Everyone Wants To Beat Daniel-san’s Ass

March 10, 2013

kkEverytime I channel surf the past few weeks, there’s Ralph Macchio sulking, being oblivious or – most often – getting his ass kicked by every living soul whose path he crosses in one of the three Karate Kid flicks.

I was roughly the age of high school student and social pariah Daniel-san, the character Macchio was playing, when The Karate Kid opened in theaters in the summer of 1984.

(Macchio was, at the time, already in his forties)

The movie was, as I recall, an unexpected hit.

I saw it, as did most of my friends, at the old theater in our hometown. It was slight but entertaining and, of course, we all dug Mr. Miyagi who came from another world and possessed wisdom dispensed in riddles.

But Daniel-san…

It’s tough to be the new kid in town, but, having had three decades to reflect on the situation, I have to wonder if Mrs. LaRusso moved him three-thousand miles from New Jersey to Southern California to escape the shame of having an offspring whose mere presence instilled instant hostility and hatred in those around him.

(it couldn’t have been simply the lure of a secretarial job)

And then, she comes to find that there is no East Coast bias when it came to wanting to open a can of whoop-ass on the fruit of her loins.

Yes, you could have put Daniel LaRusso in a room with Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Ghandi, and the peace-loving threesome would have reduced Daniel-san to a pulpy heap identifiable only by dental records.

In truth, not only were Daniel-san and I roughly the same age in 1984, his attire led me to believe that he had been raiding my closet. I should have identified with the kid I was seeing on the screen.

I didn’t.

No one did.

The only people that seemed to dig Daniel-san were Elisabeth Shue and my girlfriend at the time.

(and though the girlfriend was googly moogly for Macchio, her five-year old brother – who loved The Karate Kid – also wanted to kick his ass)

And what about Elisabeth Shue’s interest in this human piñata?

She had money, she was a cheerleader, she was a fetching blonde whose student body was seemingly popular with the entire student body…

…and she would later graduate from Harvard and win an Academy Award nomination.

And she was smitten with Daniel-san.

It was inexplicable.

But, when I come across The Karate Kid on cable, I pause. I watch for the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi, but I also watch because there’s something about watching Daniel-san receive a beating that restores order to the universe.

The Karate Kid also served as an introduction for most of America to Bananarama, whose Cruel Summer appeared briefly in the movie and became a hit with its inclusion on the soundtrack.

Here are four songs from Bananarama…

Bananarama – He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’

Bananarama – Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)
from Deep Sea Skiving (1983)

My buddy Beej brought a lot of new music to us via his uncle, a college professor who lived in the city. So, we knew of Tears For Fears, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and Echo & The Bunnymen well before we might have heard them on the radio.

Bananarama was another one. The trio’s Deep Sea Skiving might not have been more than a cult hit in the States, but I did hear He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ and Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) often when 97X went on the air in autumn of 1983.

The former was a cover of a minor hit by Motown girl group The Velvelettes and the breezy, tropical vibe of the song was augmented by a guest appearance by Fun Boy Three, a trio comprised of former members of UK ska group The Specials.

Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) was another cover but of a far better-known song which had reached #1 in 1969 as performed by the studio band Steam.

Bananarama – Cruel Summer

Bananarama – The Wild Life
from Bananrama (1984)

Bananarama’s self-titled second album actually arrived in the spring of 1984 and my buddy Beej was again tuned in, raving about Robert De Niro’s Waiting… which he had discovered via the song’s video being played on the fledgling Night Tracks on WTBS.

By the time we returned to school that autumn, the loping Cruel Summer had become Banarama’s US breakthrough hit, so the trio might have been the only people on the face that didn’t wish to do great violence to Ralph Macchio.

That autumn, Bananarama provided the title track for Cameron Crowe’s The Wild Life, a movie that I don’t even recall being in theaters. The song was belatedly added to the US version of Bananarama and, though stylistically in the vein of Cruel Summer, The Wild Life failed to replicate the group’s prior soundtrack success.

