#964: Mile A Second by Burton Cummings
Burton Cummings is the former lead singer and keyboardist for the Winnipeg, Manitoba, based rock ‘n roll band The Guess Who. He was with the band from 1965 to 1975. Cummings sang, wrote or co-wrote many hit songs. These include “American Woman”, “Clap For The Wolfman”, “Hand Me Down World”, “Laughing”, “No Time”, “Share The Land”, “Star Baby” and “These Eyes.” His solo career includes many hit singles, including “I’m Scared”, “My Own Way To Rock” and “Fine State Of Affairs”. His first solo hit single was “Stand Tall”, in 1976, which was his biggest hit as a solo recording artist.
Cummings was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1947. When he was sixteen he dropped out of high school. In 1962, while only fifteen, Cummings founded a band named the Deverons. All members of the band learned to play by ear. Cummings played piano, saxophone and lead vocals. Their high school dance concerts comprised of covers of songs from the late 50’s and early 60’s including “This Time” by Troy Shondell, “Wild Weekend” by The Rebels, “Sheila” by Tommy Roe and “Only Love Can Break A Heart” by Gene Pitney. The Deverons released a couple of singles and Cummings got some positive word-of-mouth and reviews in the local Winnipeg papers. This was pretty exciting for bandmates who still all lived in their parents homes.
In January 1966 Cummings was asked to join another Winnipeg band, The Guess Who, when keyboardist Bob Ashley left the group. By May 1966 Burton Cummings became the lead vocal for the group when Chad Allen left to pursue solo work and host the CBC TV show Let’s Go. While Cummings was with The Guess Who the band scored twenty-one Top 20 hits in Canada, including three number one singles. In 1975 Cummings began a solo career after The Guess Who disbanded. That year he added backing vocals for Eric Carmen’s track, “Marathon Man,” from his Boats Against The Current album.
Cummings first two solo albums all went double-platinum in Canada, and his third solo album, Dream of A Child, went triple-platinum. From this album came four single releases. The first was “Break It To Them Gently” and the second was “I Will Play A Rhapsody”. Cummings next album, Woman Love, included several singles including “Fine State Of Affairs” and “Mile A Second.” The latter New Wave influenced single seems to have only charted in Vancouver.
“Mile A Second” is a song about a guy who concludes he is out of his league by trying to keep up with a love interest who has far more going on in terms of energy, vitality and pace of life. We don’t know if the woman he is trying to be in relationship with is conscious of how her fast pace is effecting the guys’ self-worth and growing doubts about being able to keep up with her. The lyrics don’t give us a narrated plot. Instead, it is a snapshot of how this man is finding the pace of the new relationship a very steep learning curve. In fact, he doesn’t think he’s gonna be able to last.
Can we date someone who is out of our league? Of course, no one is invincible, and despite our assessment that the person we are interested in dating is too funny, handsome or pretty, fit, smart, wealthy or (fill in the blank) it is up to the person we judge to be out of our league to tell us what they think. In the case of “Mile A Second,” although the guy in the song is finding the pace of things unmanageable, the person he is going out with must see something in him, otherwise he’d be single. It’s possible that the partner in the song might not need him to accompany her in all her fast-paced activities. She might even like him in part, because, he goes at a slower pace than she does. If Burton Cummings had written a sequel to the song, we might have found out if he took time to talk to his partner about his worries about the viability of the relationship. She might have been quite flexible about making some adjustments so he didn’t feel like he was left in the dust all the time. But that sequel was never written.
Cummings has lived in both California and Winnipeg. The Guess Who have toured from time to time on reunion tours since 2000. He has performed in concert with the Bachman-Cummings Band and also gone on tour as a solo act. Cummings has received the Order of Canada and published a book of poetry titles The Writings of B.L. Cummings.
August 9, 2017
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