Saturday, September 07, 2002

When I Was Your Age, Sonny, I Wound the Film Myself...

We're a little out of sequence here; apologies.

I was at the Iowa State Fair doing volunteer work-- photography for VSA Iowa. VSA Arts (a name created by the Dept. of Redundancy Dept., I guess, as VSA stands for "Very Special Arts") is an organization that promotes artists with disabilities. My fiancée (well, for the next month-- nervous? me?) schleps and rides VSA performers around the hilly and crowded terrain of the fairgrounds on a golf cart each year. They needed a photographer, and I was interested and [insert deity of choice] knows I have the time... sigh.

The photography was fun and educational; I was lent a camera and lens for the job-- actually the lens first, and the camera when it turned out not to work with my SLR. The educational part? The camera was a very non-automatic Pentax, with me lazy and used to my very automatic Minolta Maxxum 450si. I reviewed the definition of f-stop, and discussions of depth of field, and the operation of the camera... and it only took me one wasted roll to get into it. (Sigh of relief.)

It worked out very well, everyone was happy (though I'd have been happier if I'd been paid, and happier still if I could get a Minolta AF zoom lens like the one on the Pentax...), but that's not what I'm really wanting to write about.

One can find quite a few "oldies" groups at the Iowa State Fair; indeed, one of the regular events is the "Rock and Roll Reunion" at which a number of groups from the early sixties perform. It turns out that on the very last day of the Iowa State Fair this year, there would be two performances by... The Association.

I've not followed The Association over the years since their heyday, but I nevertheless love their music. They were masters of harmony and weren't afraid to take chances with tracks like "Pandora's Golden Heebie-Jeebies" and "Requiem for the Masses." They could rock-- "Six-Man Band" took the genre seriously, unlike, say, Peter, Paul & Mary's tongue-in-cheek "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" or any hit of the Fifth Dimension. ("Let the Sunshine In" is more gospel-influenced than rock.)

So...VSA Iowa didn't have anything going on that last afternoon, but it was around 5:15 p.m., most of the way through The Association's first performance of the day, before we made it to the stage they were on. As we approached, I was shocked to hear them doing covers of 60s R&B songs. WHAT?! They have a large and wonderful oeuvre; what the heck do they need to cover those songs for? I thought to myself. As the performance ended and people started on their way out, we noticed a couple of friends. "Did they do 'Pandora's Golden Heebie-Jeebies' or 'Requiem for the Masses'?" I asked. "No," came the reply.

After the first performance, the group (all clad in white suits) came out to greet people and sign things. No CDs or things for sale... I got in line, and when I made it up to the table I said I didn't have anything needing signing, but just wanted to thank them for lots of fine music. One of the group said thanks. I asked if there were any chance I'd hear... well, you know which two songs by now... and he said not tonight, but perhaps in a future performance. I thanked him again and went back to where my fiancee was. (I noticed that two of them were signing items with "aloha" and "mahalo"-- the latter means "thank you" and the former means, well, a lot of things-- and inferred that they were from Hawai`i.)

We had plenty of time to wait between sets, and plenty of spaces available to sit in, so we found a good spot, right in front of the sound guy, and waited.

Maybe half to two-thirds as many were there for the last show. They did the hits you'd expect, and some less well known ones ("Everything That Touches You" and a Dylan cover that was on their first album). The fellow who did much of the talking then said they'd like to do some of the songs that they sang backstage between shows, and they went into a string of R&B covers again. I certainly couldn't complain about how well they sang them, but it was nonetheless a disappointment. They returned to a hit for the close.

My fiancee wandered away to see about getting the sign insert for the stage sign that read "THE ASSOCIATION"-- after all, it was the last show and they would probably just be chucking it. She got there just in time and sweet-talked the maintenance people who had retrieved it into letting her have it.

After the last show, we walked back in hopes of getting the sign signed, but it didn't look like they were going to come out after this show. They probably had to be on their way ("...we just got the time to say hello and then a fast goodbye..."). Were it just me there, I'd have trundled silently away--but my fiancee is much better at these things than I am, and I think she tallked to the soundman and to one or two of the group... and eventually they all came out and signed. We responded with "mahalo nui" (thank you very much) to the two who signed with Hawai`ian, and got smiles as a result. I certainly appreciate their all taking the time.

Since that night, I've read some biographical information on the web. There have been personnel changes over time-- one of the members of the group we saw is a son of one of the original group members-- and one page refers to the name "The Assocation" being rented out to people to perform under. Goodness knows that one rather vehement fan site probably thinks ill of me for here referring to the group we saw as "The Association," but I can only say that this is as close as I expect ever to get to the live experience of The Association; the group members are all very good at what they do, and unfailingly courteous-- they certainly didn't have to take the time that they probably needed to be preparing to get back on the road to sign a lone fan's object saved from the dumpster. They have my appreciation and respect and thanks... but I wish they'd done more Association songs.

"After all the time we spent together/Just doesn't seem fair, no fair at all..."

P.S. It's interesting how quickly allusions and references become dated. In "Six Man Band," the "seventeen jewels that dictate the rules" and thus enslave the band to the clock and schedule are the jewels of an analog watch movement. How many people have analog watches any more, much less know their construction well enough to get the reference?

A flashback and analogy

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