Monday, June 27, 2011

Apples in Stereo -- "Can You Feel It?" (2007)

Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh,
Turn up your stereo!
Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh-oh
Drown out the bullshit on the FM radio!
Can you feel it?

The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed LP -- probably their best -- had these words of advice printed on the record's sleeve: "THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD."  Amen to that.


The Apples in Stereo went the Stones one better.  The first line of this song -- which is the first track on the New Magnetic Wonder album -- is "Turn up your stereo!"

By the way, whatever happened to FM radio?

Back in the 1960s, there used to be top-40 stations, which were great -- because top-40 music was great then.  There were AOR ("album-oriented rock") stations, which played the songs from Beatles albums and Rolling Stones albums and Jimi Hendrix albums that hadn't been released as singles, and which you didn't hear on the top-40 stations.  And there were college stations, which played all this crazy stuff that only crazy, obsessive college-radio DJs knew about.

Now FM radio is about 99% crap.  I'm sure there are FM stations somewhere that play Apples in Stereo songs, but none of the ones where I live (Washington, DC) do.  

Earlier this month, I wrote six posts about the Joplin tornado, each of which featured a song from their 2007 New Magnetic Wonder album.  Unlike most 2 or 3 lines posts, those say almost nothing about those six songs or the group that recorded them.


The Apples in Stereo got their start about 20 years ago on a bus in Denver, Colorado.  Robert Schneider (the lead singer/songwriter on most of the group's songs) was a 20-year-old student who had recently moved to Denver from Ruston, Louisiana.  Jim McIntyre, the band's first bass player, took the same bus that Schneider took.  The two men talked about the Beach Boys -- they were both huge fans -- and discussed starting a band and even starting a record label.

Denver bus (1994)
Schneider and a group of his friends did form a recording collective called "The Elephant 6 Recording Company."  That collective spawned a number of legendary indie bands, including The Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, and -- most significantly for purposes of my story -- the Apples in Stereo.  (No, I did not make any of these names up.)  McIntyre was the band's original bass player, although he left it a long time ago.

A number of these bands eventually signed with major labels, and The Elephant 6 Recording Company became more of a symbol of a certain type of indie music (which was variously called "psych folk," "psychedelic pop revival," and "lo-fi") but was revived by Schneider in 2007 when he issued the New Magnetic Wonder album on that label.

The Apples in Stereo have released seven studio albums -- this is only one I have -- and Schneider has a number of solo projects that sound interesting.  Plus there are all the other Elephant 6 musicians -- especially Neutral Milk Hotel (whose 1998 In the Aeroplane Over the Sea album was inspired by Anne Frank).  I feel an Elephant 6 series coming on . . .


The official music video for "Can You Feel It?" takes me back to my college days, when my friends and I took stereo equipment very seriously.  (I can't remember the last time I turned my 20-year-old-plus stereo on.  I now only listen to music on my Mac, or my iPod, or in my car.)

The version of the song that's used in the video is G-rated -- the "Drown out the bullshit" line that is on the CD is replaced by "Drown out the static."  But everyone knows that there's no such thing as FM static -- static is a phenomenon that's limited to AM radio. 

(My parents were surprised recently when I hooked up a pair of rabbit ears to one of their televisions -- they lost their cable service due to the tornado, and it still hasn't been restored -- and the picture was perfectly clear.  They expected "snow," which used to be a problem with analog television signals, but is not an issue with digital TV.  Try and explain that to your 85-year-old parents.) 

Here's the "Can You Feel It?" video:



Here's the version of the song that features the lyrics quoted above.  It accompanies a YouTube video (it's really a slide show) that appears to have been made by an Asian or Asian-American college student who spent 2007 studying abroad.  (The creator of this video is going to be AMAZED to suddenly be getting hundreds of views a day thanks to 2 or 3 lines.


Here's a link you can use to order this song from Amazon:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Toadies -- "Possum Kingdom" (1994) (part 2 of 2)


I'm not gonna lie
I'll not be a gentleman
Behind the boathouse
I'll show you my dark secret
We're back with part two of our two-part post on "Possum Kingdom," the 1994 hit single by the Toadies.  Click here to read part one if you haven't already.  

