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The other day the iPod played “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll” by Prefab Sprout. The song, off the 1988 album From Langley Park to Memphis, reminds me of my friend Harold, even though I don’t think he particularly liked Prefab Sprout. But I bought the album one Saturday at a Kemp Mill Records store in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, near Harold’s apartment at the time, so I dropped in on him to listen to it.

As I remember, it was a beautiful day in the late afternoon, sometime in the spring or summer, with the lowering sun bringing out the warm pastels in everything it touched. Adams Morgan was bustling, as it always was, with its mix of DC Yuppies and Hispanic immigrants. To me it always felt more like Los Angeles than Washington. Harold lived in an older building a few blocks up Columbia Road from 18th Street. It had a lobby area that might have been nice once, but all the furniture and carpets were long gone, so it had the forlorn feeling of an abandoned ballroom. The hallways upstairs were bare wood—at least that’s how I remember them—and every apartment had an outer door made of louvered wood. I assume in the days before air conditioning tenants would open their inner doors and their windows so they could get a breeze through the louvered doors without losing their privacy.

Harold’s apartment was small, but comfortable, and filled with his bric-a-brac—his albums, his presidential history books and memorabilia, a stuffed Muttley from The Wacky Races cartoon. He had a refrigerator magnet that always made me laugh. It said, “Jesus is coming. Hide your bong.” I have no doubt that we drank some beer as we listened to the album. WHFS had been playing “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Cars and Girls” and I liked both songs a lot. As I said, I don’t think From Langley Park to Memphis impressed Harold very much, but I don’t recall arguing about the album’s merits. And if you knew Harold, you’ll understand how surprising that is. Harold liked to argue.

I met him back when I was living in Boston. I was editing a little music magazine and he covered country and bluegrass for me. Every so often I would arrange to meet him in front of the Rathskeller in Kenmore Square. I’d hand him a few promo albums and he’d give me anything he had written. He interviewed Ricky Skaggs for the magazine and he wrote something about David Bromberg. Later I found out that he was going down to Washington to get his Master’s at American University. I told him I was moving down there myself to start a new job and that I’d drop him a line once I got established.

Harold moved down shortly after I did and he found a place in Northern Virginia, just beyond the end of the Yellow Line. His roommate, a girl he had known in Boston, was a competitive Frisbee player. I went out to visit one day in the fall, taking the Metro all the way to the end and then walking the mile or so to his apartment complex. Harold had a case of stout waiting and we drank the beer as we sat around, listened to albums and talked. This must have been the first time I had really hung out with him and it started a friendship that lasted for almost 25 years. We might have finished the case by the time I staggered out into the night, just in time, I thought, to catch the last train back to town. Except I reached the platform as the last train pull out of the station. So I walked all the way back through the hot Virginia night to Harold’s and crashed on the couch.

A  fairly big, solid guy, Harold looked Germanic, which you could expect from someone whose last name was Schlicht. I used to joke that his name suffered from a vowel shortage. He was blond with glasses and he usually had a mustache and sometimes a scraggly beard. When he talked his hands and arms took on a life of their own. He would lean forward a little, his hands and arms swinging back and forth for emphasis, and he had a kind of stutter-start way of talking. He did like to talk. He especially liked to argue. It didn’t take much to get him going and in all the time I knew him I can’t recall a single instance when he admitted to being bested, whether the topic was whether or not the country was in a recession or the reasons why Lincoln should have let the Southern states secede. Sometimes he could get a little testy, lowering  his head a little, his voice getting a bit edgier, his sentences more bluntly declarative, his hands chopping to underscore his points, but I also can’t recall him ever getting personal. He would never budge from his position, but he never nursed grievances, either. He proudly called himself a libertarian, but that didn’t stop him from sometimes arguing for more regulation of things he didn’t like. Once or twice I tried to point out this discrepancy, but he brushed it off.

Harold was a music lover with a large and eclectic album collection. He resisted the introduction of CDs even more vociferously than I did, though he eventually succumbed. He resisted other things, too. Last summer I suggested that I come down to DC so we could see the Red Sox play the Washington Nationals. “I will never go to a Nationals game,” he declared. “Washington does not deserve to have a baseball team.” He had that kind of stubborn integrity about things.

