You never know what you’re going to read about here…I’ll drag you down any alley and just hope you’ll follow.
Today, for example, with a tough few days behind us — with “Over-land Park” (as I heard it pronounced on NPR today) in the national spotlight for the worst of reasons — I decided to lighten up after a day of substitute teaching.
So, I clicked on my iTunes library and started in on some of my 35 songs. (I know, some people have hundreds, maybe thousands, but I keep it simple.)
I didn’t get far, though, when I homed in on “Poetry in Motion” by Johnny Tillotson. I’ve always loved that song, which came out in 1960, my first year of high school back in Louisville. Those four years — especially the first three — at that all-boys, Catholic school were grim and difficult.
There wasn’t much to look forward to, except football and basketball games and Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” on TV every afternoon. There were a few parties, but the girls were mostly out of reach for me and my buddies. The Xaverian Brothers who ran the school didn’t hesitate to smack us around for the smallest of transgressions, and I remember one “brother” in particular who would walk up and down the aisles smacking kids with a book on days when his arthritis was acting up. Didn’t matter if you were sitting still, not bothering anybody, you or the equally terrified guy next to you might get it, regardless.
About the only thing that salved the psychological torment and gave us hope that a kinder, happier world existed outside the walls of St. Xavier High was the incomparable, soaring music of the ’60s. How were we to know that what we were hearing on the radio (radio station WAKY in Louisville) would come to be regarded, almost unarguably, as the greatest pop music of all time?
“Poetry in Motion” was one of the most uplifting, hopeful songs on the radio in those days.
Those opening lines…
When I see my baby
What do I see
Poetry in motion
Poetry in motion
Walkin’ by my side
Her lovely locomotion
Keeps my eyes open wide…
Where do I find a girl like that? That’s what I wanted to know. And…Will I ever get the opportunity?
I didn’t know it then but two of the Nashville studio musicians who played backup on the song were Boots Randolph (“Yakkety Sax,” 1963) and Floyd Cramer (“Last Date,” 1960.)
I didn’t know this, either: The guys who wrote the song, Paul Kaufman (1930–1999) and Mike Anthony (born 1930), said their inspiration came from looking up from their work and seeing a procession of young ladies from a nearby school pass by on the sidewalk outside each afternoon.
What I knew was that the song thrilled me and helped get me through those long, dreary school weeks.
On Sunday, Johnny Tillotson will turn 75.
Thank you, Johnny, wherever you are…Florida, maybe, where he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2011.
…Now, here’s that song…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2yAanNhcqI
(Sorry about the ad.)
Just to give you the flavor of my high school, here’s a 1964 photo from “the smoking shed,” outside the school cafeteria. I am at the extreme upper right, to the left of the guy looking at the camera. (I think he was blowing smoke rings.)