“And the beer I had for breakfast
Was so good that I had one more
–Johnny Cash, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
Around our house, I’m the one who does breakfast. On any given Saturday and/or Sunday, I take over the kitchen and turn it into a diner. Chicken-fried steak. Homemade waffles. French Toast. Eggs Benedict. These are just a few of the specialties on the breakfast menu that are in my wheelhouse. And I’m a purist with my cooking gear, too. Probably 90 percent of my culinary handiwork is done with one of my cast-iron skillets. It’s hard to get more old school than by frying up a rasher of bacon upon a pan of hot iron.
And that is exactly what I did this past weekend. There is something therapeutic to keeping four gas burners under control as you cook up some meat, eggs and hash browns while making sure none of it turns into flames, and then charcoal. Nothing beats frying up a pound (or more) of bacon, pouring off all but a tablespoon or two of grease, and then scrambling up a mess of eggs in what is left, picking up all the bits and flecks of bacon from the bottom of the skillet in the process. It’s the kind of meal that can put your head in the right place before you face the whining and complaining of your daughters letting you know in no uncertain terms that there is “nothing” to eat.
Yes. You heard that right.
I will have a dozen or more slices of bacon fried up, with eggs ready to scramble, and a mountain of hash browns all crispy and good set for their plates…And the girls will look at me like I am trying to feed them hard-boiled cabbage and pickled beets. My younger daughter, Little Sis has become so conditioned to McDonald’s breakfasts on our many roadtrips that she treats hash browns in any form other than an elliptical patty to be the equivalent of a plate of spiders.
And then there is our nine-year-old, Maddo. She will ask for a piece of bacon. Now, any normal person, when having bacon put in front of them will waste no time in devouring every bit of meat and fat, almost before it can be put on their breakfast plate.
But, give Maddo a piece of bacon, walk away for an hour, and the thing will look like its ends have met a cheese grater, but will remain largely untouched. The next move by either of the girls will be to ignore the rest of my handiwork and then tear into the cupboard and empty out whatever box of “fortified” sugar they can get their hands on. And they follow this up by, inevitably, spilling most of their cereal and a good amount of milk all over the kitchen counter, floor and any and all nearby tabletops.
It’s times like these when I put on my breakfast-making music playlist.
There are certain songs that go best with certain occasions. Van Halen’s “Panama” is prefect for any time you get behind the wheel and blast your car up to 80. (Or, when you just want to remember what it was like to be in the 10th grade in 1984.) “Tracks Of My Tears” is made for remembering the first girl who broke your heart. There might not be a finer Christmas song around than Darlene Love’s version of “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home).
So, it should be no surprise that there are certain songs that work perfectly during the breakfast-making experience. These are songs that sound best when you’re taking the bacon out of the package, dipping the French bread into the egg-and-milk mixture, or warming up the maple syrup for those waffles coming off a hot iron. They also take some of the sting out of your kids turning up their noses at what you have created in favor of a bowl of Lucky Charms.
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” — The Byrds
Whether you want to call it country rock, alt-country or modern hillbilly music, the Byrds invented it 50 years ago with this, the leadoff track from their “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” album. It’s a cover of a Bob Dylan song, and while I’m not a big Dylan fan, this song is just the kind of subtle background music that you need for ensuring that the hash browns come out on the right side of crispy.
“Surrender” — Cheap Trick
I like to do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle while I oversee the breakfast grill. Mommy’s alright. Daddy’s alright. And Wil Shortz and the Times’ crossword creators are more than a little weird with their Sunday puzzle creations.
“Nineteen Forever” — Joe Jackson
This song came out in 1989, which was one of the best years of my life. I turned 21 that year, and while I was two years older than that age which Joe claimed he was always going to be, I felt the same as he. I also get a kick out of Joe lamenting The Who reuniting and selling out when I know that Joe now signs up for corporate and private gigs for six figures.
