More Than Merely A Man Of Science

May 22, 2009

(reposted from Tuesday sans music)

I once convinced a co-worker that cooking show host Alton Brown was actually musician Thomas Dolby, having adopted an American accent and working under a pseudonym.

I didn’t really, but tell me that Alton couldn’t be Dolby twenty years after She Blinded Me With Science.

And as Dolby pretty much didn’t exist for most music listeners other than that song of science, it isn’t so farfetched to think that he might have reinvented himself as Alton Brown. I mean, Alton is known for offering the scientific details behind things like brining the Thanksgiving turkey.

(I felt as though I had discovered fire the first time I brined the annual bird – it might have been one of the greatest moments in my life)

But, as far as I know, Thomas Dolby is not Alton Brown (or vice versa).

And it’s unfortunate that Dolby is known to few for an intriguing and diverse career. I’d forgotten that he performed on Foreigner’s song Urgent and Waiting For A Girl Like You (and isn’t it the keyboards – his keyboards – that make the latter?)

He also appeared on Def Leppard’s breakthrough Pyromania.

I knew more of Dolby’s music than most because of my friend Chris. Yeah, he dug The Golden Age Of Wireless, but it was that album’s follow-up, The Flat Earth, which he played constantly during the summer of 1984.

I remember that the video for Dolby’s cover of Dan Hicks’ I Scare Myself got played a bit (maybe on Friday Night Videos), but The Flat Earth was pretty much ignored.

That was quite unfortunate. It’s a lost classic.

For the next decade, Dolby would issue an occasional, underappreciated album. He also produced a trio of brilliant albums for another criminally ignored act, Prefab Sprout.

But Dolby hasn’t released new material since ‘92’s Astronauts & Heretics. He is rumored to be readying a new album for this year.

And I do so hope that his management books him a spot on Alton Brown’s show as a musical guest or pairs them in a buddy-cop flick.

Some recommended songs and personal favorites by Mr. Dolby…

One Of Our Submarines
from The Golden Age Of Wireless

I actually seem to recall hearing One Of Our Submarines on 97X, the one alternative rock station to which I had access, back in the day. The keyboard passage in it always reminded me of the theme to the television show The Six Million Dollar Man.

The Flat Earth
from The Flat Earth

Yes, Dolby has a well-deserved reputation as a techno boffin, but, despite the gadgetry, he somehow imbues his songs with more humanity than most more acoustic-based acts. The title song from The Flat Earth is strange and lovely – “The earth can be any shape that you want it to be.”

Screen Kiss
from The Flat Earth

The bittersweet, wistful Screen Kiss scrapes the sunny superficiality from the surface of Hollywood dreams and the myth of Southern California and finds a lot of crushed hopes and heartache.

Budapest By Blimp
from Aliens Ate My Buick

Dolby’s 1988 album Aliens Ate My Buick was a mixed bag. Working with folks like George Clinton, much of it is brittle funk that doesn’t always succeed in living up to its ambitions. On Budapest By Blimp, the funk is handled with a lighter touch (although the mid-section of the song has some searing guitar) and the song is one of the album’s highlights.

It really wouldn’t surprise me if Dolby had actually made the journey of the title track. He just seems like that kind of guy.

Eastern Bloc
from Astronauts & Heretics

Eastern Block with a nifty Bo Diddley beat is a musical sequel to the song Europa And The Pirate Twins from The Golden Age Of Wireless. That song told of a childhood friendship with a young girl who would grow up to be a supermodel. Apparently, Dolby has such an experience and, years later as an adult, the girl blew him off when their paths crossed in an airport.

Instead, he married actress Katherine Beller.

I Love You Goodbye
from Astronauts & Heretics

Aside from The Flat Earth – this might be my favorite Dolby song. Another song for people who think they know Thomas Dolby because they’ve seen the video a thousand times on VH1.

A cajun-inflected tale of corrupt local sherriffs and stolen cars on the road from New Orleans to the Everglades…I Love You Goodbye is evocative and mysterious.

Morgan Freeman Is Leading Us Down A Path To Economic Ruin

May 17, 2009

That headline is more than some sensationalistic ballyhoo. It’s more than some flimsy, baseless caterwauling from someone possessed by the spirit of a carnival barker, newsstand tabloid, or Republican pundit.

No, I fear that, sadly, there is considerable truth behind it.

Like many people, I too have been a fan of this award-winning thespian, but I now realize that I might have been lulled into a false sense of admiration.

I used to look at him as a kindly fellow – compassionate and wise. I mean, if he wasn’t offering rides to cantankerous, elderly women, you might find him engaging in the much-needed rehabilitation of falsely convicted criminals or – great Gotham! – lending logistical support to masked vigilantes wishing to rid our cities of such criminals.

(of course, lily-livered, bleeding heart types would rather that we not rid our streets of falsely convicted wife-killing bankers and, instead, target bankers who merely engage in casual games of multi-billion dollar three-card Monte)

The existential threat posed by Morgan Freeman to America came to my attention weeks ago, but it didn’t really register until this morning when I saw his most recent commercial for Visa before I’d ingested enough caffeine to think straight.

(oftentimes things only make sense when you don’t really think about them)

In this commercial, calming images of undersea flora and fauna fill the screen accompanied by the soothing strains of The Moody Blues’ Tuesday Afternoon.

Then, you hear the earnest voice of “the only guilty man in Shawshank,” asking, in an accusatory manner, “When was the last time you went to the aquarium, with your daughter, on a Tuesday?”