Even if you're not a musician, you've probably noticed that there is something very unusual about the rhythmic structure of "Possum Kingdom." 
A typical rock song is built around units of four measures with four beats per measure.  This is how you would count out such a song:

ONE-two-three-four
ONE-two-three-four
ONE-two-three-four
Mechanical metronome
ONE-two-three-four

(The "ONE" is capitalized because you usually accent the first beat.  There is sometimes a secondary accent on the third beat.)

But most of this song has a slightly different structure:

ONE-two-three-four
ONE-two-three
ONE-two-three-four
ONE-two-three-four

It's odd, because the impression this pattern left on me when I first heard "Possum Kingdom" was that they had added an extra beat at the end of the fourth line.  That's mostly because the third and fourth beat of that fourth line consist of repeated chords -- the repetition sounds odd, like the second one doesn't really belong.

But what the band really did was omit the fourth beat of the second measure.

The third beat of the second line is emphasized somewhat, which helps smooth over the transition to the next line -- the omitted fourth beat isn't quite so jarring as it otherwise would be.

I want you to start the video at the beginning and start counting.  Don't follow the words -- follow the guitar chords.

The chords are usually played in pairs -- the first is on the beat, and the second is off the beat.  (That is, between beat one and beat two.)  Another way to put that is to say that the chords are eighth-notes, not quarter notes.

Virtual metronome
So on beat one of the first measure, we get a quick pair of guitar chords -- on beat one and between beat one and beat two (beat 1.5, if you like).  Beat two is silent -- it's a rest.  There is another pair of eighth-note chords on beat three.  And beat four is silent.

The second measure has the two quick chords on beat one, a rest on beat two, and two most chords on beat three (although the chord changes) -- but there is no beat four.  Instead we go right into beat one of the next measure (which consists of the same two chords as all the first beats have).

But when we get to the fourth measure, you get the same quick pair of chords on beat three, which are repeated on beat four -- beat four is not silent.  

After that, we repeat the 4-3-4-4 pattern over and over again.  There are some normal 4-4-4-4 passages, but the song is characterized by four-measure units with the 4-3-4-4 pattern. 

And that, boys and girls, is what makes this song unique.  The skipped fourth beat in the second line propels you right into the third line, and the double pair of chords on beats three and four of the fourth line propels you to the next four-measure unit.  So the song has a lot of rhythmic momentum.

But skipping the beat is unnatural, disturbing, distracting -- try to dance to this song, and you'll see what I mean.  The Toadies get into a pretty good groove, but you never really stop noticing the rhythmic irregularity that makes "Possum Kingdom" so unique.  The song moves right along, but it's a little herky-jerky -- for those of you old enough to have owned LPs, the effect is just like the record skipping.

There's one other rhythmic oddity in this song.  Starting at 2:34 (when the binge-drinking, hot-tub-loving, cougar-pursuing Todd "Danger" Lewis sings "Give it up to me") the song shifts gears again.

The first two lines ("Give it up to me" is the first line, which is then repeated) are six beats each -- the singer rests on the first beat of each line, which makes it a little tricky to locate the first beat.  The next two lines ("Do you wanna/Be my angel") are four beats each.  So the pattern is 6-6-4-4 for a bit.

So what are the Toadies up to today?  According to Linda,

The Toadies are still hugely popular down here, revered really by their fans. They play a one-off show every once in awhile and those sell out immediately.

Oklahoma casino
Linda recently had an opportunity to see the Toadies play at some second-rate casino in Texas or perhaps Oklahoma.  (Can you believe that Oklahoma has 77 casinos?  What is the world coming to?)  For some reason, she didn't go.  You'd think someone who is constantly complaining about not having any 2 or 3 lines stock options might be trying just a little bit harder.

If she had attended that concert, her account would have no doubt been a great post for 2 or 3 lines.  We all could have read about her and Todd meeting backstage after the concert, perhaps sharing another bottle of vodka, etc. -- wouldn't you have loved to read about that?

