Close Encounters Of The Cheap Trick Kind

June 12, 2008

As I believe I have mentioned in an earlier entry, Paloma and I will soon be attending her family reunion where I intend to grill her father and grandfather – both retired Air Force colonels – about our government’s knowledge of extraterrestrial life. As such is the case, I’ve been thinking about the aliens much of late.

Seeing the the movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind was a dazzling experience of sight and sound for me as a child. Of course, aliens have a particular allure to children, young and old. It wasn’t until I was older and had fallen in love with music that the means used to communicate with the visitors truly resonated with me.

I still find it wholly brilliant and a lovely concept that music would be the conduit between humans and whatever beings that might exist in distant worlds. Although the movie incorporated a five-note sequence based on the teachings of Zoltan Kodaly, I wondered what might be the one song I’d play for extraterrestrials to explain the concept of rock and roll – four minutes of sheer perfection exemplifying the form.

I believe I’d be inclined to play Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me for them.

In fact, I wouldn’t be hesitant to declare that Cheap Trick is one of America’s greatest rock bands. No, I’m not speaking from a standpoint of influence or artistry (although they have been influential and have had moments of great artistry, although maddeningly erratic), but rather from the position that they might be as close as this country has come to producing our own Beatles – guitar, bass, drums, and four distinct personalities with a cache of classic songs that sound perfect blaring from the stereo.

I Want You To Want Meis a flawless example – a divinely glorious cacophony of Rick Neilsen’s guitar riffs, the sonic drive of the rhythm section of Tom Petersson and Bun E. Carlos, and the peerless vocal charisma of Robin Zander (accompanied by several thousand manic Japanese fans). It’s simplicity at its finest and a melody of the sweetest imaginable, a song that manages to capture the joyous exuberance of rock and roll and the timeless theme of longing, leaving the listener wanting more (at least this one and several thousand manic Japanese fans).

I think the aliens would get it. I think that they’d dig Rick Neilsen, provided that he didn’t beat them up – a fate that I once felt certain awaited me following a possibly ill-advised remark I made in defense of my cigarettes (somewhere I have a pack autographed by all four Tricksters).

Yeah, I think that Cheap Trick might just be the way to go if we want to promote intergalactic goodwill when the aliens finally arrive. They might not have the grace and elegance of those five notes from the movie, but if you’re going to do bong hits with E.T., I suggest Cheap Trick.

So, here’s to alien life everywhere and, as my new-found friends would certainly be smitten with Cheap Trick after hearing I Want You To Want Me, I’ve included another three of my favorites by the lads from Rockford.

Cheap Trick – I Want You To Want Me (live at The Budokan)

Cheap Trick – Surrender

Cheap Trick – If You Want My Love

Cheap Trick – Mandocello


The Man Doesn’t Want You To Dance And The Man Doesn’t Want You To Know How To Fight For Your Right To Dance, Either

June 8, 2008

Paloma has never seen the movie Footloose. It surprised me to learn of this fact because we are nearly the same age and, as far as I know, everyone our age saw Footloose in 1984.

I knew little of the crushing, oppressive nature of totalitarian regimes before Footloose. Sure, we were at the height of Cold War tensions in 1984, but the Soviets merely wanted to nuke us like microwave bacon; they didn’t want to stop us from dancing.

Then, I saw Footloose – as a double bill with Flashdance at our local drive-in no less – and saw the peril to personal freedom that could result from unchecked power and a failure to separate church and state (especially when John Lithgow is involved).

And, thanks to Kevin Bacon, I learned that petulance, Bible passages, encouragement from the owner of the local grain mill, and Kenny Loggins was all that was necessary for one man to fight tyranny.

So, you can imagine my delight when I saw that Footloose was showing this evening on one of the cable stations. In these days of wire taps, the Patriot Act, and all-expenses-paid trips to Guantanamo on certain people’s agendas, the lessons of Footloose are more important than ever.

But no, it was not to be. Of late, some of our cable channels will simply freeze as though the interns at the station have gotten stoned and paused the DVD – “Dude, it’s like we have the power to stop time.”

Paloma and I settled in and turned to the appropriate channel but instead of Kevin Bacon, there was Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, motionless and inert. I could only wonder if it was the result of stoned interns working the weekend shift at TV Land or something more sinister. Perhaps from some undisclosed bunker, Dick Cheney doesn’t want the subversive lessons of Footloose to be viewed by the American people.

We ended up watching The Family Stone which, coincidentally, starred Sarah Jessica Parker who also appeared in Footloose. In one scene, she got liquored to the gills, dancing drunkenly to a song on the bar jukebox.

