John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

Let Us Give Thanks for Roger Miller

And for Paul Cebar, John Ziegler and Bob Reitman.

By - Nov 23rd, 2018 03:41 pm
Roger Miller and Paul Cebar.

Roger Miller and Paul Cebar.

After feasting on unpardoned turkeys, our extended family goes around the extended table and reads thank you notes. We draw them randomly and try to guess who wrote them. Some are easy, some are are hard and some, usually from the young stand-up comic in training, seven-year-old Casey, a second cousin of my wife, are funny. It’s a nice ritual.

Here in Milwaukee there is plenty to be grateful for. Near the top of my list is how long I can go without hearing brain-numbing radio ads or the awful shows made possible by them. I certainly could think of better things to do with that money. If it weren’t for Bob Uecker and the occasional Packer game I need to listen to because I’m driving somewhere, I’d never hear any of them again. As it is, 99 percent of my time is happily spent on the left side of the radio dial listening to 88nine, WUWM, WHAD and WMSE. Here you can find music that wouldn’t have a chance on rigidly formatted commercial stations. But down in the upper eighties and low nineties there’s something for everyone. Each station has their specialties, but the creative dial twirler can often find musical nirvana.

Before we continue, there’s a bit of sad news for fans of local music. Last week the Milwaukee music scene lost a true fan and loyal supporter. Bruce Winter succumbed to cancer on November 14th. As program director of WUWM, he did his best to make sure music was always part of the mix. More than once I heard my own band, Semi-Twang, come over the airwaves as I drove somewhere. Every Thursday I can play Six Degrees of Zimmerman with Bob Reitman. This former commercial jock has found his safe place at WUWM, where he and his son spin more obscure sides and chat amiably. There’s never been a bigger Bob Dylan fan and with that as his touchstone, he explores the ever widening circles around him. This Thanksgiving I know I’ll be grateful for all Bruce did for this city and for Reitman’s show.

Let’s move on to the station I find ever so useful in my continuing music education, WMSE. The DJs volunteer there for one reason — they have been swept away by music and they want to share their obsession with the listening public. One of them, Paul Cebar, is in a category by himself. If you can, do what I did and get in a band with him. The drive to any gig will be filled with music you’ve never heard before but probably should have. Somewhere on one of those long drives, around the twentieth mixtape, I realized this guy lived and breathed music. What I learned on those trips snuck into my subconscious and popped up later in my writing. You may never get to ride in the van with him, but Cebar still does his show, “Way Back Home,” Wednesdays from nine to noon, and it’s a pretty good substitute.

Another indispensable show, and one of the only ones where authentic country music is heard, is John Ziegler’sChicken Shack.” On Fridays from nine to noon he spins endless deep cuts from Nashville’s golden age and few good ones from this century. It’s a good way to kick off your weekend. Listen to this obscure nugget I gleaned from the Shack last week: “My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About).” It’s by that certified hillbilly alien, Roger Miller, and it’s a doozy. The lyrics:

Sometimes my memories let me hold and kiss you
But they’re just lending me the things I live without
And if it’s my fault that I can’t really hold you
Yes my ears should burn when fools are talked about

What made me think I craved another’s kisses
Another so unworthy I found out
My arms should have no right to hold another
And my ears should burn when fools are talked about

At night in dreams I hear her callin’ to me
She loves me she loves me there’s no doubt
But my lips have no right to ask forgiveness
And my ears should burn when fools are talked about

© Roger Miller

This song is new to me but it only intensifies my love for this one-off native genius. It’s not as goofy as some of his earlier novelty hits, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t just slightly warped. There were few in the Nashville crowd who were capable of stringing together the kind of original and memorable lines he did, and even then many wouldn’t have had the nerve to sing such a strange tune. There’s a method to the Miller madness, though. Taking his cue from the title, he catalogs and comments on the various components in his pitiful heartbroken world, from memories and dreams to body parts like his lips and arms. It’s both crafty and moving. He might’ve been a writer of aphorisms had there been any money in it. This couplet will stick with me for a while:

Sometimes my memories let me hold and kiss you
But they’re just lending me the things I live without

Do I wish I‘d written that? You bet. So I’m thankful Roger Miller once graced our planet with his singular gift and I’m glad great radio still flourishes in this town. As I bow my head pretending to say grace, I’m actually giving thanks for all the deep research done by guys like Paul and John. They’re the ones who help me finish my homework. So go ahead boys, have an extra slice of pie. It’s on me!

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2 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: Let Us Give Thanks for Roger Miller”

  1. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Thanks, John, for shining a light on the dear, departed Roger Miller and on living local legends, too.

  2. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Forgive me, readers, for not including Bruce Winter among the dear departed in post # 1. Bruce shared a great deal of excellent music on 89.7 FM that was rarely heard elsewhere.

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