Here's a live performance of "Possum Kingdom" featuring the band's original lineup, including hockey-jersey-clad bassist Lisa Umbarger (who looks like she would be a natural for that reality show that gives women fashion makeovers):



Click here to order the song from iTunes:

Possum Kingdom - Rubberneck


Click here to order from Amazon:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Toadies -- "Possum Kingdom" (1994) (part 1 of 2)


I can promise you
You'll stay as beautiful
With dark hair
And soft skin . . . forever

I think I'll turn this post into the pilot episode for a 2 or 3 lines television series and see if I get a cable network to put it on the air.  I'm pretty sure it would sell if I could get Keith Morrison to narrate it.

Keith Morrison
Keith Morrison is the creepy reporter who does the Dateline Saturday Night show on NBC.  (He's not the guy who does the "To Catch a Predator" shows -- that's Chris Hansen.)  Morrison specializes in lengthy, drawn-out pieces on obscure small-town murders.  He manages to take a story that could be told in 5 or 10 minutes and drag it out for an hour or so (not counting commercial breaks, of course). 

My wife watches Morrison's shows regularly.  I've never seen one from start to finish, but I've seen enough bits and pieces of them to have figured out that every one is pretty much the same.

Each episode begins with what appears to be an accidental death or a disease-related fatality or a suicide. 

There's usually a family member or friend who suspects foul play.  Eventually, that person is able to overcome the lethargy or incompetence of law enforcement officials -- sometimes with the help of a maverick police officer -- and the truth is revealed.

In about 90% of the shows, the victim is a wife, and the murderer is her husband.

Occasionally, the victim is a husband or a parent, and the killer is the wife or a child.  But most of the time the guilty party is a husband who killed his wife because he is having an affair with another woman, or a husband who killed his wife because her death would result in him coming into a large sum of money.

Not infrequently, the guilty party is a husband who wants a large sum of money to support his affair with another woman -- giving him not one, but two reasons to murder the wife.

Here's a typical Keith Morrison piece:



Click here to see Bill Hader's parody of Morrison on Saturday Night Live

There's certainly some kind of foul play going on in "Possum Kingdom."  What exactly is going on in this song is subject to interpretation.  How you interpret it will likely depend on whether you're a big vampire fan or not.  

Let's clear up a couple of preliminary matters before we turn to what "Possum Kingdom" means.  

First, this is going to be a two-part post.  All you regular readers of this blog know that two-part posts are kind of a big deal on 2 or 3 lines.  For example, we did a two-part post on "House of the Rising Sun" because it was the 100th song featured on 2 or 3 lines. This post is number 200.

(NUMBER 200???  As Ed McMahon used to say to Carnac the Magnificent, "You are correct, sir!"  The first 2 or 3 lines post appeared on November 1, 2009.  And here we are -- almost 20 months and 199 posts later.  What hath 2 or 3 lines wrought?) 

The Toadies
Second, you need to know a little bit about the Toadies, the band that recorded "Possum Kingdom."  The Toadies formed in 1989 in Keller, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth.  They broke up in 2001 -- their bass player, Lisa Umbarger, quit the band for personal reasons, and the rest of the Toadies didn't want to continue without her -- but reformed with a couple of new members in 2006.  "Possum Kingdom" was released in 1994, and was by far the band's most successful single.  

Everyone knows  that 2 or 3 lines has a lot of showbiz connections, and it probably will come as no surprise to you to learn that our Chief Executive Senior Contributing Editor (we'll call her "Linda") is not only a resident of Keller but also a close personal friend of the band's lead singer.  I'll let her tell you more about him and how they got acquainted:

I don't know much personal stuff about Todd Lewis.  I think he goes by Vaden, his real first name, with his friends.  His full name is Vaden Danger Todd Lewis.  He has also gone by the name Danger Lewis.  
The closest I ever got to him was drinking the rest of the vodka he'd brought to my friends' ranch the weekend before we were there.  I know he's 45, divorced and has a young daughter, but that's pretty much it.
Vaden Danger Todd Lewis
Perhaps Linda really doesn't know much about Lewis, or perhaps all that binge drinking at her friends' ranch has left a few gaps in her memory.  Her account of how she came to be drinking Lewis's vodka doesn't include anything about peeing in a big-ass travel coffee mug, which makes me wonder if she is giving us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  

Note also how Linda's account leaves the impression that she and Lewis were at the friends' ranch on different weekends.  But if you read her words very closely, you will see that she does not actually deny that she and Lewis were there at the same time.  Nor does she actually deny that they drank that bottle of vodka while relaxing in a hot tub and gazing out at a beautiful Texas sunset.    

