Hookers Must Wear Shoes

April 30, 2008

It was my first trip to the nation’s capitol, a trip undertaken with my friend Tyler to see another friend’s band play. They had played the night before in Philadelphia and we were still sobering up – a condition we quickly set to rectify with a few pre-gig drinks at a bar in Georgetown – when we arrived in D.C.

The fact that our friend’s band had a tab at the club – The Bayou, I believe – necessitated that we continue to drink…and drink. By the end of the evening, Tyler and I were headed for next-day hangovers of at least 7.5 on the Richter scale.

However, my thoughts were only on food as we trekked back to our hotel in the early morning hours. For twenty-odd blocks, Tyler endured me bemoaning that nothing was open.

“How could this be?” I lamented. “How can there be nowhere to get food in our nation’s capitol?”

If logic had not been sent out of the room by alcohol (or, more likely, stormed out in a frustrated huff), I would have connected the dots and realized that it was quite late for most any city regardless of its position in the pecking order of world affairs. But, suddenly, fate flagged me down with an opportunity – we couldn’t quite remember our room number.

“I know it’s on the third floor,” I said. “If I’m wrong, you have to go find me some food.”

“And if I’m right?”

“I’ll go.”

I was wrong.

I did the honorable (and least intelligent) thing possible, wandering off into the night in a city where I had never been, squiffy and in search of food. I picked a direction and went with it, but I soon realized that things were looking progressively dodgy with each block I went.

I considered the idea of turning back when I saw it – a gaudy, neon oasis in the form of a ramshackle liquor/convenience store.

I entered, procured goods – an armload of salty, crunchy things and chocolate, caramel items – and got in line. It was sketchy collection of ne’er-do-wells with darting eyes and, I suspect, concealed weapons.

Feeling a presence, someone else joining the procession to fulfill middle-of-the-night cravings and satisfy end-of-the-night needs, I half-turned and there stood a petite, black woman.

She was slight and willowy, and could have been a tiny dancer on top of a music box except for her attire – nothing more than a black thong under a see-through, thigh-length plastic raincoat.

She introduced herself as Tweety and a friend, wearing red go-go pants, as Simone. Tweety shattered the vacuous stupor of the crowd as a bunch of boggled-eyed men leered through bleary orbs and me, confused and, in an alcohol-induced haze, imagining this Tweety doing some kind of cartoon song and dance with Tweety bird.

She chatted me up as we shuffled along, nearing the counter. Finally, I stood before the register. The gruff, indifferent clerk looked up and over my shoulder. He was staring at Tweety and Simone.

“Uh-uh,” he grunted, shaking his head side to side under a mop of wiry, grey hair. It was obvious that he wasn’t pleased with their presence – competition for dollars, I suppose.

“I told you,” he said firmly. “You can’t be in here…without shoes.”

I looked down and Tweety was, indeed, barefoot.

Somewhere, I have a copy of Tom Waits’ Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis, but as I can’t find it and I seem to have no other hooker-themed songs, here’s Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot and a trio of cover versions.

Patti Smith – Dancing Barefoot

U2 – Dancing Barefoot

Johnette Napolitano – Dancing Barefoot
While I’d imagine most music fans are familiar with the Patti Smith and/or U2 versions of Dancing Barefoot, the same might not be true for Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano. The track appeared on a mid-’90s compilation, Spirit Of ’73: Rock For Choice, which found alt-rock acts of the period covering songs from the ’70s to benefit a pro-choice organization.

Die Cheerleader – Dancing Barefoot
Even more obscure than Johnette Napolitano’s version would be this take on the song by Die Cheerleader which was included on the soundtrack to the Pamela Anderson flick Barb Wire. A little research on allmusic.com explains that the band recorded only one album on Henry Rollins’ Human Pitbull label in 1995. Oddly enough, Johnette Napolitano also had a song on the Barb Wire soundtrack.

I Saw Styx Live And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

April 27, 2008

As a smoker, when I choose to enjoy tobacco during the workday, I am confined and corralled into a designated area like some livestock animal with a highly contagious disease. I don’t mind. I note that fact because you become a regular, seeing the same familiar faces each day as we all get a nicotine fix and a brief respite from the drudgery of our respective vocations.

I took note of one compatriot yesterday. It wasn’t because she bears an uncanny resemblance to washed-up ’70s glam rock icon and erstwhile convicted sex offender Gary Glitter in drag (or what I imagine he would look like in drag). What caught my eye was the Jackson Browne t-shirt she was wearing and, when she turned around, I realized it was a concert shirt (and of recent vintage, listing 2008 tour dates). It reminded me of a recent conversation with Paloma during which she lamented the vintage rock band t-shirts which are now a staple of retailers such as Target or readily available at stroke of a keyboard. Her implication – when we were kids, you earned your concert shirt.

The shirt in which Gary Glitter’s female doppelganger was clad was noticeably unworn and I have little doubt that it was purchased at the event. It tripped my thoughts to flashbacks of my high school years. Although we were far from the madding crowds, living in the sticks, there were three major markets for tours within a two-hour drive of our sleepy, agrarian hamlet. The day after a tour date in any of these nearby outposts of civilization, the hallways would be dotted with classmates attired in the badges of their triumphant attendance, adorned with the images of Van Halen, Billy Squier, Def Leppard, and The Kinks (who remained popular where I grew up both before and after their early ’80s resurgence).