Sure, it sounds like a lovely way to spend the day after Monday. One of the finest aquariums in the country is a two-hour drive away and, though I have no daughter, the way some of my co-workers squeeze out offspring of both sexes as though it was a bodily function, I could likely borrow one…

But this is exactly what Morgan Freeman wants me to do. In other words, he is promoting not only truancy, but he is espousing a fiscal policy that encourages absenteeism from work.

This would all be well and good for aquarium barons, fishmongers, and oceanographers who would likely see profits that would make those of Exxon be mere pocket change, but at what cost?

Well, the rest of the economy would fall into a death spiral. If people were relaxing at aquariums instead of engaging in the daily grind of commerce, consider the revenue lost simply by those treating bleeding ulcers, intense malaise, and depression.

And the cost would extend to the next generation who – instead of learning how to take tests at a level that places them smack dab at mediocre compared to the rest of the world – would end up as ichthyologists or marine biologists.

Fortunately, today is Sunday and I suggest we all give Morgan Freeman (and his dubious, probably Socialist economic theories) the finger and head to the aquarium today.

Moonpools & Caterpillars – Sundays
from Lucky Dumpling

Joe Jackson – Sunday Papers
from Look Sharp!

‘Til Tuesday – On Sunday
from Welcome Home

The Pretenders – Everyday Is Like Sunday
from Boys On The Side soundtrack

Maybe I’ll Have Fleetwood Mac Perform At My Island Coronation

May 13, 2009

Inspiration strikes at the most wondrously random moments. The other day, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk popped up on shuffle.

I realized that somewhere, out there, there is a remote tropical paradise – white sandy beaches, warm water, hammocks, pineapple, and a pliant native population who has never seen a white man. It occurred to me that these people might easily be impressed with a single flick of my lighter.

I would be declared to be The Pale God Who Brings Fire and, as ruler, I would declare Tusk to be my island kingdom’s national anthem.

Of course, it could go horribly awry, I could be deemed a malevolent sorcerer, and end up in a bubbling cauldron as soup (making Rhiannon – Stevie Nicks’ ode to a Welsh witch – more appropriate).

Plans for colonial conquest aside, there’s something about Fleetwood Mac that makes me think summer.

Maybe it’s because of the summer of 1977. Even though I had little interest in music, Rumours was inescapable and I was well acquainted with the album having heard most of the songs on the rock station adding ambiance over the speakers at our public pool.

By the time Fleetwood Mac managed to follow-up Rumours with Tusk, two years had elapsed and my interest in music was still little more than background noise that I heard with friends.

Over the ensuing years, radio would make me quite familiar with Fleetwood Mac. A slew of their songs were staples and hits on several formats.

From the first hits of the Buckingham and Nicks’ era through Tango In The Night, there were songs I might have tired of hearing (Rhiannon), but not one that I disliked.

And strangely enough, I owed none of it until I snagged a copy of their four-CD box set The Chain as a cut-out for less than ten bucks. It’s most certainly one of the shoddiest box sets in the history of mankind.

(a kindergarten art class could have done a better job with the presentation and likely put the damned thing into chronological order, too)

The music, though, was amazing. It was the first time I’d heard the early music of Fleetwood Mac and the greatness of guitarist Peter Green.

(and Green deserves far, far more than this cursory mention)

As for the later period of the band, I was stunned to realize that while the stuff I didn’t know wasn’t essential, there was a consistency that was rather remarkable.

And much of it had a breezy vibe to it no matter how melodramatic or, as Paloma pointed out, melancholic the lyrics.

So, with warmer weather here, the time seems right for some Fleetwood Mac…

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk
from Tusk

Bizarre and tribal, I heard Tusk incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox where my friends and I spent a lot of time in junior high. It’s “real savage like” and a testament to the twisted genius of Lindsey Buckingham.

Fleetwood Mac – Sara
from Tusk

I’d read for years that Sara was about a child that Stevie Nicks’ had aborted. Over at Popdose, they have a bit more on that.

I have no idea what Stevie’s going on about, but I don’t care. Sara might be her finest moment and it really does sound like someone “drowning in the sea of love.”

Fleetwood Mac – Storms
from Tusk

As I noted, Rhiannon has worn out its welcome with me and I prefer the chainsaw guitars of Hole’s version of Gold Dust Woman. But Storms is lovely, low-key, and an underrated jewel.

Fleetwood Mac – Only Over You
from Mirage

Christine McVie usually brought something sunny and playful to the Mac mix (Say You Love Me, You Make Loving Fun, Over My Head…), but she did heartbreak well, too.

Fleetwood Mac – Hold Me
from Mirage

When Mirage showed up in the summer of ’82, my burgeoning interest in music had reached critical mass. Hold Me (here’s the playful Christine McVie) was all over the radio that summer.

Fleetwood Mac – Peacekeeper
from Say You Will

Between Mirage and 2002’s Say You Will, the most commercially successful line-up of Fleetwood Mac released one lone album, Tango In The Night, in 1987. It too got a ton of radio play, but I was in college, experimenting with modern rock, and the album never really took root with me.

By 2002, radio (or what remained of radio) was pretty much dead to me. However, I do recall being pleasantly surprised when I heard Peacekeeper – yet another immaculately arranged song by Buckingham. The song immediately stuck in my head.

Does the chorus remind anyone else of Paul Simon’s Kodachrome?