Welcome to Fern Bar Fridays, a lighthearted romp (is there any other kind?) through a decade of cool music and even cooler drinks. The fern bar era, which roughly spanned 1975-1985, was filled with giant lapels and ties (and then later teeny tiny lapels and ties), ridiculous drinks, and sweet sounds. Every Friday we’ll bring you a song and drink pairing emblematic of that delightful time to help you get the weekend started off on the right loafer-sans-sock-shod foot. (To learn more about fern bars, check out our recent article on Henry Africa’s, the San Francisco watering hole where it all began.) Today we’re striking pure AM gold with: "Sailing" by Christopher Cross.
There is a great debate that rages every Tuesday night at Rita’s, the imaginary fern bar that exists in my head, about which artist should rightly sit on the throne atop Mount Fern. After immediately dismissing solid, but not crown-worthy, suggestions such as Phil Collins, Jackson Browne, and Rita Coolidge, the debate generally comes down to a battle between Christopher Cross and Michael McDonald. It’s a tough call, isn’t it? (Fret not, my wee fiddleheads, we’ll get to Michael McDonald down the series line. How could we not? The man inserted himself into just about every song recorded between 1978 and 1983.) I don’t know that I can definitively state that Christopher Cross trumps Michael McDonald, but then again this is my column and I guess I can kind of lay out any directives I want, right? Great! In that case, Christopher Cross wins it! Mostly for penning the lyric "the canvas can do miracles" because alkhslfkhsdlkhdlkhlgkhdlkfhg IT SURE CAN, CHRISTOPHER CROSS. IT SURE CAN.
With the important work of issuing edicts out of the way, let’s get to it, shall we? Because this song makes me want to put on a gauzy, multi-layered dress and swan about in the manner of an interpretive dancer and I’ve a hankerin’ for the feel of chiffon against my skin.
There are several hundred things to love in this particular clip, starting with the dude playing the triangle in the opener.
You guys. Seriously. THE TRIANGLE.
Also I’ve decided that this series needs to begin issuing TAMBOURINE ALERTS. (Never met a tambourine I didn’t love.) Since we’re on the subject of the incredible array of instruments featured in this performance, those are some sweet bongos and Lord give me allllllll the mercy and hand me my smelling salts for the close up of the wind chimes at 2:47. (Wind chimes? That…doesn’t seem right. Are they just plain old chimes? Eh, I suppose since we’re talking about boating we’ll let it stand.)
The other thing that caught my attention was Christopher Cross’s baby blue football jersey. Because right? Love that he appears to have just tossed on any old thing and cruised out on stage. You do you, Christopher Cross. In a fit of curiosity, I emailed Frond of the Fern Bar Katie Baker for an assist on identifying the provenance of the shirt Christopher Cross is sporting in that video. In a flash she was back to me with the answer: it’s a Houston Oilers #34, Earl Campbell, jersey. After I finished losing my mind over how the Oilers are the ferniest (former) NFL team, I fell down a wee rabbit hole. Are you familiar with Luv Ya Blue? No, nor was I, but take a gander at this:
In the early 1970s, the Houston Oilers had fallen on hard times. In 1975, Bum Phillips was hired as the coach and ushered in a new era for the Oilers. With the help of stars such as Billy "White Shoes" Johnson and Elvin Bethea, the Oilers had their first winning season of the decade in 1975. In 1978, the Oilers drafted one of the most dominant running backs in college football, Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell of the University of Texas. Campbell went on to become the NFL Rookie of the Year, as well as the Most Valuable Player in 1978.
Led by the charismatic Phillips, the team quickly became a sensation in Houston. Many team members, including Campbell, began adopting Phillips "good ole boy" attitude by wearing cowboy boots and "ten gallon" cowboy hats. As the 1978 season progressed, Campbell contributed such a large part of Houston’s offense that many fans began referring to the team as the Houston "Earlers". This would soon change, however, as Campbell himself would give Oilers fans another catchphrase to use while cheering for their team.
On November 20, 1978, the Oilers took on the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. In order to boost team spirit, the Oilers gave each fan a blue and white pompom before the game. The sight of over 70,000 fans waving the pompoms inspired the Oilers to a 35-30 victory, behind Campbell’s 199 rushing yards. After the game, Campbell stated, "The display of ‘Luv Ya Blue’ was a chance for people of all races and backgrounds to come together as a city. More than that, it was a feeling that the players and fans shared without even talkin’. We owed it all to one man: Bum Phillips."
If you don’t think every single part of that is a goddamn delight, I don’t want to know you. Please leave my bar. Pom-poms won the game! (And oh right, Campbell’s 199 rushing yards. Love how that was such an afterthought to the Wikipedia editor in charge of this article.) And also, the Houston "Earlers"??? A delight! An utter delight! And and and! BUM PHILLIPS. Bum Phillips and Elvin Bethea are precisely the sort I’d expect would be regulars at Rita’s.
Speaking of Rita’s, shall we discuss this week’s drink pairing? It’s the Sea Breeze! (Good one, eh?) The Sea Breeze is a vodka-based drink with grapefruit juice and a splash of cranberry and it goes a little something like this:
1 ½ oz vodka
4 oz grapefruit juice
1 ½ oz cranberry juice
In a highball glass, pour vodka over ice. Fill partially with grapefruit juice; top with cranberry juice. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Might I suggest that you spike your garnish with a cocktail sword to evoke the pirate notes attendant to a song about seafaring?
And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go swan about in the manner of an interpretive dancer while the Christopher Cross/Michael McDonald debate swirls on like so many layers of chiffon.