Happy hour always provided a good time to argue. Bunches of us would meet at one happy hour or another to take advantage of cheap beer and free food. For a time we went to a place called the Brickyard. Later we found out that Chicago’s on Dupont Circle put out an entire roast turkey for their happy hour. Harold turned us on to the Dungeon, the downstairs bar at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the corner of Connecticut and Florida Avenues. At happy hour the Dungeon had steam trays full of delicious Ruth’s Chris steak tips. Harold was a beer enthusiast, so another regular hangout was the Brickskeller, also near DuPont, which had a huge beer menu. The Fox and Hounds had a decent beer selection but it also had the best juke box in Washington. Sometimes went to the Crow Bar, or a martini bar called Olivio’s, or the Tiber Creek Pub near Union Station, which served beer by the yard and the half yard. Looking back, it seems like those years were just a blur of happy hours.

The best hangout, though, was Mr. Eagan’s, a classic dive on Connecticut just below Dupont Circle. It was a long, narrow, dim place. When you pushed through the door the first thing you saw was a large pastry case, although I can’t imagine anyone buying cakes or pastries at Eagan’s. As you walked toward the back you moved down the length of the bar, with a single line of booths against the wall on your right. The place opened up a little in the back, which had a few tables crowded over near a greasy popcorn machine. It was the kind of establishment that would make a visiting health inspector rub his hands together with glee. The somewhat frightening bathrooms were past the popcorn and up the stairs in the back. There was a condom dispenser up there too. Someone had written on it with marker, “Don’t buy this gum. It tastes bad and it is hard to chew.”

Eagan’s later added a downstairs bar, which had a place to play darts. I had my bachelor party at Eagan’s downstairs. At one point during the festivities I decided to see if I could bite through the brim of Harold’s leather Stetson. I couldn’t, but I did leave a nice tooth pattern.

We spent many hours at Eagan’s, crowded into a table or booth with a bunch of people, drinking beer, laughing, talking about music and movies, eating the greasy pub food and sometimes arguing. I met my wife-to-be there on a blind date on the night before Thanksgiving one year. (Thank you, Mr. Eagan’s!) One night Harold and I got particularly well-oiled at Eagan’s. On the way out we sat down at one of the booths, uninvited, to play paper football with the couple seated there. It was their first date. I like to think they got married and still talk about those two drunks who crashed their date at Eagan’s. Eventually we extricated ourselves to begin the long walk up Connecticut Avenue to crash at my apartment. Harold and I later claimed that we crawled across the Taft Bridge. We might have, too. I also think Harold threw up in my kitchen sink once we got to my place.

There were parties, too. We had occasional poker nights, which were always a lot of fun. Harold did a lot of house sitting for the lawyers at his firm (he was the law librarian), so he would often have a bunch of us over when he did. One house in particular, a very moderne place just over the Chain Bridge in Arlington, had a nice swimming pool out back and was a great place for afternoon swimming and barbecue parties. Sometimes we went golfing. That was great because golfing with Harold almost made my brand of hackery look good in comparison.  But we always had fun. I particularly remember one time when Harold, a mutual friend and I played an early round at Rock Creek Golf Course and then headed back to my apartment to make a late breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee.

I heard a lot of live music with Harold, too. One time we caught a double bill of Little Charlie and the Nightcats and Duke Robillard at a place on Connecticut Avenue. Its name escapes me, but I remember they played Spinal Tap songs between bands. We saw David Bromberg and his big band at the Bayou in Georgetown. Harold and I were both Bromberg fans, but the opening act was so irritating that we skipped the second show rather than sit through them again. It became a running joke.

We saw the Reivers at the old 9:30 Club, the wonderful old place on F Street that had a unique smell, a mixture of industrial-strength solvents, sweat and beer that would seep into your clothing and hair. We saw Dumptruck a few times at the 9:30, too, once when River Phoenix’s band was the opening act. Not to speak ill of the dead, but we thought they were horrible. I figured the people cheering and calling for an encore were being sarcastic, but the place emptied once Phoenix’s group finished, leaving just a handful of people to see Dumptruck, a truly great band at the height of its powers. That might have been the night that Tommy Keene jumped on stage for an extended encore that included Richard Thompson’s “Streets of Paradise” and a rousing “Route 66.”

