American Gothic by David Ackles


I started teaching at Oakmeeds Community college in 1998. It was the fourth school I had taught at. I had taught for 19 years in 3 different schools and then left teaching for 3 years, studying for an M.Sc. and working in I.T. People always told me that I could earn a fortune in I.T. and I proved them all wrong. Before starting at Oakmeeds I had a job as a systems analyst in London for a year. Moving back into teaching nearly doubled my salary and quadrupled my holidays. Nevertheless it was tough to start at a new school. Most students were friendly and compliant but two or three in most classes were difficult and unwilling to welcome a new teacher.

There were several good things about working at Oakmeeds. Most of the staff were welcoming and friendly. The school was 5 minutes drive away and best of all, the last lesson on a Friday ended at 2:00 p.m. Very often by 2:30 I was in a pub, debriefing the week and talking rubbish. The feeling of utter relief when the bell sounded at 2:00 was something I will never forget. The phrase “a weight lifted off your shoulders” was never more appropriate. It wasn’t that the working week was so terrible but teaching was always hard work and required full concentration. Every lesson there were hundreds of decisions to take. How do I help that student? How should I respond to that bit of cheekiness? How long should the class spend on that topic? How much stick or carrot to show? Suddenly on Friday at 2:00, all that could stop and for two and a half days it was one thing at a time. Friday afternoon in Burgess Hill or Hassocks and, hopefully, another Friday night in Brighton.

Teaching in the Sixth Form College for the past eight years was much easier and although I still liked to celebrate Fridays, there wasn’t that immense feeling of relief that came with the contrast between the stresses of teaching and the comfort of not teaching. As I said, it wasn’t that I hated teaching, anything but. I had some fantastic times but it was intense.

It’s a very odd feeling now that I’m not working and the weekends are not special. Yesterday, I did some voluntary work and at the end one of my colleagues wished me well for Friday and hoped I would have a great weekend. I was surprised because I was barely aware that it was a weekend and so what anyway? On Sunday, I will be having a Zoom meeting with four other mates, two of whom are working and two are retired. Our perspectives are entirely different.

I think the true glory of another Friday night was only possible if the preceding week was tough going with demands made on my emotional health. It got to the stage when I loved Thursdays because I knew the following day was Friday. Sometimes it got ridiculous and I really enjoyed Wednesday evenings because I knew the next day was Thursday and then I’d feel good because I was only a day away from Friday. Conversely it made Saturdays a bit of a disappointment…..

Another Friday night. Brilliant. A time to celebrate the week just gone and “let my hair down”. I would “sing” to myself the phrase “Another Friday Night”. It happens to be a great song by David Ackles on his extremely interesting record “American Gothic”. The ridiculous thing is that this song is about someone who is stuck in a rut, hates his job and has no meaningful relationship with anyone. Maybe the reason the phrase “Another Friday Night” resonated with me so much is that it gave me cause to “count my blessings” and realise how fortunate I was compared to the protagonist of this song. Here’s a sample of the lyrics to this song. “Another Friday night. Guess I’ll put a clean shirt on and hitch a ride to town. No more work for two whole days, there’s no point hanging around” That’s pretty familiar but how about this: “I’ve had men tell me be content to spend your life for food and rent and give up trying. They say life’s a dying jailer. I just tell them I’d do alright still it’s rough on Friday night.”

David Ackles only ever released four records. He may not be known to many people. His only connections with mainstream music are 1) he wrote a song called “The Road To Cairo” which was the follow up single by Julie Driscoll and The Brian Augur Trinity to “This Wheels On Fire” and 2) this record was produced by Bernie Taupin who is Elton John’s lyricist. David Ackles was the opening act when Elton John made his debut at the L.A. Troubadour in 1970. (Sadly this small detail was overlooked in the recent film “Rocket Man”.) Bernie Taupin said of David Ackles that “there was nothing quite like him. It’s been said so many times, but his stuff was sort of like Brecht and Weill, and theatrical. It was very different than what the other singer-songwriters of the time were doing. There was also a darkness to it, which I really, really loved, because that was the kind of material that I was drawn to.”

AllMusic sates “Not only are his songs fully realized, dramatic statements, but Ackles proves himself a warm, accomplished singer. When this album got no higher than #167 in the charts, Ackles’, fans were heartbroken. Decades later, “American Gothic” remains one of those great albums that never found its audience. It waits to be rediscovered.”

The SuperSeventies website states “The title refers of course to the famous Grant Wood painting; so does the cover art. The record has almost no relation to rock & roll and a lot more to do with musical theater. American Gothic is an 11-piece song cycle organized around that “look for America” theme – in this case, the rediscovery of self through contemplation of vanishing rural America. The mood of “American Gothic” is melancholy but not bitter. The title cut, describing the hollow marriage of a farmer and his wife, concludes with a soliloquized commentary that redeems the song from lurking condescension. “Love’s Enough” is a beautiful off-Broadway melody with fine simple lyrics. “The Ballad of Ship of State,” which deals with returning Vietnam veterans, successfully juggles several different styles, from Gilbert and Sullivan to sophisticated tonal dissonance. Outstanding on the second side are “Blues for Billy Whitecloud,” a song that stylistically is half-Gershwin, half-Weill, telling of an American Indian boy who after graduation from high school finds he can’t get a job, and so eventually goes back to the school and blows it up. The most ambitious piece on “American Gothic” is “Montana Song,” a moving ten-minute soliloquy. Orchestrated as a full-blown symphonic poem, its music is stylistically very close to Copeland’s Appalachian Spring. The lyrics are a dramatic monologue in which Ackles describes an imaginary journey to the West, in the course of which he stops to study the gravestones of a pioneer family, comprehends their lives and the relation between generations, and experiences a profound spiritual reunion between past and present. The language, though occasionally a little sticky, is by and large appropriately eloquent.”

It’s now just gone 7 p.m. on Another Friday Night In Lockdown. Guess I’ll put a clean shirt on and hitch a ride to the front room to watch some TV.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

4 thoughts on “American Gothic by David Ackles

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