I am a Minnesota boy but after college and a divorce, I found myself in Nebraska. There I met and married a wonderful local woman and went on living for the next twelve years or so. I still considered Minnesota home, but hadn’t been back in over twenty years. Therefore Nebraska became home.
Five years ago we relocated to St Louis for a job opportunity. We love it here and now think of this as home. However, last weekend we returned to small-town Nebraska to attend a wedding. The youngest daughter of one of her oldest friends was getting married. We jumped at the chance to get all of her friends together; most of whom we hadn’t seen in years.
We drove my little VW Beetle the seven hours it took to get there. We don’t mind long drives and enjoy seeing the country. However, as we crossed into Nebraska we sensed a change in the atmosphere. It felt as if a dark cloud was materializing above us. We could feel the oppression building. Our mood deteriorated the closer we got to ‘home’. There was a Children of the Corn vibe going on with a little Cujo skin-prickle added.
Subconsciously, we were both dreading going back there. The old hometown had turned dark and depressing while we were gong. One of us finally mentioned the change in mood and we immediately agreed that there was something to it. Our exciting and enjoyable occasion was instead full of dread and foreboding.
We realized that we had too much baggage in that town. We had each lived there for years before meeting, so it was littered with old relationships and old memories that had nothing at all to do with our new life. The whole trip felt like wading into murky bath water. We felt dirty afterward. There are too many things there that we don’t want to remember or relive. It is much easier to forget those things if we never revisit them.
We had a great time seeing old friends and will not be returning any time soon. We may have left friends but we didn’t leave home. Home is where the heart is and wants to be.
The Christmas season has come again, and I’m not feeling the cheer you’d expect. This holiday hasn’t felt right to me for many years. It is one of my least favorite holidays. In contrast, my wife loves the decorations, the gifts, and the baking, the whole package. I do my best to play along, but Christmas just doesn’t hold the magic that I remember as a child.
We no longer have any children in the house and no family nearby, even before Covid Christmas was usually just the two of us. And I am fine with that. I prefer to stay home and cozy on Christmas. But there is no magic for me.
I grew up in Northern Minnesota with cold, snowy winters. We could expect to get snowed into our house at least once every year. Our neighbors had snowmobiles and would ferry us to the paved road to meet the school bus. Then once the snowplows finally got to our little dirt road, they would pile the snow up taller than the bus.
My best memories of Christmas are from this time.
Our little house was heated by a wood-burning stove in the basement, and the heat would rise up through a cast iron grate in the floor above the stove and up the staircase to the second floor. Many mornings we would wake to a house cold enough to see our breath. We would then crouch on the grate to warm up while we ate our cereal.
This was the 1980s! Not that long ago.
I grew up poor, much like a hillbilly living in the woods. We had an outhouse, no television, and wolves howling in the night. Most people can’t relate, but what a great way to grow up. I didn’t experience the over-commercialized Christmas that many think is the norm. There were no electronic toys, no designer clothes, nothing more expensive than a hardware store bicycle. And we could always count on getting good warm clothes or boots for Christmas.
We cut our Christmas tree fresh from the woods and dragged it home through the snow. Mom would make homemade bread and a tea ring for Christmas breakfast. I remember a big pot of chili boiling on the stove and the whole house smelling of bread and wood smoke. The smells of home.
There were seven of us; my parents and five boys. We had no television for many of those years, so we entertained ourselves with table games most Saturday nights, and Christmas was no different. We would make a pan of mulled cider and a giant bucket of popcorn and play games for hours, often until 2am. We had no other family around, and no one ever came to visit, making it a very isolated life. Winters were spent locked inside, cozy and warm.
But it is the snow and the cold and the darkness of those Minnesota winter months that I think about most. Often the nights would drop to below zero temperatures. The air would be so cold and dry it almost hurt to breathe. In the night we would hear trees splitting in the cold, like gunshots in the darkness. And if you felt brave enough to wander outside, you would find a sky alive with stars, sparkling as if on fire, the northern lights flickering and hissing above.
It is those things that I miss the most about this season.
In the years since, I have gotten an education, raised children, and moved far away from Minnesota. Yet every year, I get nostalgic about this time. Not for Christmas, not for the gifting, not for any religious significance, but for the frozen desolation and silence of the deep winter. That is what I miss the most, what holds the most emotion for me.
We purchased a house with a fireplace for the sole purpose of curling up in front of a fire on cold winter nights. That is what I look forward to more than any other aspect of this season. However, Christmas day was almost 60F with no snow in sight. Which doesn’t evoke memories of Christmas past in any way, shape, or form. It doesn’t feel right.
I haven’t been back to Minnesota in twenty years. I no longer have family there. However, I will always yearn for the bone-shattering cold of a Minnesota Christmas night.