I totally dug those first two Bananarama records. Deep Sea Skiving was a lot of fun, the three girls were cute as buttons, and it’s still the only Bananarama I need to own.

Two years later, Bananarama fell into the clutches of producers Stock Aitken Waterman, scored a mammoth hit with yet another cover, Venus, and I was out.

The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

Killer On The Rampage…Somewhere

February 23, 2013

(rebroadcast from February, 2010, now with added calcium)

I read the news most days.

But, unlike my parents and their generation, I don’t make a point to watch a news broadcast each day, merely pausing on the news channels if something catches my attention.

The other night, as I was watching some basketball, there was a commercial for the local news. It was some perky chick yammering about a murder suspect possibly being loose – or, in the parlance of our legal system, on the lam – in the “mid-state area.”

Details, she assured me, would be provided at ten.

A killer? In our relatively calm, safe, usually unhomicidal neighborhood?

At ten, I actually went into a holding pattern with the remote. Perhaps this was news that I might need.

(of course, if it had been truly vital information, shouldn’t they have told me twenty minutes earlier?)

It ended up being a murder that seems to have resulted from a domestic disturbance. I’m not even sure if the town where the crime had taken place is even in the station’s broadcast area.

Hardly clear and present danger.

Dodgy attempts to attract viewers aside, this station lost any credibility with Paloma and me long ago. One evening, we happened to be watching and there was a report on a murder at a restaurant in the wee hours earlier that morning.

And the visual accompanying the words was of someone dropping a couple of slices of pizza onto a restaurant’s kitchen floor. The camera was focused on the prone pie pieces as the broadcast moved on to Rudy with sports.

We turned to each other and stared. To borrow from the late, great Bill Hicks – our expressions were like two dogs that had been shown a card trick.

Here is a quartet of songs inspired by real-life murderers…

The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays
from The Fine Art Of Surfacing (1979)

San Diego teenager Brenda Spencer shot two adults, killing them, and wounded eight children from her bedroom window in 1979. Her explanation for her deeds was “I don’t like Mondays.”

For The Boomtown Rats, the song was on its way to becoming their American breakthrough when the Spencer family threatened legal action and the label stopped promoting the song.

Thirty years later, the wickedly dark and totally catchy almost hit is rightfully regarded to be a classic from the period.

Die Toten Hosen – Gary Gilmore’s Eyes
from Learning English, Lesson One (1991)

The Dead Pants – that’s the English translation of German punk band Die Toten Hosen’s name.

That was enough to make me snag a promo copy of Learning English, Lesson One one day at work. I was glad I did as it was more fun than killin’ strangers.

Killin’ strangers is what led to Giilmore being executed in a well-publicized affair in the mid-’70s. He requested that his eyes be donated for transplant.

Gary Gilmore’s Eyes is a cover of The Adverts’ original from the late ’70s.

Concrete Blonde – Jonestown
from Mexican Moon (1992)

I was in junior high when the Jonestown massacre occured and over 900 people, at the urging of Jim Jones, drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid. I remember the vivid images in Newsweek magazine and the television mini-series that had me and my friends tripping the next day at school.

I think it was one of my first what-the-@#$%! (international division) moments in my life.

As for Concrete Blonde, I always mentally shortlist them as one of the acts of the late ’80s/early ’90s that deserved a bigger audience.

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
from Nebraska (1982)

In 1982, I mostly knew Bruce Springsteen for the user-friendly The River from two years earlier. I was bumfoozled when I heard the stark Nebraska.

I was in college when Springsteen released the mammoth Live/1975–85. If you weren’t there, I assure you that the hype surrounding the five-album set was considerable.

Hearing some of the songs live prompted me to really spend some time with Nebraska.

(I quickly understood the praise heaped on it over the years)

Nebraska‘s title song was inspired by the two-month killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the ’50s.

Those events also inspired the 1973 movie Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. I remember Badlands airing on prime-time television with those parental warnings that only served to make the movie a must-see event to a kid.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.