Once I talked Harold into going to see Lyle Lovett at Wolf Trap. I could tell he was reluctant. I told him Lovett played a lot of different genres—country, bluegrass, western swing—just as Bromberg did. Lovett was touring behind Joshua Judges Ruth, an excellent album, and his band even included Sir Harry Bowens and Sweet Pea Atkinson from Was (Not Was). It was a great show. I ran into Harold as he walked up the aisle after it was over. “What did you think?” I asked. He looked grumpy. “Too much variety,” he said. “He should stick to one genre.” I got the impression he showed up determined not to like the show. I felt like strangling him.

That was Harold. But you couldn’t stay mad at him. He was a genuinely big-hearted guy and someone who truly valued his friends. There was no malice in him, just a lot of entrenched opinions. He was the kind of guy you called when you needed someone to help you move—and I did. That’s a true sign of friendship.

I didn’t see Harold all that much once I moved to Pennsylvania, but we stayed in touch. I crashed at his place when I visited DC on business and we’d go out someplace for beer. He came up for most of the Frank Sinatra parties my wife and I threw each year. It was always good to see him.

Harold loved beer. A true connoisseur, he made his own excellent brews, giving them funny names and printing his own labels. My favorite name was the Nat King Cole Porter. Once I took an out-of-town friend to Mr. Eagan’s and for some reason we were feeling under the weather the next morning, so we went over to Harold’s place—he was living in a high-rise in Arlington at that point—and he served us some incredible stout he had made. It fixed us right up. For last year’s Frank party Harold brought a beer that he said was part of a planned Dictator Series. This one was the Dick Cheney Undisclosed Ale. Harold claimed the recipe included a little gunpowder. For the label he photoshopped Cheney’s face onto a shotgun-toting Elmer Fudd. In keeping with his libertarian principles, Harold said he was going to name the next beer in the series after Nancy Pelosi. He also mentioned that one of the lawyers at the firm where he worked was talking about backing him in a DC brewpub.

Harold had been through a rough patch, but by last spring he was emerging from it. He had met a woman with whom he was obviously very happy and the two of them came over to my house the morning after the party. We got take-out burritos and my wife and I just sat around with them, drank some beer, and listened to music and talked about old times. In fact, it felt a lot like old times.

Harold died three months later, of a sudden heart attack while he was working out at the gym. I still can’t quite believe that my friend of so many years—the man who loved beer, his girlfriend, Green Acres, John Wayne movies, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Beautiful South, his job, the Mets, cooking and arguing with his friends—has left us forever. Six months later I still turn that thought around in my head a lot. It feels strange, like discovering that a tooth is missing. I wish he were still around. I wish he could read this and argue with me about everything I got wrong. I wish he could tell me about the latest beer he had discovered, or offer me a bottle of his Nancy Pelosi ale. He was my friend and I miss him.


There are many, many things I don’t have on my iPod. For example, I don’t have the Bozo album that I owned when I was a kid. I can’t recall much about it except it had something to do with making bitter batter better. Maybe the old clown was involved in some kind of pancake fiasco. That would be just like him.

Before long another record came along and replaced Bozo in my affections. It was A Day in the Life of a Dinosaur and it told the story of a young time traveler—a Terra Naut—who journeyed back to the age of reptiles. There he encountered an avuncular Brontosaurus named Bronty (imaginative, these dinosaurs), who sang songs about what it was like to be a huge prehistoric reptile with a brain the size of a walnut. I particularly remember the title song—a ditty about dinosaur eating disorders—and a ballad called “Pity the Poor Old Fossil.”

Phil Foster provided the voice of Bronty. For years I mistook him for Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book, and I was puzzled because I could not recognize a shred of Baloo in Bronty. (Turns out that Phil Foster was a comedian who later showed up on Laverne and Shirley.)