A hot tub, a sunset, and thou
I find that interesting.  Don't you find that interesting?  (I thought you would.)
Of course, my purpose in pointing this out is not to embarrass Linda by revealing facts that she has managed to keep secret until now.  I freely admit that I have no proof whatsoever that her relationship with hunky rock star Todd Lewis goes beyond their having gotten drunk from the same bottle of vodka at a secluded Texas ranch while sitting in a hot tub.  Anything else is just speculation.  

Let's hear a little more about that romantic getaway where Linda and "Danger" Lewis shared that bottle of vodka:
Our friends' ranch is about 60 miles northwest of Fort Worth. It's rustic but comfortable -- a log house (not a log cabin) on 75 acres with a small lake and lots of wildlife.  A huge raccoon joined us near the patio one night.  Even with an extended happy hour's worth of wine consumption, I got into the house in a split second.  [NOTE:  Linda's binge drinking is obviously not limited to vodka.]

A rattlesnake has been shot on that same patio.  A cougar has been sighted on the property a couple of times.  [NOTE: I'm sure that when Linda says "cougar" here that she is referring to the large cat species that is also known as the puma, mountain lion, and panther -- and not using the slang term for an older woman looking to "score" with younger men, especially hunky rock stars.]  
Our friends raise a few calves every year so that it's considered a working ranch for tax purposes.  [NOTE: What the IRS doesn't know won't hurt them!]  The "Supremes" (3 black Angus heifers) were there in late winter/early spring this year, but have since been sold.  [NOTE:  I'm not sure quite what to make of the previous sentence -- an example of Texas humor, mayhaps?]
The ranch is probably about 80 to 90 miles northeast of Possum Kingdom Lake. 
I'm sure you'll agree that "Possum Kingdom Lake" is a helluva odd name for a lake.  Let's let Linda explain the derivation of the lake's unusual sobriquet.

Possum Kingdom Lake is a man-made lake on the Brazos River about 90 miles west of Fort Worth.  Around the turn of the 20th century, a Russian Jewish emigrant named Ike Sablosky lived around there.  He was a fur and pelt trader, including possum pelts.  The canyons around the Brazos were prime hunting grounds for possums.  Whenever the possum hunters would bring pelts to him, he'd say "Here are the boys from Possum Kingdom."  That's what locals started calling the canyons, then when the dam and resulting lake were built by the WPA (completed in 1941), it became known as Possum Kingdom Lake.

Here's a good pic of a part of the lake called Hell's Gate:


If you go through Hell's Gate, there's a good-sized cove on the other side where I've heard a lot of boaters go to tie up or drop anchor and party.

Here's a picture from the Possum Kingdom party cove, which Linda has only "heard" about.


"Possum Kingdom" is one of those songs whose exact meaning is hotly debated.  

The most obvious interpretation of the lyrics is that the singer is trying to talk a young woman into accompanying him to a secluded spot behind a boathouse and have sex with him there.  (That's what professional journalists refer to as a "dog bites man" story -- no news there.)

But after the first couple of verses, things take an odd turn.  The singer promises the girl that she will stay beautiful forever if she "give[s] it up" to him.  "Do you want to die?" he asks, and then promises that he "will treat you well, my sweet angel -- so help me, Jesus."

Some people believe the singer is proposing a suicide pact -- by committing suicide together, the couple will never grow old but remain eternally young in the afterworld.  

Others believe it must be about vampires, which are tres chic these days.  They say that vampires don't age, so if the young woman agrees to become a vampire, she will remain young and beautiful.

The "Zodiac Killer"
In a comment posted on the Songfacts website, one fan of the song theorized that it has something to do with the "Zodiac Killer," a serial killer who murdered at least 5 people in northern California in 1968 and 1969.  This fan notes that the Zodiac Killer said in the letters he wrote to local newspapers that he was killing people in order to have slaves for his afterlife.

