The year was 1980. Carter and Reagan were running neck-and-neck, top movies included “The Empire Strikes Back,” “9 to 5” and “Airplane,” and blaring from my transistor radio were “Call Me” by Blondie, “Babe” by Styx and “Coward of the County” by Kenny Rogers.
If you tuned into KSTP, Channel 5, on Sunday morning, you might have heard this: “Join outstanding scholars from Twin Cities and suburban area schools as they match wits on this week’s High School Bowl.”
And if you tuned in on two particular Sunday mornings during the fall of 1980, you might’ve seen an awkward, pimple-faced boy with badly feathered hair and a tan, three-piece, corduroy suit representing White Bear Senior High. Yours truly, of course.
I ended up on the team because my German teacher, Mr. Eckers, was the coach. He used to have trivia contests in class, and I fared pretty well.
My teammates were Jane, Steve, and Paul. When we were introduced and asked about our interests, we had clever hidden messages in our answers. I don’t remember mine, but I do remember Paul’s. He said he was an afficionado of the Loch Ness monsters.
We knew he didn’t mean the mythical Scottish sea creatures, but the dancing girls at the Loch Ness strip club just over the St. Croix River.
We won our first match but lost the second, and I’m still haunted by my answer to one question.
I blame my brother Jeff, who was the first in our family to pick up the guitar. He had a Glen Campbell songbook with tunes that had been covered on the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour TV show in 1969 — “Green Green Grass of Home,” “Galveston,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head,” etc.
There were pictures of Glen and his guest stars — Johnny Cash, Bobbie Gentry, Tom Jones, the Smothers Brothers.
In 1970, when Jeff was learning to play, I didn’t know the difference between cover songs and originals. To me, everything in the Glen Campbell songbook was a Glen Campbell song.
But by the fall of 1980, I had picked up the guitar and the songbook, and I knew that Glen Campbell hadn’t recorded “Yesterday When I Was Young” (that was Roy Clark) or written “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (that was Otis Redding and Steve Cropper).
I knew that Otis had died in a plane crash just before the song was released, and that Cropper, a famous guitar player from Memphis, had appeared in the Blues Brothers movie (also released in 1980) as part of their band.
I also knew that Glen Campbell had recorded chart-toppers like “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and my favorite: “Gentle on My Mind.”
But in that split second after listening to the question — “What recording artist had a hit with ‘By the Time I Get to Phoenix’?” — and hitting the buzzer and hearing “Larson, White Bear” — my seven-year-old and 18-year-old visual and auditory memories got all jumbled together, and I blurted “O-o-o-Otis R-r-r-Redding?”
I knew immediately what I had done, and wanted to withdraw into my corduroy like a turtle into his shell, or like a Loch Ness monster retreating into her (un)dressing room. No one would ever understand how, in my mind, Otis Redding’s sleeping bag wound up stashed behind Glen Campbell’s couch.
The world’s greatest soul singer jerked awake in his grave and began pacing through my thoughts.
Until today, that is. After 31 years, I’m finally free, and Otis Redding can finally rest in peace.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.