The record ends in a bloodbath. There’s a little foreshadowing in a song called “Crazy Mixed Up Allosaurus,” and sure ’nuff, the allosaurus (whose name, I presume, is Ally) finally snaps. “For God’s sake get out of there,” begs a voice from the Terra Naut’s mission control. The last three minutes of the album are nothing but blood-curdling screams and roars and Bronty’s frenzied cries of “Not the face! Not the face!” By the time it ended I was always in a fetal position under the couch, bug-eyed and shaking. My parents had to use a hot dog on a string to lure me out. But I’d always head right back to the record player and start the record all over again.

I understand that Werner Herzog is work on an adaptation, to be called Dino Man.

Okay, okay, I kid. In truth, I recall that the album ended with a poignant farewell between Bronty and the Terra Naut as the kid returned to his own time. Actually, I found that to be a little disturbing, too. Once the time traveler returned home, I figured, Bronty was not only dead but petrified. And I didn’t think there was any room in heaven for dinosaurs—not even ones that can sing.

I haven’t heard A Day in the Life of a Dinosaur in many, many years, but I would like give it a listen, just to see if anything remained of the grooves it once cut into my mind, or if they’ve all eroded away. A little web searching shows me that it is actually available on CD. No bonus tracks, though.

Another album from my youth is The Impossible Dream, the story of the 1967 Boston Red Sox, who made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven. I grew up Maine, which is solid Red Sox country, although there was always a Yankee fan or two around to point out the team’s failures. For example, I got my hair cut at Pat’s Barbershop in downtown Augusta, and one of the barbers there was a Yankees fan. Pat’s was a classic old-time shop with a couple of hand-cranked chairs, a big plate-glass window that looked out on water street and a collection of magazines that always seemed to include a copy of Argosy with an article about Bigfoot. There were only two barbers there—Pat and the Yankees fan, who was a younger guy with a big grin and slicked-back hair. He would always make some comment about the Yankees as he cut my hair. I probably took it stoically. You should never argue with a guy holding scissors, anyway.

I was in second grade during the 1967 World Series and I distinctly remember that my elementary school piped one of the games, probably Game Seven, over the intercom during school. That summer, my parents had taken me on first visit to Fenway Park. It was a night game (a little Internet research shows me it must have been July 26, a Thursday night). We had seats in the bleachers. By the late innings my brother and I were falling asleep so we left with the game tied. My father had to listen to the end on the radio back at the hotel. (The Red Sox rallied to beat the California Angels in the bottom of the ninth.)

I still have my Impossible Dream album somewhere. It has includes plenty of snippets from the season’s radio broadcasts, plus some “poetry” intoned by announcer Ken Coleman. “They called them the Cardiac Kids,” is one line I remember. Also one about rookie pitcher Billy Rohr knocking on the door to the hall of fame. (Rohr carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning early in the season.) But the album’s highlight is the Carl Yastrzemski song. It went like this:

Carl Yastrzemski,
Carl Yastrzemski,
Carl Yastrzemski,
The man we call Yaz.
We love him!

It’s a song that Al Jolson could have belted out, down on one knee, arms outstretched. It demands to be sung through a megaphone—although anyone who actually did sing it through a megaphone would be inviting a terrible retribution. It was insidiously catchy, and I bet a lot of people in New England can probably sing it today, and once they start singing it I bet they can’t stop.

Despite the song, we did love Yaz. 1967 was the year that he won the American League’s batting triple crown (meaning he got the top RBIs, batting average and home runs). No one in baseball has done it since. Sometime after the season ended a truck with all of Yaz’s trophies went on a tour of New England. It made a stop at a mall parking lot in Augusta and all us residents trooped out to see what the great man had achieved. I remember seeing his gold glove and maybe a silver bat, too. As the song said, he was “the idol of Boston, Mass!” Augusta, Maine, too.

Squeeze is singing “I’ve Returned.” In fact, it has been more than a week since I last headed out for a real walk, ever since Mother Nature delivered a nice one-two punch to stun the American northeast. In less than a week we received around three feet of snow here in central Pennsylvania. It just shows the wisdom of the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” I love snow and have been saying all winter that we need some good storms, but the second blizzard ruined plans my family and I had to fly to San Diego for a few days. I had business there; they were going to have fun. Instead we’re all stuck here. We now have more snow than most of New England.

It’s a gray morning. The sun is pale and wan behind the overcast. Dog piss stains the snow banks, which are already starting to look as ragged and dirty as a hobo’s overcoat. I’m not in a particularly good mood. Not only did I miss out on a trip to California, I’m under a lot of pressure to finish a freelance project. The funny thing is, it involves the power of positive thinking. I’m not laughing.

The iPod must sense my mood, because it starts delivering energetic guitar-oriented songs that slowly begin lifting my spirits. I hear the Old 97s (“The Easy Way”) and Golden Smog (“To Call my Own”). Things really pick up with the Magic Numbers’ “Love Me Like You Do” from their great debut album. I first heard the band in a music video that came on a DVD in Paste magazine and I liked the song so much I bought the album. It’s wonderful melodic pop music with a cool interplay between male and female voices (two brother and sister pairs, from what I recall), like the Mammas and the Pappas updated for a new century.

Luna comes next with “Speedbumps” from their last album, Rendezvous. It’s another great song and also one I first heard via Paste. I had been a Luna fan before then, though. I was initially interested because of their  Feelies connection  (drummer Stan Demeski). In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time tracking down Feelies spinoffs, which include Yung Wu, Speed the Plough, and Wake Ooloo. A guy I knew in Baltimore was going to get me a copy of an EP by the Willies (or maybe it was the Trypes), but it was gone by the time he got back to the record store. I still regret that. Just recently I bought Glenn Mercer’s solo album, Wheels in Motion. It’s a pretty low-key affair, but I must admit to being impressed by his cover of “Within You, Without You,” George Harrison’s neo-Indian track from Sgt. Pepper. I always liked that song and Mercer does a nice job with it by merging it with Harrison’s “Love You To.”

But I digress. John Hiatt comes up next with “Georgia Rae” from Slow Turning as I carefully navigate the sometimes icy sidewalks.  I’ve seen Hiatt a bunch of times. One of the most memorable was when he played solo at the Barns at Wolftrap in Northern Virginia shortly before the release of his breakthrough album, Bring the Family. The peak moment came when he sat down at the piano and played a new song, “Have a Little Faith in Me,” that just floored us all. The gig was also memorable because a friend, who was godawful behind the wheel, drove my wife and me to it. As soon as he picked us up at the Metro he tried to make a U-turn and bumped over the median. For the rest of the trip he behaved like a man with at best a passing familiarity with motor vehicles. On the way back he kept following a big truck even as the rig pulled into the breakdown lane and stopped. My wife, who is a nervous passenger even in the best of times, was trying to stay calm by slugging back our drink of the night, a wicked mixture of Hawaiian punch and Southern Comfort. I don’t know how we came up with that. Fortunately we survived both the trip and the cocktail beverage. Good times.

Now Frank Sinatra sings “River Stay Away from my Door” and really gets me swingin’. The first time I ever heard this I was driving to Colonial Williamsburg for some business. I was somewhere in Virginia, searching across the radio dial around rush hour, when I stumbled across an all-Sinatra show. The song blew me away. It’s one of those great build-to-a-great climax songs with an arrangement by Nelson Riddle. I was finally able to add the song to my collection when I purchased a box set of all Sinatra’s singles from his years with Capitol.

I end the walk on a high note, with Matthew Sweet’s “Divine Intervention,” from the great Girlfriend album. Richard Lloyd provides some stinging, dirty guitar on this one.

Does He love us, does He love us, does He love us, does He love us?
Hmm, now does He love us?
 I look around
And all I see is destruction.
We’re all counting on His divine intervention.

 Man, when those guitars come ripping in it makes everything feel better. I love it when Sweet says, “Here it comes,” and chuckles, followed by a drum fill that announces, yes indeed, here it comes, and then it’s another onslaught of guitars that just sweep over me like a rock and roll tsunami. Turn it up to 11! By the time it’s over I feel like I’m ready to sit down at the computer and face some more positive thinking.


February 2010
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