I turned to Paloma. “She has Kevin Bacon to thank for that dance.”

Rage Against The Machine – The Ghost Of Tom Joad
I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought (and still think) some of their lyrics and politics to be half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2, made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of their music. This has become one of my favorite Springsteen songs and their version is a stellar marriage and music.

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
John Lithgow didn’t approve of dancing and the Sharif didn’t like “that boogie sound.” But it doesn’t matter if you’re a farm kid in the hinterlands of America or a Bedouin in the deserts of the Middle East, The Man will try to keep you down if you let him.

Bruce Cockburn – If I Had A Rocket Launcher
Fortunately for John Lithgow, it didn’t come to armed conflict in Footloose, but I have no doubt that Kevin Bacon was keeping all of his options on the table. Unfortunately, this song is all that most people know of Bruce Cockburn, one of the more underrated artists out there. I met him once, following a show, and he was as cordial, gracious, and unassuming as any musician I’ve encountered.

Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’- Fly Me Courageous
I remember seeing the video for Fly Me Courageous in the middle of the night while I was in college and being blown away by its monstrous groove. It still never fails to make me stop whatever I’m doing when I hear it.


Damn You, Christopher Cross And Your Siren Song Glamorizing An Outlaw Way Of Life And Stirring Up Feelings Of Wanderlust

June 5, 2008

As I made my way to work the other morning, one of the 20,000 songs on my iPod randomly popped up and, as it played, it prompted an epiphany. The revelation was spurred by the gentle strains of erstwhile yacht rocker and flamingo enthusiast Christopher Cross – it surprised the hell out of me.

He was declaring his intention to ride like the wind (with some help from Michael McDonald).

I was twelve when I first heard this musical mission statement and it was in my seventh grade homeroom class. Our teacher, Mrs. Wilson, was a willowy blonde with a megawatt smile (she could have stepped out of a Beach Boys’ song) who would let us play albums every Friday afternoon. Christopher Cross was her choice.

Outside, it was raining – a dreary backdrop to compliment the ennui of our small town in the rural Midwest. Inside, Christopher Cross was a renegade troubadour, boasting how he “always spoke [his] mind with a gun in [his] hand” as he fled for the border of Mexico.

Of course, some time later when I saw this portly desperado on Solid Gold it was obvious that he was more likely to speak his mind with a ham sandwich in his hand and – if he was fleeing anywhere – it would probably be to a buffet and a heaping plate of everything smothered in gravy.

It mattered not; his imagery had triggered something in me. I, too, wanted to ride like the wind, far beyond the bowling alley on the far outskirts of our town, beyond which was the rest of the world.

I’m not sure if Christopher Cross is completely responsible, but he certainly helped me to tap into the inner nomad I hadn’t known existed. And, after some consideration, for whatever part he played, perhaps I owe him a thank you. Without him and his desire to ride like the wind, there’s a lot of the world I might have never felt compelled to see.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
Nearly twenty years after this song was a hit, several friends and I were playing pool at a bar where we were regulars. There was the consumption of alcohol and one friend opted to select Ride Like The Wind on the jukebox. As it played, a college kid came up to us, pointing back to a friend at the bar, he informed us that “this song is by my friend’s dad.” Yes, it was Cross’ son. Nice kid, but he couldn’t explain the flamingos that adored all of his dad’s album covers.

Christopher Cross – Sailing
The one-two punch of Ride Like The Wind and Sailing had me hooked and I, like some five million other people, had a copy of Cross’ debut album. So wispy it’s barely there, I still get “lost in the reverie” whenever I hear this song. The man obviously was looking to escape to somewhere, but, as opposed to the former song, on Sailing, Cross was in no hurry to get there.

Christopher Cross – All Right
Cross took three years between his debut and follow-up album – a ridiculously long period at the time. Not only did the rest of the world move on, but I made the quantum leap from twelve to fifteen which is twenty-one years in dog years and during that time I, like the rest of world, came to he startling realization that flamingos and rock and roll don’t mix. Twenty-five years later, I find All Right to be pleasant enough.

Christopher Cross – No Time For Talk
To satisfy my OCDish need to post a quartet of songs, I needed one more. Despite the involvement of Burt Bacharach, I wasn’t feeling Arthur’s Theme and I fear someone would knock at my door and demand my testicles if I opted for the steaming pile of mawkishness that is Think Of Laura (at least I could tolerate the former). Like All Right, which also was on his follow-up, No Time For Talk is pleasant enough.