a joint right now.” But those really high days are so far behind me I’d need Daniel Boone to help me find the trail leading back to them. Instead, I settled for present-day reality. Closing my eyes I began to vibrate in a most splendid way. I followed the music as it traveled, gently swirling in and around the sounds. Gram Parsons’ countrified version of The Streets Of Baltimore (click here to listen) had gone straight to my sweet spot.
Sweet spot? I’m definitely at a loss to say exactly what this is. In nearly 60 years as a music imbiber I hadn’t given it much thought till Gram came on the radio the other night, although I’d been its beneficiary thousands of times before. I suppose that my sweet spot is a magical kind of place whose gatekeepers, when awakened by just-right combinations of tones and rhythms, send me on a calm yet mysteriously exciting journey. It’s all very cool.
But you know, music can bypass my sweet spot and still make me feel great. For instance, there’s nothing better than straight-ahead Stonesy rock when pumping up my internal volume is a priority. And Sinatra singing I’m A Fool To Want You or some other such brooding song is my ticket to a deep and contemplative experience. At times though, such as on the post-Jonas night, I realize that I want nothing more than allowing my sweet spot to be opened. Stringed instruments often, yet hardly always, hold the key.
Soon after WPRB’s disc jockey spun The Streets Of Baltimore he threw another transporter at me, and it got to me even more than the Parsons number. It was Fisherman’s Blues (click here to listen), a Celtic-rocker by The Waterboys. The Streets Of Baltimore’s gorgeous pedal steel guitar and fiddle lines, trancelike clip-clop beat and Gram’s quietly potent singing had sent me to the upper atmosphere. Fisherman’s mandolin and fiddle work took me even higher. Man, those two instruments intertwined like perfect friends, hard and steady drumming allowing them to soar. And Mike Scott’s gruff vocals and exuberant whoops? Spine-tingling.
After Fisherman’s Blues ended I wanted another sweet ride. Turning thumbs-down on the next few songs that WPRB aired, I flipped over to University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN, but came up empty there too. Another channel switch brought me to the low wattage operation based a few miles from where I live, the all-volunteer WRDV. I’m crazy about this station. Five or so years ago it reignited my love for R&B, soul and doo wop. And minutes after I tuned in on that recent Sunday night they played a song that took me away: My Heart’s The Biggest Fool, recorded and released in early 1953 by The Robins, a pretty popular R&B vocal group during that era. I tip my hat to WRDV for knowing about this obscurity. I’d never heard of the song before (click here to listen). As it played I went with the flow and swam for the third time that evening through the ethers. Simple instrumentation, vocals that swell and bubble majestically, understated electric guitar work that subtly pushes things along. Magnificent.
Sweet spots. We’re lucky we have ’em.
(If you enjoyed this article, don’t be shy about sharing it. Sharing buttons are below)