“The Weight” — The Band
Robbie Robertson may have written it, but (aside from one verse sung for some reason by Rick Danko), “The Weight” is a Levon Helm song through and through. And no one has ever sung a Levon Helm song better than Levon Helm. I think he ordered country ham before he laid down his head in Nazareth.
“Radiation Vibe” — Fountains of Wayne
You probably know FoW’s biggest hit, “Stacy’s Mom”. You certainly know the video starring one of the ex-Mrs. Rod Stewarts, Rachel Hunter. This is not that song, but the first track on FoW”s elf-titled 1996 debut. You crack you eggs a little harder on the line “Shine on, Shine on, Shine Onnnnnnnnnn”.
“I’d Still Choose You” — Al Green
Everyone knows “Let’s Stay Together.” You may have even played that classic at your own wedding. But this latter day rev-up from Rev. Al is for when, after years together, you are halfway through scrambling a half-dozen eggs…And your wife then informs you that she wants hers done over easy.
“Jessica” — The Allman Brothers Band
Dickey Betts was the not-so-secret weapon of the Allmans, even though he wasn’t name Allman. You could probably put “Ramblin’ Man” or “Whipping Post” here, too. But, this instrumental is the kind of backdrop you need for something labor-intensive like making Eggs Benedict.
“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” — Uncle Remus
I asked my seven-year-old daughter for a song selection to play when I was making breakfast. I was expecting her to suggest “Havana” by Camilla Cabello. Instead, she offered up this old-school Disney classic that goes great with making pancakes.
“Fanfare For The Common Man” — Aaron Copland
This is the ultimate “The Proceedings Will Now Commence” song. It may be the ultimate American song, too. Which makes it the soundtrack for doing up chicken-fried steak.
“Both Sides Now” — Judy Collins
It’s amazing how dusty a kitchen grill area can get when you’re making a breakfast burrito of leftover carnitas.
“Every Picture Tells A Story” — Rod Stewart
Take a bite out of these lines: “Spent some time feeling inferior/Standing in front of my mirror”. Combed my hair in a thousand ways/But I came out looking just the same.””Remember one thing/Don’t lose your head/To a woman that’ll spend your bread.”Getting desperate, indeed I was/Looking like a tourist attraction. “The women I’ve known/I wouldn’t let tie my shoe.”
Picking the best line from Rod’s greatest song is like having to choose between an omelette made with three kinds of pork and ribeye steak and eggs.
“1999” — Prince
Because…Prince. Also, he was known for a legendary love of pancakes.
“Sunday Morning Coming Down” — Johnny Cash
There was a time in my life (College: 1988-1991) when it was rare that I, and the majority of my frat buddy friends did not spend a Saturday night turning our bodies into reservoirs full of cheap Keystone Light-level beer, and even cheaper hobo swill like “Boone’s Farm Wild Mountain Wine, which came with a hilarious “warning” label to “SERVE VERY COLD”. And those nights were inevitably followed by Sunday mornings where we woke up felling like our heads had been impaled by railroad spikes and our bodies run over by a triple-car semi truck.
Those were the mornings when we would stagger our way down to a local breakfast joint, the name of which is lost to history, to begin the process of repairing ourselves. And the remedy often consisted of an order of chicken-fried steak, two eggs, a pile of hash browns, and all of it swimming in an ocean of country gravy. Also, coffee. So, so much coffee.
When you listen to “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” you are inside the biggest hangover known to man. Even on those mornings after which you didn’t have a single beer the night before, your head can ache when you hear Johnny Cash sing about that beer he had for breakfast. And you might even be reaching for a couple of Advil by the time the Man in Black has downed that second one for dessert.
There is something about the words of Kris Kristofferson wrote and which Johnny Cash sung that just leaves you wanting to fry up as much bacon as possible and breathe in every crispy scent of it as it fries up in front of you. And by the time the song is over, your breakfast should be ready for the plate.