Dire Straits, Pick Withers And The Winter Break Of My Discontent

February 27, 2009

Here, it is often said that if you don’t like the weather, wait twenty-four hours. Actually, I’ve been trying to inject new blood into that maxim by saying, if you don’t like the weather, move ten feet to the right.

It hasn’t caught on, yet.

The reason I’m even considering the weather is that after a couple days of warmth, tonight it’s cold again and I’m trying to remember the last place I lived that didn’t have a draft.

Psychologically, I wonder if I now associate a draft with the concept of “home.”

But having grown up in the lower Midwest, I was accustomed to cold from October through the end of March – none of this low 70s in January nonsense. There were no days off from the raw temperatures.

The shame that Paloma and I won’t have kids is that I could deliver that parental speech triangulating long distances, heavy snow, and walking to school backed by true experience. It would be an Oscar-worthy performance.

As I student at a large university, on an average day, between hiking to classes and work, I was probably trekking at least five miles (thank God for the Walkman).

One winter, I was stuck working through Christmas Eve. The campus was empty and I was crashing at a house owned by my girlfriend’s uncle.

The girlfriend’s brother lived there as did two of her cousins and a couple of other friends. No one remained, though, except for the roommate who managed a Pizza Hut (think Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed & Confused, except, you know, managing a Pizza Hut).

I watched a lot of late-night cable, slept on the couch under a mountain of blankets, and worked myself into a state of catatonia due to the relentless boredom.

I was also going through some kind of Dire Straits phase which lasted for a good six months. On one of those nights during that holiday break, I stayed up ‘til dawn taping every song by Dire Straits, A to Z, from their debut up through Brothers In Arms. I think I even threw guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack work into the mix.

(has anyone gotten a large government grant, yet, to study OCD in music fans?)

Poor Dire Straits. Has any band that was the biggest in the world – as Knopfler and company arguably were with the album Brothers In Arms – been so lightly regarded?

Of course, since that winter and following spring, I’ve rarely listened to Dire Straits even though I own everything save for their final studio album. Their songs pop up randomly on the iPod, though, and it’s a reminder that they did have some fantastic stuff.

And they also had a drummer named Pick Withers.

It’s a name that I just like to say from time to time

Dire Straits – Water Of Love
I always thought that Water Of Love was the underrated gem from Dire Straits’ debut.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, it’s always been one of my favorites by them.

Dire Straits – Tunnel Of Love
Is there a consensus on the best Dire Straits’ album? I’d have to go with Making Movies and Tunnel Of Love is that record’s stellar opener. Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band plays piano on it.

It has a way cool cover, too.

Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
Musically and lyrically, Brothers In Arms is astonishingly evocative.

Mark Knopfler – The Long Road
The Long Road was from one of Knopfler’s soundtrack efforts for a movie called Cal. I seem to recall watching the film in college with a friend and it was so slow and depressing that we only made it halfway through (it’s a pretty grim flick about the IRA).

The song is pretty, though, and strangely hopeful sounding.

If you want an engaging, overlooked film with a Knopfler soundtrack, find a copy of Local Hero. Every time I think of it, I suggest to Paloma the idea of running a bed and breakfast in a small, seaside Scottish village.

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Herr Jack Heads For The Deutsche Ecke In The Sky

February 25, 2009

As freshman in high school, my friends and I had a choice between a language to study – German or Spanish. Several of us opted for the former for the sole reason that we knew the Spanish club made an almost annual trek south of the border.

We had our sights set trans-Atlantic (although the German club had only made that trip once). We placed our hopes in the hands of Herr Jack (as he was known to us).

Herr Jack’s surname was German and it translated into “bow maker,” a fact of which we were reminded daily. It might have struck us as oddly compulsive, but it did not strike us as foreshadowing.

His obsession with Latin might have provided another hint at his impending collapse. Entering class, Herr Jack would soon be delivering an impassioned speech on the value of learning Latin; his example would always be “caido” – to kill. He would ask for English derivations and we would offer the obvious ones such as homicide and suicide.

After witnessing regular performances of this skit, I prepared for the next occurrence, compiling a list and dazzling him with vulpicide and other words decidedly difficult to make use of in casual conversation.

He was impressed.

We just thought he was a frustrated Latin teacher.

Soon, it was the buzzing of the clock in the classroom that had Herr Jack’s attention. The noise was outside the hearing range of my classmates and I (as well as most canines), but it drove him to distraction, resulting in entire classes lost while Herr Jack bellowed – his eyes bulging and perspiration beading on his balding pate – about the non-existent irritant.

His antics grew increasingly puzzling. He would decide that a lovely winter’s day would be the perfect time to have class outside in an area he had dubbed the Deutsche Ecke (or, German Corner).

We managed to convince him that, perhaps, we should watch a Deutschland Spiegel filmstrip indoors rather than conjugate verbs in the sub-zero weather outdoors.

The madness behind Herr Jack’s methods became apparent one day in gym class. In the locker room, several of us were admiring the towel that Wayne, our school’s star wrestler, had wrapped around his waist – a simple white towel marked as the property of the state mental institute.

“I got it from my old man,” he replied. “He came back with a dozen from the last time he was in.”