I’ve been feeling my age and find myself waxing nostalgic for things of twenty and thirty years ago. Most of the time, we move through our day-to-day without really noticing time passing, then one day we look up and it’s been five or ten or twenty years. I guess this is me noticing. Really, after the first few thousand days, they all start looking alike. We stop noticing.
Without some significant signposts to delineate the years it’s hard to look back and see where we’ve been or how we’ve changed. Music is important to most people and often serves as sign posts of the years as they pass. For me I tend to avoid the overplayed, shoved-down-our-throat songs that the record industry feels that everyone is required to like. Meaning: the Doors, Freebird, Poison, the Backstreet Boys, Beyonce, and Miley, to give an example from every decade of my life. However, there is music that I have kept close for years.
Many years ago I was a big fan of a website call MP3.com, where people could post their original music for people to discover. It was the beginning of digital music and there were a million undiscovered songwriters and bands to explore. If you liked a band, you could order a CD of their music; a real physical CD. I discovered a lot of great music on there and have thousands of files that I continue to listen to.
But, that was twenty years ago, the turn of the century for chrissake! The site has disappeared along with much of the music they stored. However, one of those artists was a band called Dog Party, specifically their album: Blindsided. The track Getaway Car is one of my all time favorites and still gets heavy rotation. However, they are not on Spotify and I have been unable to find their music anywhere.
A recent listen got me curious about what happened to the band and its members. Did they go on to bigger and better things? Are there other albums out there? Have I heard their material since and not known it? You know, life goes on for all of us and I was curious to see how they fared. The magic of the internet makes answering these questions relatively easy. It lets you check in on people without them knowing. Much like stalking but with less creepiness.
Dog Party has been important to me partly because they are relatively unknown and unspoiled. If I hear Madonna or Van Halen or even N’Sync, I can sense the years on them. But many of the songs I saved from MP3.com still feel fresh and new, because I haven’t heard them a billion times. They’re not overused and worn out.
The MP3.com songs are much more like intimate friends that have tagged along with me for years. They are very private and personal because I never had to share them with a million other people. Part of their appeal is that I discovered them, rather than the music industry shoving them into my ear canal so incessantly that I was forced to associate with them. MP3.com gave me those songs. The ones that I knew were mine and mine alone. For many of these songs, I am probably one of the few people that know they ever existed. I guess that makes them even more special to me. Fans of Learning To Fly by the Foo Fighters are everywhere, but a person that has even heard Getaway Car by Dog Party is a true rarity. Which is sad, because it is a wonderful song.
Which brings me back to my actual topic. Where are they now? This is the only album by the band that I have been able to find. There is an online rumor that there was a previous album, but I have not been able to find it or verify its existence. The band members were a bit easier to locate.
I originally looked up Eileen Dorn, the lead singer, a few years ago. I love her voice and delivery and was curious if she was able to build a career on her talent. She is now a martial arts instructor in California and part of a city-wide womens’ choir. She can even be found on PBS and youtube.
The guitarist Steve Gregory is still active in music and is a musician for hire. He is also on youtube and I have used his lesson videos a few times. Of course, this is assuming it is the same Steve Gregory. He looks similar, but I have yet to find any reference to Dog Party.
Drummer Mike Packer seems to have done the best for himself becoming a very sought after drummer and instructor in California and even touring with Wilson Philips. (Which is huge in my book!)
The bass player appears to have disappeared into life somewhere – like people do.
What I didn’t find in my research of the members was any mention of the band – at all! No one listed it in their bios or resumes or credits.
Life happens, which is what lead me to this topic. The members of this band have moved on to other things. But on their journey they created music that is still important to me. This is honestly one of my favorite albums and that they fail to even mention it as an accomplishment is a bit of a gut punch. Was it really so forgettable for them? Yes, it was twenty years ago, but I would think they would want to advertise it somehow.
I still listen to this music as if it’s current. It doesn’t feel twenty years old. Even after all those years and a million other songs, these small rare, nearly unheard songs are still important to me and I would like to hope that others feel the same as I do.
On our journey, certain small insignificant things end up having larger meanings than others can understand. It’s not the same for everyone. There will always be people that get all worked up about Freebird or Smells Like Teen Spirit or, hell, maybe even Getaway Car. These songs are part of the soundtrack and montage of our lives and unique to ourselves. Just because it’s a rare unknown song doesn’t make it less important.
Feeling nostalgic and looking back at our journey is important. We need to see the paths that lead us to here; the experiences, mistakes, and accidents of fate that made today. Those things are important and what makes life worth it. This is wisdom I’ve recognized only recently. I don’t like to think about regrets or missed opportunities, but rather about the little memory tokens that can trigger pleasant recollections. Like songs.