Familiar Strangers In My Head

March 31, 2010

For a good thirty years, I didn’t dream.

Well, that’s not actually true because we all dream, but, for thirty years, I rarely remembered my dreams.

I dreamed plenty up until I was five or six, so I was familiar with the concept, but I wasn’t aware of my participation.

One friend expressed concern that this quirk in my nocturnal wiring might indicate that I was a sociopath.

I thought it was the insomnia.

These days, I sleep better and, on occasion, I will have a dream that lives on past its use date. This morning, I woke from a dream in which I was wandering a ridiculously crowded shopping mall with Pizza, one of our cats, perched on my shoulders.

Paloma was shopping for a sweater and I was navigating the crowd, searching for a soft pretzel place.

I would rather not be in a mall and – knowing Pizza as I do – I suspect she wouldn’t be very happy, either.

On the other hand, both of us would enjoy a soft pretzel, so, you know, that part was a keeper.

But, as I wandered through that mall, skittish pet on my shoulders, there were faces that looked familiar but not as people I know (as far as I know) from this side of sleep.

There was a woman who almost ran us down outside the Orange Julius. She had a fur coat, large sunglasses, and channeled Anne Bancroft.

I think that she appeared in a dream months ago as a Waffle House waitress.

There was a nervous fellow standing outside a drug store. He was dressed like he worked in Mission Control Center for NASA in the early ’70s and sported a moustache that would have made Rollie Fingers weep.

I think he might have been a fellow patron in the Waffle House dream.

I now suspect that my subconscious has a stable of character actors and is using them as extras in my dreams.

Here is a quartet of stranger songs (mostly because nothing else seemed to fit)…

Heather Nova – Talking To Strangers
from Live From The Milky Way

I first stumbled across Heather Nova in the ’93 with her live EP Blow and was captivated by the ethereal vocals of the singer which soar and swoop.

If you’d asked me at the time, I would have predicted big things for the singer who spent a good deal of her childhood living on a sailboat in the Carribean with her family. It didn’t happen -maybe she just got lost in the Lilith Fair shuffle – but Talking To Strangers is a wonderful introduction to Nova.

The Kinks – Strangers
from Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One

When searching for songs for this post, this track by The Kinks popped up and I couldn’t place it. Listening to it, it sounded so familiar but not. I think it must have lodged into my head from the numerous times a friend played Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One years ago.

But, I’m certainly glad that I reaquainted myself with Strangers. It’s a lovely song, written and sung by Dave Davies, and apparently about Davies’ feelings about the state of the band and his relationship with brother Ray.

Rick Springfield – Don’t Talk To Strangers
from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet

I had no problem placing Rick Springfield’s Don’t Talk To Strangers. Radio became an integrel part of my life right around the time that the television heartthrob from Australia was everywhere with Jessie’s Girl and I’ve Done Everything For You.

The paranoid and poppy Don’t Talk To Strangers continued Springfield’s success and it was inescapable during the summer of ’82. Sure it was almost Pavlovian to dismiss the songs as lightweight and I’ve never been more than a casual, occasional fan, but I rarely skip Springfield’s songs when they pop up on shuffle.

Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger
from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

On the other hand, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were immediately and obviously cool on arrival.

Sweet Dreams might have been bigger, but I’ve always liked the chilly Love Is A Stranger more (partly, I’d guess, because it didn’t get played into the ground at the time).

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Bye Bye, 97X?

March 27, 2010

I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83.

Suddenly my musical universe expanded to include acts like Talking Heads, XTC, and Aztec Camera. These less than mainstream bands and artists wandered into the room and sat down next to Journey, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran like strangers entering some cantina in a dusty border town.

Everyone held their breath, expecting trouble.

It seem only a matter of time ’til someone looked at someone else the wrong way, a bottle was broken and wielded as a shiv, and the entire affair ended in a saloon-trashing melee.

I quickly realized that I could listen to Hall & Oates and Siouxsie & The Banshees and it was good. 97X introduced me to numerous acts that would become staples of my listening habit over the ensuing decades.

Reception for 97X was often dodgy and, once I left for college, I was forced to leave the station behind. I wouldn’t really reacquaint myself with the WOXY until a decade later when I would do so via the station’s internet broadcast.

Though highly regarded as it was one of the first modern rock stations in the US, 97X struggled to remain on the air throughout the years, recently relocating from Ohio to Austin, Texas.

During the past year or so, I had made more time to check in and, though my intention was to seek out newer music, invariably, I would stream the station’s vintage broadcast, beaming myself back to the mid- to late-’80s when it was all new to me.

But, it appears that 97X is no more. The plugged was pulled on the station earlier this past week.

(if we had the funds, Paloma and I could purchase the station and headquarter it in Samoa)

97X has cheated the hangman on several occasions over the past quarter century. Maybe it will again. But, if it doesn’t, here are four random songs that I know I heard back before the station and I parted company and I headed off to college…

Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
from The Hurting

In the summer of ’83, my friend Beej and I would get apprised on up-and-coming bands from his uncle, who possessed an unfathomable collection of New Wave acts on vinyl, many of them imports that had yet to reach our shores. Tears For Fears was an act thay came highly recommended.

It would be two more years before the duo would break in the States – I still recall hearing Everybody Wants To Rule The World for the first time on the radio show Rock Over London – but 97X was playing several songs from their debut that autumn.

One of them was the shimmering Pale Shelter.

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Like Tears For Fears, Scotland’s Simple Minds found mainstream success in the US in the spring of ’85 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) etched itself into the collective consciosness of a generation. The group had begun shedding some its more art-rock tendencies a year earlier with Sparkle In The Rain, which included Waterfront.

I heard Waterfront often on 97X and it certainly appealed to me as a U2 fan. The throbbing, hypnotic track would appear post-Don’t You on Simple Minds’ live release in ’87.

The Replacements – Bastards Of Young
from Tim

When I arrived at college in 1986, The Replacements seemed to be the poster children for modern rock at our school. Maybe it was because like us (and unlike other strong contenders like R.E.M. and The Pixies), the disheveled quartet was comprised of Midwesterners.

(maybe it was because they drank a lot)

Thanks to 97X, I was familiar with the band and songs like Kiss Me On The Bus, Waitress In The Sky, and the anthemic Bastards Of Young which suited our youthful, directionless enthusiasm in a brave, new world free from parental dominion.

Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw

Despite all the acclaim it received upon its release, I had never listened to Marshall Crenshaw’s debut until Paloma and I snagged a copy on vinyl. Of course, I knew his hit Someday, Someway and I knew Cynical Girl from 97X, but the classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Cynical Girl is a favorite of Paloma’s and it’s fabulously jangly.

(of course, there’s really not a bad track on the entire album)


Killer On The Rampage…Somewhere

March 24, 2010

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

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

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

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

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, 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.