We all nodded with admiration and interest. At fifteen, this was new and uncharted ground for us. It was like those kids finding the dead body in the movie Stand By Me.

“Hey, you know what?” Wayne asked, addressing us. “Did you know that my old man did time there with Mr. Bogenhersteller about ten years ago? They used to play checkers and bet on baseball games on the television.”

It wasn’t long after this revelation that we entered German class one afternoon to find that Herr Jack had been replaced by a portly woman named Edna. We would all drop German the following year.

For me, Germany would have to wait for another fifteen years.

I learned that Herr Jack passed away last week.

Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Jack. I hope that you’ve found a Deutsche Ecke which is warmer than ours was that February day.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
I’ve posted this one before, but couldn’t it be argued that it is the most widely-known German pop song ever? Also, we were Herr Jack’s students in the autumn of 1983 when we began hearing Nena on 97X. We managed to get him to devote an entire class to listening to it (the German version, of course as radio quickly latched on to the English version).

Scorpions – No One Like You
I think that I long ago reached a saturation point on Rock You Like A Hurricane. Besides, my friend Brad had turned me on to the Scorpions with their previous record, Blackout, during the summer of 1982.

Actually, No One Like You got a fair amount of airplay in our part of the world – on radio and blaring out of the older kids Camaros and Trans Ams that summer.

Fury In The Slaughterhouse – Every Generation Got Its Own Disease
I received a copy of Fury In The Slaughterhouse’s album Mono in 1993 and did find this song to be interesting enough to hold on to it. It’s hypnotic and a bit menacing.

Aside from the fact that they were German, I knew (know) nothing about them, but, on their All-Music Guide entry, they are described as Germany’s U2 and have allegedly sold more records than any other band in that country (recently, passing the Scorpions).

Far Corporation- Stairway To Heaven
Far Corporation was a collection of German session musicians put together by producer Frank Farian (who would later work with Milli Vanilli). Rounding out the group was drummer Simon Phillips and several members of Toto including guitarist Steve Lukather. I believe Robin McAuley (who was in the group McAuley Schenker with guitarist Michael Schenker – who was a founding member of the Scorpions) handles the vocals.

Their cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven got a lot of airplay on our local album rock station for about two weeks in the autumn of 1985 (I imagine the public outcry was deafening). This version must be a single edit as the version I remember kicked into a thumping, bass-heavy instrumental section that reminded me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax where this one fades out.


One Doped Up Monkey Is Much Less Fun Than A Barrel Full Of Sober Ones

February 21, 2009

Amongst the rubble of headlines about global economic collapse, global social collapse, and the world in general losing its mind, there’s been the ongoing saga the past several days of that berserk chimpanzee.

You’ve possibly heard of the domesticated monkey – former star of commercials – who went mental and mauled a friend of its owner. It was sobering.

I realized that this chimp had achieved a level of notoriety that most people never will (one of most people being me which made it sobering). Of course, I think that notoriety would clash with my reclusive nature.

It’s undeniably a sad, ghastly incident, but, apparently, the police report that was filed had the monkey’s owner admitting to spiking the simian’s tea with anti-anxiety medication.

It’s true that most of the population has been conditioned to believe that there’s a pill to remedy any issue, real or imagined. But, if the report is true, what would make someone think it might be a good idea to give prescription drugs to a creature that, while “domesticated,” is best suited to be roaming around in the wild?

If ever in such a situation and I reach the same conclusion, I do hope a little voice inside my head suggests I reconsider.

There’s something strange about this human/monkey mishap coming so close on the heels of the recent anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. I can’t help but wonder what he would have made of these recent turn of events.

Peter Gabriel – Shock The Monkey
In the fall of ’82, I was still sticking to a musical diet of whatever was on Top 40 radio. Shock The Monkey was certainly one of the most unusual songs that I had heard within that limited format and was my first exposure to Mr. Gabriel.

I was fortunate enough to see him live on his tour for Us in ’93 – incredible band, amazing music, and certainly one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.

The Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven
Paloma and I caught The Pixies on their reunion tour several years ago. It was her birthday present that year. Personally, they were a bit hit and miss for me during their late ’80s heyday, but Monkey Gone To Heaven is an odd, little gem that was all over college radio (at least where I was).

Gorillaz – Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head
You know, since the turn of the century, I really have had less and less sense of what is popular in music, so I was a bit surprised that, commercially speaking, Gorillaz have had considerable success here in the States. I’d have bet anything that the animated band from England would be one those acts that had failed to attract the same widespread audience as in their homeland.

Good for us. Gorillaz are more fun than killing strangers.

Aldo Nova – Monkey On Your Back
Hard rock was something else that I really didn’t hear much until I ventured outside the world of Top 40 music. But Aldo Nova was one of the first pop-metal acts to make it onto pop playlists with his song Fantasy during the summer of 1982.

By the time his second album came out in the fall of 1983, I had branched out and was mostly listening to album rock stations and, when I could get reception, alternative rock station 97X. Monkey On Your Back was massive on the former.

Joe Satriani – Psycho Monkey
I’m not overly familiar with guitarist Joe Satriani, but I’ve found what I have heard of his music to be clean and melodic. Psycho Monkey has a bit more grit to me (though I much prefer the stellar Ceremony from the same album, Crystal Planet).