This is all very confusing, so let's go right to the source and ask Todd Lewis, who wrote the song, what it is all about.  From the Songfacts website:

In a 1995 interview with RIP magazine, Toadies lead singer Todd Lewis said: "It's just a story I heard long ago; it's just a really cool, eerie lake, and some stuff I heard and some stuff I just make up. I tend to do that. They dammed up this big river up there, and it's got all these spooky names like Hell's Gate. It's really cool."
Lewis went on to say that there was a real stalker in Tyler, Texas who became a folk hero: "I was down there for Thanksgiving, and after the family got through talking about who died and who's got cancer and all those things that families talk about, they started talking about this guy who was peeping in windows and started breaking into people's houses. He'd go out of his way to be seen, and everyone is like armed to the teeth, and he's like tapping on windows. The whole family was freaked out about it."
That doesn't make a whole helluva a lot of sense, does it?  Maybe ol' Todd was hitting the vodka when he gave that interview.  

What about the music video?  As Linda notes, 

The official video is mostly intercutting between footage of the band and scenes of something being dragged out of the water, the impression being that it's a body wrapped up in a tarp. The action in the music video doesn't seem to be consistent with the lyrics.

That's an understatement.  Perhaps Todd had also hit the vodka the day he met with the director of the music video to go over the draft shooting script.

There's no doubt that what the video wants you to think is that there is a body wrapped up in the tarp that is being towed through the water by a mysterious figure and eventually pulled up on to the lakeshore.

I just noticed that at 1:57 of the video there's a very quick close-up of a false eyelash and someone's finger reaching out to touch it.  Near the end of the video, there are several quick shots of a hand holding a knife and rising and falling in a stabbing motion.  But the final shot is of a woman's bust sculpted from a block of ice -- complete with that false eyelash.  

OK, that clears everything up.  The guy hasn't been towing a dead body in the tarp, he's been towing a big hunk of ice -- and he wasn't stabbing the girl, he was carving a statue out of a block of ice.  Now I understand perfectly!

Here's the music video.  You're the boss of you, but my advice is to ignore the guy towing the tarp-wrapped block of ice through the water and just listen to the music.



Click here to read part two of this post, which analyzes the unique rhythmic structure of "Possum Kingdom." 

Here's a link if you'd like to buy this song from iTunes:

Possum Kingdom - Rubberneck


Here's a link if you'd like to buy it from Amazon:


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Apples in Stereo -- "7 Stars" (2007)



Simple lives we once left behind,
We’re so distracted now
Secret lives we have lived inside,
We’re going backwards now 


It's been two weeks since I came to Joplin to help out my parents and see what the tornado had done to my hometown, and it's time to move on.  This post will feature a few final pictures from my visit.

I didn't plan to post the last of those pictures on Father's Day -- it just happened that way.

There are a lot of Joplin fathers out there who lost their jobs as a result of the May 22 tornado, and a lot of Joplin fathers whose families' homes were destroyed.  I've never been in their situation, but I think I have a pretty good understanding of how they feel.  

Maybe younger fathers are different than fathers who are my age.  But I can't imagine that there is anything more important to fathers from my generation than being able to provide food and shelter and the other material necessities of life for their families.  Not being able to do that would be a crushing blow to your psyche.

I don't care if you lost your job or lost your home due to a once-in-a-lifetime act of God like a flood or a tornado, or something else that was completely beyond your control.  It's still the father's job to take care of his family -- period.  No excuses.

Call me old-fashioned, but that's the way I see it.  I know that a lot of wives make as much or more money as their husbands, and I understand that the norm today is for both spouses to work outside the home.  Both my daughters work full-time, and I expect them to keep working after they get married.  But one of the major criteria I will apply to any potential husband is whether he strikes me as someone who can be counted on to provide for his family.

George H. W. Bush
It struck me today that all the men who were Presidents of the United States for the first 40 years of my life were members of the World War II generation -- the "greatest generation," as it has been called.

Dwight D. Eisenhower -- who became the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe -- was inaugurated as President when I was less than a year old.  He was succeeded by John Kennedy, who commanded PT 109.  Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford also served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, while Reagan was in the Army.  Jimmy Carter entered the Naval Academy in 1943, and did not serve in the war because he did not graduate until after it had ended, but close enough.  And George H. W. Bush flew 58 combat missions as the pilot of a carrier-based torpedo bomber; he had to parachute out of his plane when it was set on fire by anti-aircraft  flak when he was bombing Japanese positions in September 1944.