Is this ritual still in place these days? Do these cloth trinkets still carry the same weight and afford the wearer with a cachet of cool? Or, as Paloma fears, has the ease and accessibility stripped concert shirts of such mystique?

Styx – Mr. Roboto
Yes, my very first concert was Styx and it so happened to be the infamous 1983 Kilroy Was Here tour, complete with a fifteen-minute movie prior to the band taking the stage which set-up the album’s concept of a dystopian future where rock music was banned (and everyone in the States had lost their jobs to robots from Japan). It almost wasn’t so as my mom had read a newspaper article about the band and the backwards masking on their song Snowblind (from 1981’s Paradise Theater). It’s quaint now to think that Styx was briefly thought to be in league with the devil (some music purists might concur), but it forced me to argue my case that my attendance would not be the first steps down a path to Hell. The ticket cost $13 and my first concert shirt – featuring Mr. Roboto’s leering mug – set me back another $16.

Rush – Tom Sawyer
Although we were only two hours from several venues, lack of funds, transportation, and ambition thwarted numerous potential concert ventures for me and my friends. There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity. Again, a ticket, shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less in 1985 than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

Survivor – Eye Of The Tiger
Survivor was hardly a hip pick to see live, although they were a constant presence on rock radio throughout the summer of 1985 with several songs from their Vital Signs album. The price of admission to see Survivor included a day at the theme park adjacent to the amphitheater where they performed and the band were rock enough for me and my friend Brad, but commercial enough to appeal to our girlfriends at the time. My decision to commemorate the occasion by purchasing a shirt remains inexplicable.

Warren Zevon – Searching For A Heart
From the time I entered college until the present, I have now seen hundreds of live shows, but I believe the last time I purchased a concert shirt was the one I bought fifteen years ago when I saw Warren Zevon perform for the third and what would prove to be the final time. Not only possibly the most comfortable t-shirt of any kind that I have ever owned, it also had a very cool skull with a cigarette dangling from its mouth on the front (which would be a kind of logo, appearing on the backs of Zevon’s later albums). The venue was a small club and there are two persistent memories, one being the idiot behind me who screamed for Zevon to perform Mohammed’s Radio after every song. I can’t recall if he ever did, but he did play this lovely (and surprisingly) heartfelt ballad which Warren introduced by observing, “This song has been on three movie soundtracks in the past year and I’m really hoping it becomes a hit, so I won’t have to be @#$%&! playing Werewolves Of London in Vegas when I’m seventy.” Additionally, a dear friend played bass in a band with the Lennon Brothers (who would have some success with their band Venice), who supply the gorgeous harmony vocals on this song.

Help Me, Burt Bacharach, You’re My Only Hope

April 26, 2008

I’ve often been the dissenting voice among friends in expressing some disdain for music snobbery, offering the view that the kids that will be alright will be alright, and defending their musical missteps. Today, the universe woke me up loudly with a sonic reminder that no good deed goes unpunished and I found myself muttering semi-coherent rants in a sleep-deprived state.

Every year, there is a marathon whose route includes the street outside my apartment, literally right beneath my bedroom window. The first time this happened, it took me unawares and my slumber was interrupted by runners in the street and bystanders on the sidewalk, applauding with each intermittent pack of primates exhibiting locomotive skills.

Today, though, there was a special twist. The occupants of the apartment below opted to have a band on the porch. Soundcheck commenced at 6:30 and by 7:00, I realized that I was trapped like Noriega and there was no way to sleep through what can only be described as Emerson, Lake & Palmer covering the Grateful Dead (sans the musicianship). It drowned out the applause of the observers, but it prompted hooting and hollering from the marathon participants.

The band – a bunch of paunchy, geeky white guys – soon set about disemboweling classic soul and funk by artists like Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown complete with extended jams. There was a lounge, kitsch version of Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger that was hardly the ironic, hipster moment that I imagine they had hoped it would be. I heard Proud Mary three times with the final rendition schizophonically teetering between a smoldering blues number and some stripped-down, bluegrass-tinged interpretation.

The performance led me to realize that alcohol consumption by the band doesn’t really enhance the performance except in rare cases like The Pogues. As the morning wore on and the beer began to flow, things rapidly deteriorated. I was hearing double.

The lead singer, though, remained committed to the show going on. Where early on, he stuck to formulaic banter that had me waiting for him to bellow, “Hello Cleveland!” he chose to go with the accidental experimentation of his rhythm section. Soon, he was yipping and yammering about sea turtles and the cosmos in some beat-poet cadence with an earnestness that would have made Jim Morrison jealous. If there is a Sea Turtle Anti-Defamation organization of some kind, they certainly will be issuing a grievance.

Five hours later, it was over. Bruce Springsteen is quite capable of playing three-plus hour sets that are spectacularly riveting, bordering on religious. This was not the E-Street Band. Whatever street they were from, it’s best that it’s from a place where they have no name.

So, for the rest of the day, or until I have a nap, the gloves are off. Should anyone dare play any music that doesn’t meet with my approval, I intend to ridicule their choice heartily and pummel them in the mid-section until their gums bleed.

Music snobs, I have heard the light.

Actually, pummeling and ridicule aside, I’m opting to counter the cacophony with some selections from the Burt Bacharach songbook – four pristine, impeccable, structured, sonically crafted gems.

Manic Street Preachers – Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

The Carpenters – (The Long To Be) Close To You

Herb Alpert – This Guy’s In Love With You

Dionne Warwick – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again