Song Of The Day 2/13/2017: Stevie Wonder – “Sir Duke”

The Final 45

Oh Heavenly Mound

All of yesterday’s action (except the piano lessons) took place in a three-bedroom house on Brooktree Drive in Citrus Heights, a suburb of Sacramento. It’s where I lived from first through fourth grade.

It was swimming pool country. Sacramento dependably hit the 80s nearly every day in summer. There were a handful of 90-degree days and a few that passed the century mark. Both of the houses we had in suburban Sacramento had swimming pools. I learned how to swim at age five so I spent a lot of time in them. The one on Brooktree was rectangular and set into an arrangement of red bricks. The other one, on Cerromar Circle in Orangevale, was arranged in three staggered rectangular areas, kind of like a mutant Tetris brick. We didn’t do the kidney-shaped thing. We liked linear order. Keep your foul internal organ of a hole in the ground.

Both of the houses were situated in walking distance to little creeks that ran through some undeveloped woodsy areas. That was nice added value. I don’t think anyone discovered a dead body in them, but they were great places to stage such treachery if anybody had the notion. You didn't hear it from me though.

Another thing both houses had in common is that they were both near huge mounds of packed dirt. You don’t see those too much these days because they were prime targets for developers in the suburban sprawl. But they were ideal for motocross bikes. They had long trails where you could build up speed, and tiny natural inclines at the base of the trails that made for, as they say, sweet jumps on your bike. Yes, I did some.

The Brooktree mound overlooked a little league baseball complex where I spent a lot of time in the summer. Not playing, but watching, because remember the guys in Brooklyn thought athletic competition led to wild sex orgies.

But I wanted to play. My scrawny friend Frank played baseball and I asked if we could switch shirts one day, because he was wearing one with his baseball team name on it, and mine had a band logo on it. I think it was Chicago. Anyway, when it came time to give the shirts back he gave me mine, but I “forgot” to give his back. He went home shirtless. Parents were called. I felt bad about it but not at the time.

Littlejohn

I started school for real. It was probably a lot like your experience. I don’t have much to add to it, and I’m sure you haven’t been up all night breathlessly waiting for me to parse my elementary school years. There's nothing to be gleaned from them that hasn't already been covered in The Wonder Years.

From first grade through close to the end of fourth grade I got A’s in every single subject. At some point they determined that I was a “gifted” kid. They didn’t explain how. When I think of “gifted kids” I always remember an episode of Beavis & Butthead where they were watching Beck’s video for “Pay No Mind.” “Uhhhh,” Butthead said, “he’s like one of those dudes from the gifted class.” Yes. That’s exactly how we were.

The school I went to on Brooktree was Leighton Littlejohn Elementary. I never knew who he was, so I’m Googling him now… and I still don’t know what he did. I sure hope it wasn’t nefarious.

I brought records to show and tell, of course. Once I brought in Morris Albert’s “Feelings” in third grade. (I’m serious, I better be getting bonus points from you all for this kind of truthfulness.) The teacher, Mrs. Glover, was so moved by it that the next week she tried a spontaneous music exercise in which she played something by Beethoven and asked us to “draw how it made us feel.” If there’s one thing I cannot do, it’s draw. I have never been able to draw. My penmanship was always pretty good, but I couldn’t draw for shit. In response to her request I think I tried redrawing a scene from Wile E. Coyote, complete with an Acme Company anvil coming down on his head. The experiment was not repeated.

I had my stage debut at some point during this time. It was a class play in which everybody in the classroom had a part. It was one of those plays written exclusively for grade-schoolers that never played anywhere else. It was not Samuel French territory, in other words. The name of the show escapes me, but it was a Western-themed musical. I played an outlaw named Coffee Pot. I had a gang. I did a monologue about a fisherman who lured fish out of a stream by putting a barber pole on the bank, and the fish just jumped out of the water onto the shore. I hope the unnamed schoolteacher who wrote that part was high when he did it. I didn’t understand it either, but it got laughs. Maybe the audience was high too.

Felt All Over

The first “event” album that came out in my musical sojourns was Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. I knew who Stevie Wonder was already, since my sisters had brought Innervisions home and it was one of the albums I borrowed from them a lot. Others: Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ Collector’s Item and Earth, Wind & Fire’s That’s the Way of the World from the other day.

Somehow we got advance notice about Songs in the Key of Life, which didn’t really happen all that much. We just heard songs on the radio and then the album would show up at the Wherehouse. But we all knew Songs was coming. K-108, the local soft-hits station, played “Sir Duke” right around the time the record came out, and I thought it was the greatest song ever.

When I finally got my copy of SITKOL I wrote my name all over it. This was not something I did on a usual basis. It was a sprawling two-disc set with an extra 7-inch thrown in with four extra songs, and a very extensive lyric booklet with unfortunately chosen typeface. The typeface is literally the only thing wrong with Songs in the Key of Life. It resembled a ghastly type face called Zapf Chancery. I’m sure it made perfect sense at the time. Now people only use it when typing out the word "namaste."

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