My father
It was easy for me to take all those presidents very seriously as men, regardless of what I thought of their politics.  That's because they were father figures.  My father saw combat in World War II, and nearly all of them did as well.

Then Bill Clinton came along.  Clinton was only 6 years older than I was -- no father figure he.  The fact that he was from Arkansas was a big negative for me, of course, but the bigger negative was probably the generational thing.  I knew guys just like Clinton when I was high school -- hey, I probably had more in common with Clinton when I was in high school than I'd like to admit -- and it was very hard for me to take Clinton seriously when he was elected president.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton was a chubby kid with a crazy mom who played saxophone in the marching band.  I guarantee you that when the hot cheerleader who sat next to him in history class asked for help during the final exam -- "Pssst!  What's the answer to  question 23?" -- he moved his arm so she could see his answer sheet.

As I've explained, I went to Joplin shortly after the tornado to check up on my parents and provide them with some practical help and moral support, but also because I spent the first 18 years of my life there -- a simpler life I left behind on the way to becoming "so distracted now" -- and I wanted to see for myself exactly what had happened to the schools and neighborhoods that were the center of my universe.

Every day that I was there, I took long walks and used my Blackberry to take pictures -- many of which I've already posted.  Looking back, it was almost as if I was a tourist on a trip to the site of an ancient civilization, where I snapped pictures of ruined temples to show the folks back home.  

After I left, I saw a picture of a homemade sign from Joplin that said "Put down your camera and help us," or words to that effect.

Mea culpa.  I worked to help clean up my parents' house and yard, but I didn't do anything to help anybody else.  Maybe I  should have done that instead of just being a voyeur.

On the other hand, I even saw local policemen stopping to take pictures with their cell-phone cameras.  It was hard not to stare, and not to want to have photos of what things looked like -- without having pictures to show, I could never have described what I had seen to my kids and my friends.

And while I moved away from Joplin a long time ago, it was where I spent the first 18 years of my life.  I knew much of the area where the damage was the worst intimately.  I had walked and ridden my bike on those streets 40, even 50 years ago.  I wasn't just gawking at Irving Elementary School and Joplin High School and all the destroyed houses in between -- those were my schools, my neighborhoods.

I saw this house when I was walking from Irving School (which was destroyed by the tornado) to the house I grew up in (which was damaged but will survive).  The interior of this room is surprisingly intact, given that the wall that enclosed it was ripped off -- it looks almost like a stage set:



This house is only two blocks from my parents' current house.  The clothes hanging in this closet appear to be undamaged -- why are they still there two weeks after the tornado?  



Someone took the time to prop up this child's bicycle on its kick stand.  Who?  (Why?)



This sign was leaning against a half-destroyed house on Murphy Boulevard.  Before the tornado struck, had it been hanging in a young girl's bedroom?



I saw abandoned wheelchairs at several different locations.  This picture was taken near 24th and Iowa, just across from the high school -- the houses in this area were completely flattened:



These wheelchairs are standing in the parking lot of a nursing home where several people were killed.



It was an odd coincidence that I saw three houses with ruined pianos on the same block.  Here's one of them:



The legendary Dude's Daylight Donuts on Main Street -- New York Times story about local businesses that were destroyed by the tornado led with a mention of Dude's -- was just a pile of generic rubble:



But after poking around for a few minutes, I found definitive evidence that I was at the right spot:



Finally, while walking on West 26th towards Main Street, I saw some inexpensive metal flatware lying in the gutter.



There were actually 9 spoons instead of 8, which is even more odd.  Where were the forks?  Where were the other knives?

God only knows.  And God only knows where about a million other missing things have ended up.

I know all too well what could have been lost if my parents had lived 2 or 3 blocks further north.  They were lucky.  But a lot of people weren't.

A lot of people in Joplin lost not only their forks and knives -- but also their clothes, and cars, and pianos, and family photos, and kids' toys.

And a lot of people lost a lot more.

Here's "7 Stars":



Here's a link you can use to order the song from iTunes:

7 Stars - New Magnetic Wonder


Here's a link you can use if you prefer Amazon:




Thursday, June 16, 2011

Apples in Stereo -- "Energy" (2007)



And the world is made of energy
And the world is electricity
And the world is made of energy
And there's a light inside of you
And there's a light inside of me

For me, the most shocking thing about the May 22 tornado that hammered Joplin was that it destroyed two of the most prominent and most important buildings in the city:  Joplin High School and St. John's Hospital.  It is difficult to envision a Joplin without those two buildings.

As others have pointed out, it was a great stroke of luck that this tornado struck on a Sunday evening.  If it had hit earlier that day -- when St. Mary's Church and Harmony Heights Baptist and some of the other Joplin churches that were damaged or destroyed were full of worshippers -- it seems certain that the loss of life would have been much greater.

St. Mary's Church in Joplin
And what if the tornado had arrived on a weekday afternoon -- when more drivers were out on the streets, and when Joplin High School and Irving Elementary School and East Middle School, among others, were full of students and teachers?

The Joplin High School auditorium
Unlike churches and schools, hospitals are busy 24/7.  And you can't evacuate a hospital unless you have a lot of advance warning.

The New York Times did a remarkable job covering the tornado.  Click here to read their May 23 story (which also leads you to a number of slide shows of the twister's aftermath).   

My understanding is that 6 people died at St. John's on May 22 -- one was a visitor, while the other 5 were ICU patients who were dependent on ventilators.  When the tornado knocked out power to the hospital and a backup generator failed to function, the ventilators stopped working.

The St. John's helicopter
In the words of the song quoted at the beginning of this post, the world seemed "made of energy" that Sunday evening -- the unlimited and uncontrollable energy brought to bear on that Joplin hospital by an EF5 tornado.  But at the same time, there was not enough energy that night -- the loss of electricity in the ICU made the critical life-sustaining medical equipment there useless. 

Here's how the Times described the scene at the hospital:

Nearly every patient was splashed or covered with blood from all the glass, and people in the emergency room on the first floor were sucked out of windows into the parking lot. Even a backup generator failed, leaving ventilators and other medical equipment without power in dark rooms.
One panicked nurse, who had been in the intensive care unit, pleaded for help when machines stopped pumping air into the lungs of critically ill patients. “I’ve got patients dying up there!” Robert Kuhn, a hospital worker, recalled the nurse calling out. The doctors told him to go back and pump the air manually.
“You were on your own,” Mr. Kuhn explained.
A friend recently posted a link to an account of what happened when the tornado struck St. John's by Dr. Kevin Kikta, one of the two emergency-room docs who was on duty that evening.  Click here to go to this very dramatic account of real-life heroes in action.

Here's a brief excerpt from Dr. Kikta's account:

I remember a patient in his early 20’s gasping for breath, telling me that he was going to die.  After a quick exam, I removed the large shard of glass from his back, made the clinical diagnosis of a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and gathered supplies from wherever I could locate them to insert a thoracostomy tube in him.  He was a trouper; I’ll never forget his courage.  He allowed me to do this without any local anesthetic since none could be found. With his life threatening injuries I knew he was running out of time, and it had to be done.  Quickly.  Imagine my relief when I heard a big rush of air, and breath sounds again; fortunately, I was able to get him transported out. . . .
A small child of approximately 3-4 years of age was crying; he had a large avulsion of skin to his neck and spine.  The gaping wound revealed his cervical spine and upper thoracic spine bones.  I could actually count his vertebrae with my fingers.  This was a child, his whole life ahead of him, suffering life threatening wounds in front of me, his eyes pleading me to help him..  We could not find any pediatric C collars in the darkness, and water from the shattered main pipes was once again showering down upon all of us. Fortunately, we were able to get him immobilized with towels, and start an IV with fluids and pain meds before shipping him out. . . .
Things were no better outside of the ER. I saw a man crushed under a large SUV, still alive, begging for help; another one was dead, impaled by a street sign through his chest.   Wounded people were walking, staggering, all over, dazed and shocked.   All around us was chaos, reminding me of scenes in a war movie, or newsreels from bombings in Bagdad.  Except this was right in front of me and it had happened in just 45 seconds.  My own car was blown away.  Gone. Seemingly evaporated.  We searched within a half mile radius later that night, but never found the car . . .
Two weeks later, on my last night in Joplin, I decided to walk from Irving Elementary School to the house where I grew up (2725 Missouri).  I made that walk many times when I was a kid, and my impression on other visits to Joplin in recent years was that the walk still looked about the same as it looked 50 years ago -- most of the modest houses along my route home from school were still there.

I ended up walking from 28th and Missouri to St. John's and back.  It wasn't all that far -- only about a 3-mile round trip -- but I would have never attempted to walk to the hospital when I lived in Joplin.

You've probably seen lots of pictures of the post-tornado St. John's on television or online.  Here's one I took:


Here's one of some of the wrecked cars that were brought to the St. John's parking lot:


Here's one of the hospital's vans:


I expected the area around St. John's to be devoid of human activity, but that was far from the case.  It turns out that one week to the minute after St. John's was slammed by the May 22 tornado, a mobile hospital facility opened on the St. John's grounds.

From a June 1 press release:
One week to the minute after a tornado decimated Mercy’s St. John’s Regional Medical Center campus, hospital leaders and supporters stood on the same grounds -- under clear, sunny skies -- to bless the opening of a mobile hospital facility.
Sunday’s 5:45 p.m. blessing ceremony christened St. John’s Mercy Hospital, a fully functional acute-care facility . . .
The 60-bed mobile hospital facility opened for patients earlier on Sunday and is equipped to offer round-the-clock emergency, surgery, imaging and lab services, as well as inpatient care. Designed as a temporary facility, the hospital will serve patients during an interim period while Mercy formulates plans for rebuilding and re-establishing comprehensive hospital and clinic services in Joplin.
Here's the entrance to the temporary hospital:


Here's the entrance to the emergency room:



And here's a mobile surgical unit -- essentially a 40-foot trailer with pull-out sides:


The original St. John's was built by the Sisters of Mercy (a Catholic order that was founded in Ireland in 1831) in 1896.  I remember reading years ago that the nuns of that era would wait at the mouths of the mines on payday and solicit contributions from the miners before they could spend all their money in the local saloons and brothels.  

We're not quite in the same position the Sisters of Mercy were in the 1890s, but the challenge is not that dissimilar.  That's why I chose such a bouncy, optimistic song for this post -- building the new St. John's is going to take plenty of energy.

But first, let's all have a Pepsi!



Here's "Energy":




Here's a link you can use to order the song from iTunes:

Energy - New Magnetic Wonder


Here's a link you can use to order it from Amazon:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Apples in Stereo -- "Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4" (2007)



Oh, don't you know it's right
We will live together for a long time
Oh, don't you know it's wrong
We will be forgotten when we're gone


My previous post featured some of the signs I saw during my post-tornado visit to Joplin.  (Click here if you haven't read that post yet.)  Here are some more of the signs I saw.

Some people in Joplin take their politics very seriously.  (Personally, I don't think our President is entirely to blame for the tornado.)


Here's a sad sign I saw in my parents' neighborhood:


(I read yesterday about a cat that had been rescued after being trapped in the rubble of a wrecked house for 16 days.  And our cat once disappeared for 17 days during a bitterly cold January after we moved to a new house -- it eventually turned up at our previous house, which was only 1/2 mile away.  So the owner of the cat in the picture above shouldn't give up hope.)

Here's a sign that would have been very good news if you had been clearing fallen trees from your property:


The most seriously damaged houses and cars in Joplin had been spray-painted with codes:


I learned later that these are search and rescue markings that indicate the date a search was conducted (the house above was searched twice), who conducted the search (here, I assume "JPD" means the Joplin Police Department), and whether dogs were part of the search (note the "K9"). 

Here's another example.  This house was searched on May 24 (the second day after the tornado) by the "OKTF" (Oklahoma Task Force?).  Once again, a dog or dogs had been used.  The number "1" may indicate that one person was found and rescued, or that one dead body was found, or something else entirely:


Many houses in Joplin had been labeled with these "Unsafe" signs:


Someone on Murphy Boulevard used a discarded refrigerator to write thank-yous to all the people and groups who had helped out.  It's hard to read in this photo, but listed at the very bottom are "Lady with hot dogs" and "Lady with cold water":


Finally, there were signs like this one:


And this one:


I admire the optimism of those messages, but only time will tell.

Here's "Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4" by the Apples in Stereo:




Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Beautiful Machine Parts 3-4 - New Magnetic Wonder


Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon: