You Can Only Invent Fire Once

April 27, 2010

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is on TNT. Though I’ve watched pieces of it when I’ve crossed its path on cable, I don’t think that I’ve watched it from the beginning since I saw it in the theater in May 1997.

It’s better than I remembered.

That initial viewing left me underwhelmed. I was with the daughter of a man who had toured as a member of Elvis’ band.

(that brief liaison was less memorable than the movie)

Four years earlier, I had spoken to a friend who had seen the just-released Jurassic Park the night before.

“You spend half the movie telling yourself that the dinosaurs aren’t real.”

When I saw it that night, there was an audible reaction when the first dinosaur appeared – a hushed, collective “whoa” that sounded like the incoming surf at a beach.

No one had ever seen such realistic pre-historic creatures.

When the dinosaurs first appeared in the sequel, I recall a mixture of applause and cheers, but there was no wow.

We’d already been wowed and moved on.

The human that discovered fire was undoubtedly hailed as a genius, made the rounds on the major talk shows, and got the best tables in restaurants.

And then, the public waited for the next amazing trick. Maybe that turned out to be toast.

Its not difficult to imagine the carping that might have ensued. Critics might have declared that toast was “no fire” and that it was “obvious and rushed” and “a creative dead end for the inventor that warmed us and enriched the clan with his/her/its debut offering.

(I would argue the invention of toasting bread as one of the highlights of our species as who among us doesn’t love a good sandwich and toasted bread, bagel, or croissant makes for a fine foundation)

Here are four songs from acts that went from unknown to everywhere all at once. Though some of them continued to have success, none of them were quite able to recapture the shock and awe (and sales) of their debut albums…

The Go-Go’s – Our Lips Are Sealed
from Beauty And The Beat

The Go-Go’s built the perfect beast with their first hit single and the one-time punk band’s New Wave-tinged pop was both old and new (and complete irresistible). Our Lips Are Sealed brightened the chill of autumn in 1981 and, as I was just discovering an interest in music, The Go-Go’s was one of the first bands that I was there for their breakthrough.

By summer of the next year, The Go-Go’s had notched another mammoth hit, We Got The Beat – which played over the opening credits of the ’80s classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High – and memorably appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in their underwear (which Jane Wiedlin and I discussed when I had the opportunity to interview her twenty years later).

Sure, the all-female band would release a couple more albums (which had their moments), but, in 1982, The Go-Go’s were an unstoppable juggernaut and as popular as any band on the planet.

Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now?
from Business As Usual

As The Go-Go’s run was beginning to lose steam toward the end of the summer in 1982, the world was just discovering Australia’s quirky Men At Work. I first heard Who Can It Be Now? when it debuted on American Top 40 as I listened one Saturday morning.

The first time I heard it played on a station was Cincinnati’s Q102 that afternoon.

By the following week, the song was everywhere and so was Men At Work. Business As Usual was selling millions of copies, the videos for Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under were familiar even to those of us without MTV, and everyone fell in love with Australia.

Cargo would be a worthy follow-up album. It might have even been stronger as a whole than the debut, but only the brilliant Overkill was as perfect or as successful as those first hits.

Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You
from Tracy Chapman

One of my housemates in college was a Dylan junkie. I came home one day and he was all but foaming at the mouth over some female singer – I think he’d seen her on MTV .

I was used to his manic behavior. I had once watched as he almost accidentally impaled himself on a sword in front of a living room full of people during the NBA Finals in ’88.

But he was right on Tracy Chapman. Soon there were droves of people coming into the record store where I worked asking for her debut. Then she played on Saturday Night Live and she went stratospheric.

Terence Trent D’Arby – Let’s Go Forward
from Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby

Christmas ’87 was the first Christmas in retail I ever experienced. And one of the albums we couldn’t keep in stock was Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby. It was a stunning debut for the soulful singer and the album was strong beyond its four or five hits.

I thought that Terence Trent D’Arby was one incredibly talented guy and an interesting character. I haven’t heard his post-’95 stuff aside from a handful of tracks, but I’ve owned his five major-label releases and dug them all. Even when his music sometimes took questionable tangents, there was always that amazing voice.

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Fuzzy Memories Of A Record Store From The Past

April 24, 2010

Thinking of record stores not long ago, I realized that I didn’t have a chance to frequent indie record stores until college (at that point, there were a half dozen within a few blocks of each other).

Though my friends and I spent a good deal of time trekking to Cincinnati in high school, we usually stuck to the malls. The malls had everything we didn’t have in our hometown – record stores, book stores, arcades, food courts, escalators – in one place.

And a lot of girls.

(there were, obviously, girls in our town, but we had known most of them since first grade – mall girls were exotic and mysterious)

Somehow, though, there was one record store that I have hazy memories of being an occasional stop for us. It was a funky, little store, deeper than it was wide, tucked away in a strip mall setting.

I couldn’t come up with the name.

A bit of research leads me to believe it was called Globe Records and that name does sound right. There’s not much info on the store, though – there is a mention of incense which I remember this store selling.

It was a low-key place, lots of simple wood bins and racks. I seem to remember an open upstairs level which must have served as a good perch to monitor potential shoplifters.

There were large posters on the walls, haphazradly arrayed. I think the store’s backroom (and the stairs leading to the loft) might have been separated from the floor by a curtain of beads.

I can almost picture the place.

(I couldn’t have shopped there more than a dozen times and it was twenty-five years ago)

It had to have been one of the more bohemian places my friends and I had been at that time in our lives.

It would have been the spring of ’84 when my friend and I would have been hitting Globe Records as we finally had our drivers licenses. It was a time of great change in my musical interests as I had discovered alternative rock and we finally had MTV available to us.

Here are four songs from that spring that I remember hearing quite a bit…

Tracey Ullman – They Don’t Know
from You Broke My Heart In 17 Places

That Tracey Ullman is quite a talent and They Don’t Know was our introduction to her, especially as the video seemed to air each and every time I had the chance to vegitate in front of MTV.

Fortunately the song was an utter and complete earworm and, though I had little frame of reference at the time, it totally capture the girl group vibe of the ’60s. It also was written and recorded by the late, great Kirsty MacColl, but I wouldn’t become familiar with Kirsty until the following year when I heard her version of Billy Bragg’s A New England on Rock Over London.

The Fixx – Deeper And Deeper
from Greatest Hits – One Thing Leads To Another

The Fixx had become fixtures on radio the year before with Reach The Beach and that album’s subsequent hits Saved By Zero, One Thing Leads To Another, and The Sign Of Fire.

Personally, I always seemed to like the idea of The Fixx more than most of their music. I dug earlier stuff like Red Skies and Stand Or Fall, but most of their output was hit or miss for me (and One Thing Leads To Another grated on my nerves).

Deeper And Deeper was a keeper, though, revealing a bit more muscle in the band’s sound. The song appeared on the soundtrack to the rock fable Streets Of Fire, a movie which I managed to miss that summer.

Human League – The Lebanon
from Hysteria

In the spring of 1984, my buddy Streuss was eagerly awaiting the long-delayed release of Human League’s Hysteria. It had been two years since they had burst onto the musical landscape in the States with Don’t You Want Me and there had been no follow-up to its parent album Dare.

In the interim, Streuss had amassed everything he could acquire by the band – much of it as imports for us – including the dub remix collection from Dare credited to The League Unlimited Orchestra.

Of course, The Lebanon was a surprise when it arrived as the first single from Hysteria that spring – the synth-pop band who had an edict declaring “no guitars” had issued a song that was built heavily around guitars.

We didn’t care. We loved it and, though it might be a bit half-baked lyrical, I still do.

Nik Kershaw – Wouldn’t It Be Good
from Human Racing

Wouldn’t It Be Good wasn’t a very big hit in the States and I don’t recall seeing the video for the song. I think it was actually my friend Beej that turned us onto the song after he saw the video on the USA Network’s Night Flights.

The discontented vibe of the song – kind of a New Wave take on “nobody loves me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go eat worms” – tapped into our burgeoning teen angst. A couple years later, the song would reappear on the soundtrack for Pretty In Pink, but in a version by Danny Hutton, one of the vocalists for Three Dog Night.


A Fistful Of Quarters From A Grown Man In His Underwear

April 21, 2010

The end of the school year is within the distance of one well-spat loogie for the age appropriate. As a kid, it was the annual re-opening of the campground down the road that was a tangible sign that summer break was close.

Before we were old enough to drive, the campground also served as somewhere to waste the little money we had on things like miniature golf and video games.

At that time, our town was still a couple of years away from having an actual arcade and Atari game consoles were not yet in all our homes. The campground game room was one of the few places to play video games.

Of course, there were three, maybe four games and they were always well behind the times with the selection – Space Invaders when Pac-Man was the rage, Galaga instead of Defender.

Asteroids was a hip as it got.

The couple that ran the campground was on the staff of our high school.

He was a burly fellow, taught shop, and was known to all as Bandsaw Bob.

She was on the bony side, was the school nurse, and seemed to be going for some Jackie Kennedy vibe.

I don’t believe that I ever saw him without a tooth pick lodged in his teeth.

I couldn’t say the same for her.

The game room was downstairs from the gift shop/concierge desk/campground office which was usually our first stop to exchange a few dollars for quarters.

Several friends and I entered one afternoon and found the gift shop vacant. We stood at the counter, growing impatient to blast space bugs and such.

A door behind the counter of the gift shop led to the proprietor’s home and, as our conversation grew louder, we heard stirring from the adjacent dwelling (which was our objective).

Through the door lumbered Bob, muttering about “nobody minding the store” and “been out digging up a stump.”

There he stood, his large, round face flushed and beads of sweat trickling from his forehead met his flat top.

He was wearing nothing but his underwear.

And he had his tooth pick.

“You kids need quarters?” he asked jovially. He was a jovial fellow.

Before we could offer an affirmative, wife Jackie burst through the doorway. “Bob,” she barked. “Go take a shower and get cleaned up for dinner.”

He shrugged. “You all have seen a man in his underwear before.”

We’d seen pictures of Ted Nugent in a loin cloth in music magazines. And now, we had seen our high school’s shop teacher in his underwear.

Of course, in retrospect, I realize that, had this event – which became an oft-recounted part of me and my friends childhood lore – taken place in 2010 instead of 1980, Bob might have found himself in trouble, but there was nothing dodgy.

When you grow up in a small town, everyone knows everyone else fairly well, certainly well enough to know that sometimes a man in his underwear is just a man in his underwear.

Here are four songs that might have provided some clothing suggestions…

Sparks – Angst In My Pants
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen Sparks duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ‘82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Streuss owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
from The Red Shoes

I fell hard for Kate Bush when I discovered her music. It was, like many listeners here in the States, with The Hounds Of Love. I’d read about her and was intrigued, but hadn’t really had the opportunity to check out her prior albums.

Of course, subsequent albums were slow to arrive but worth the wait.

Haircut 100 – Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) (extended version)

I didn’t like Haircut 100 back in the day. Of course, they weren’t around very long and I never heard their lone hit, Love Plus One, on the radio much.

It was years later – when the song kept popping up on ’80s compilations – that I grew fond of Love Plus One. I finally snagged a copy of Pelican West on vinyl a year or so ago and it was underwhelming.

Favourite Shirts is more manic than Love Plus One and manic Haircut 100 doesn’t have the same charm to me (but I didn’t have a lot of “shirt” songs).

Bob Dylan – Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
from Blonde On Blonde

I hadn’t heard Bob Dylan in 1980. I wouldn’t begin a relationship with Dylan for a few more years.

Sartorially speaking, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat would have been a fitting suggestion for Bandsaw’s wife. She did have the Jackie Kennedy thing about her.