Truck Drivin’ Astronaut

Truck Drivin’ Astronaut is one of the first songs I wrote, probably around 1973, though I can’t specifically pin down the date. The moon landing was an obvious inspiration.

My astronaut is an everyman who remains grounded even while in space. He’s the cowboy next door who takes out his own trash and sips beer on the front porch. Commercial endorsement rewards will soon be coming his way as they do to many successful Americans. In the last verse, now that he’s been in space, he’s uncertain that he prefers his earthly existence.

It’s also possible that the protagonist is not even an astronaut but instead is just a dreamer. Or a songwriter.

Many of the photos are from a Sunflower Cablevision video shoot for Randy Mason’s program “Bringin’ It All Back Home.” They were shot in and around Lawrence, Kansas. Probably around 1979 but not certain. Pretty sure the photog was Jim Jewell. The outfit is compliments of my dear friend, Jim Vaughn, who was working for a fire retardant company at the time. I photographed his visit to my wife Linda’s classroom at Wakarusa Valley Elementary. The shot of wife, Linda, and I (me in the cowboy hat) was taken by our friend Steve Burkhart near Lake Powell, Utah in 1973. The astronaut with wine was shot last week by Linda. Space shots compliments of NASA. The suit is still in our attic and one day will be donated to either to the Smithsonian or Good Will.

I Am Sick

I Am Sick

I’m not good at being sick and right now I’ve been sick for seven days. Started with a slight headache in the afternoon. Thought maybe I had too much sun while on the lake, but then I realized I had upper respiratory pain when I took a deep breath and at bedtime I asked my wife to feel my forehead and it was warm. My temperature was 100. I never have a temperature and I never get sick. I am bad at being sick because I have little practice. On day two, the Fourth of July, the fever climbed to near 103, a level I may have felt 45 years ago when I had mono. Must be the flu? The next day, my wife’s birthday, it reached 104.5. Then it went down to normal. The next day I had a twenty-minute spell of uncontrollable shaking, the rigors, and the fever climbed to 103.7. Saw the doctor on consecutive days. He probed and listened and had me give blood for possible West Nile or tick fever. Ordered a chest X-ray that confirmed that I had pneumonia. Rather, I still have pneumonia. Strong antibiotics that upset my stomach and interfere with my sleep and bed rest and plenty of liquids. We’ve been taking my temp every couple of hours for seven days and writing them down. They remind me of radio station frequency numbers. Oldies 104.3.

When you are sick you have plenty of time on your hands. But it isn’t your time. It’s sick time. Slow moving. You just lie there and feel tired. And useless. And you begin to think of everything you could have ever done but never did. And you begin to feel that maybe you’re not getting any better. You’re feeling sorry for yourself, the most despicable feeling you can have. You’re a worthless lug and that’s how you became sick. When you’re sick, you aren’t in your right mind, so stupid thoughts can form and fester. A fevered imagination is that of someone who comes up with wild thoughts and notions that have little grounding in reality but when you’re sick, reality shifts and these fevered thoughts make as much sense as anything else.
Lying in bed much of the day, often with a splitting headache and no appetite for daytime TV, I read from my five-pound book, a President Grant biography mischievously titled: Grant. Somewhere past page 600, we are in post-war reconstruction and there is graphic description of the wonton slaughter of blacks by my southern skin peers. I have to put down the book for a while because it is difficult to slog through such cruelty. Of course, the hundreds of pages leading up to Reconstruction, describing the Civil War battles of Grant were also gruesome, but this lynching and mutilation of defenseless, terrified people is revolting. The collective PTSD inflicted upon these ex-slaves will endure for untold time. It yet endures. Over the years I have often heard my skin peers say they—African Americans—need to “just get over it.” Are there time limits to what one is able to get over? Every high school kid should be required to spend a month, with all of the grisly details, on the insanity of the Civil War, the conditions that lead to it and the lawless terrorization that followed and continues today. It must not be candy-coated and presented as some distant, now-forgotten mistake. Today at plantation tours and Civil War reenactments it is historical entertainment. We must eliminate all traces of glory from this travesty. in Germany, do they have Auschwitz reenactments on select weekends? Do accountants quit eating for a year in order to accurately portray those emaciated beings on their way to the gas chamber?

I am sick, and I am really lousy at being sick. I am sick of getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of liquids. With the heavy Grant book now closed and resting beside me on my bed, while in some grotesque, fetal-like position, I sneak a peek at Twitter. What is the gangster baby clown up to? What new cruelty has this mal-formed soul who runs America perpetrated upon civilized society? The count of immigrant children ripped from their mothers’ arms is now up to 3,000. Just following the law. These kids will carry the same terror that Holocaust survivors and ex-slaves carried for the rest of their lives. And the effects ripple outward from America. Give us your tired your humble and we’ll piss on ‘em said Lou Reed.

I am sick of American exceptionalism. I am sick of the phrase “deeply held religious beliefs.” I am sick of conservative principals, that are merely code words for “fuck the poor and the dispossessed and just give me more.” I am sick of billionaires. I am sick of CEOs. I am sick of the Koch Brothers. I am sick of America because America is a sick country that elected a foul beast. I am sick of a system where politicians spend more time with donors and lobbyists than constituents who are seeking justice or equality.

My fever has been gone for over twenty-four hours, yet I am still sick. The Supreme Court will soon elect a Justice who will ensure that civil rights take a step backward. If we could just work our way back to the Civil War.

Be sure to vote. Get well soon.

Roger Bain
July 9/10, 2018

Reinforce My Belief

Is ignorance a curable disease? This song is an observation of current media consumption habits which primarily reinforce rather than challenge or inform our worldview. Social media and 24 hour news exacerbate this polarizing condition. Of course we will always have disagreements but now, we have a fundamental disagreement about truth. Decency, civility and critical thinking take a back seat to emotion. A culture without civility cannot stand. We are in a bubble of our own choosing. Pop that bubble now!

Why Oh Why?

Last May our current President asked,” Why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” That presidential musing was the genesis of Why Oh Why? Upon writing this song, I knew that I had to visualize it. The images are from the public domain.
•Thanks to Geoff DeMuth for the evocative horn and background vocal arrangements.
•Jack Mazzenga for the banjo and mando accompaniment.
• David Prusina on Civil War snare
White folks often say about black…”The Civil War is over. They can vote. Can’t they just get over it?” This lays out the “it” that they must get over.


Song For Dear Kitty

During the summer of 2016, I spent a good chunk of time in Amsterdam. While there I read—for the first time—Anne Frank’s Diary. A few days after completing this powerful book, I visited the annex on the Prinsengracht Canal, where she hid for two years during the Nazi occupation. Song For Dear Kitty resulted. A combination of hyper nationalism, authoritarianism, sanctioned bigotry and a rejection of intellectualism and the arts resulted in Anne’s plight and the plight of countless millions more. These same forces lurk today. When a politician declares the free press as an enemy of the people it is time for all to take note. In the name of Anne, resist demagoguery!    Song for Dear Kitty ©2016 Roger Bain

I Meet The Champ

I Meet The Champ
The summer of 1965, my 16th year, a friend of my parents had snared me the exotic job of car hiker for Z Frank Chevrolet in Chicago. Every workday Mr. Burr picked me up on Blodgett Street in Clarendon Hills and drove me to a six-story garage on Federal Street on the south edge of the loop where Z Frank Chevrolet had leased some space. My singular duty was to shuttle (hike) rental cars from one Z Frank rental spot to the next.
One morning while shooting the breeze with some fellow hikers, a white convertible Cadillac with red leather upholstery pulled into our garage on South Federal Street. Moments before we had been tipped that The Champ was coming and here he was. Hardy, a short dude with a limp, the head car hiker, instructed all of us to not call him Cassius Clay. His name is now Ali.

With great controversy, Cassius Clay had recently changed his “slave name” to Muhammad Ali, a Black Muslim name. The name change didn’t bother me. He had just beaten badass Sonny Listen for the second time a couple months prior, this time by a knockout in the first round, another controversy. I thought he was impossibly cool. As the big white Caddy convertible whooshed into the garage, the five or six of us car hikers gathered around. Ali sat alone in the middle of the back seat with both arms spread out on the red leather seat backs. A driver and a bodyguard—sure looked like Black Muslims to me—sat in the front seat. Ali looked extremely relaxed when he got out of the Cadillac. He was all business but gracious and rather soft-spoken, quite different than his public persona. We all briefly crammed into the tiny garage office and he shook everybody’s hand. Not a crushing handshake. Just a regular shake.
For a second I looked into the eyes of the most famous person on earth.
And that was it. I have no idea where he was going or why he parked his car at our garage but I had met the Champ. It never occurred to me to get his autograph. Who had a camera handy in 1965?

My Bad Attitude

They say that attitude is everything. By societal standards, I have a bad attitude.
I am not a big fan of anything with a pop prefix: Pop music, pop radio, pop culture. (I do like “Pop Goes the Weasel.”) Also not a fan of homogenized corporatization, mindless nationalism, dogmatic ideology, most reality and talent shows, most food products advertised on national television and let’s throw in much of social media behavior.
I am a skeptical optimist, walking the fine line that separates humanism, curmudgeonhood and flagrant relevance.
In the 60s, I liked the Stones more than the Beatles. I liked Elvis only before he went into the army. I revered Mad Magazine, Monty Python, Captain Beefheart, Paul Bowles and Lester Bangs.
Now that we have that out of the way, I invite you to listen to this quirky lament that I wrote and recorded last summer.

Slumped Over

In 1969 I was captivated by Captain Beefheart’s release, Trout Mask Replica. It was distinctly un-pop, to put it mildly. It borrowed mainly from the blues and modern art but because the Captain’s ensemble, the Magic Band, was composed of long-haired, white-ish, hippie types, the album was categorized as rock. The Captain was doing for rock what Eric Satie had done for classical music—thumbing his nose at convention.

Trout Mask Replica

Trout Mask Replica

About a year later I would get my first guitar and begin to use it as my primary instrument in the lifelong pursuit of art, observation and catharsis.  After I had mastered some chords, I graduated to a study of the early country blues practitioners—Blind Lemon Jefferson, blindlemonjeffRobert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Blind Blake—and their singular picking techniques and sometimes obscure lyrical explorations. This led me to create my own guitar and songwriting style. Because we are all the sum of that which has made an impression upon us, I also had Dr. Seuss, first read to me by my mother, lurking in my thought waves. Kids are often exposed to radical thinking and I hope that never changes.


So about 1974 I combined all of the above and created the song, Slumped Over. Upon reflection, it is a nursery rhyme for psychedelic adults. It is a 4-act play for existential absurdists. I played Slumped Over several times with an early manifestation of the Barking Geckos, including a performance at the National Surrealist Party’s 1976 convention at Off The Wall Hall in Lawrence, Kansas.

Barking Geckos at 1976 National Surrealist Party Convention

Barking Geckos at 1976 National Surrealist Party Convention

I collaborated with Mitch Rosenow on a now lost recording of the tune in the living room of Mitch’s flat on Vermont Street in Lawrence. I recall that the recording featured slammed doors, thrown boxes of junk and lots of reverb.

Then, in 1982, I directed opera tenor John G. Andrews in a Slumped Over music video, shot mainly in the dingy basement bar of the Lawrence Opera House. John sang the song to the live accompaniment of my off-camera guitar and Dana Elniff’s saxophone while Gerry Cullen’s clunky video camera recorded the grainy shenanigans.

Finally, last August (or September?) I again recorded the song in my basement—what’s this thing with basements?—but this time with engineer, Chuck Kawal, placing the mics and twiddling the dials. Steve Eisen contributed a sax part and Chuck, after overcoming his exasperation at the melodic structure of the tune, played a guitar solo in the break. I played my guitar arrangement on both acoustic and electric and added some quite necessary kazoo parts. The song was finally getting a worthy sonic treatment. Chuck completed the mix just last week and it is now available for your listening pleasure. 40 Years in the making: