Who Wouldn’t Want To Live In A Treehouse?

May 29, 2010

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo of late surrounding the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back with one of the cable stations showing the original trilogy of Star Wars flicks last weekend.

I must have been one of the few people that didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater.

(at least among we humans who were present in 1980)

I saw Star Wars in the theater, but, when The Empire Strikes Back the masses descended on every multi-plex like locust. The nearest city for us to see the movie was an hour away and, on the few attempts that some friends and I made to see it, all showings were sold out.

The movie eventually arrived in our hometown theater, but, I don’t think I saw it there, either.

I honestly don’t remember where I saw it.

As for the final film in the trilogy – I didn’t even get around to seeing Return Of The Jedi when it was released in the late spring of ’83. In fact, I don’t think I saw it until it was re-released to theaters in the late ’90s.

Though I didn’t see that finale at the time, I do remember the angst caused by the Ewoks, the tribe of teddy bears that lived in the forest and helped the heroes bitchslap the empire.

The Ewoks were met with the kind of harsh disapproval usually reserved for those who club baby seals or toss dwarves.

“I hated them,” Paloma said flatly when I noted how poorly received the Ewoks had been.

As they frolicked across the screen, I understood why the masses were none too fond of these furry creatures.

The Ewoks do seem to have been designed with merchandising in mind and they were a bit precious.

However, the Ewoks were also quite resourceful, scrappy, and lived in a pretty cool village of treehouses.

And no one could accuse the Ewoks of not being green – no coastlines marinating in oil on Endor.

“So, you come across a homeless Ewok on the walk to work tomorrow, and you don’t bring it home?” I ask.

“It would upset the cats.”

(I still think that, hated or not, that Ewok would be coming to our treehouse – domestic harmony be damned)

Checking back over the music that was out during this time in 1983 – when the world was learning to hate Ewoks – there was some cool stuff. I was still listening to Top 40, but the album rock stations were an increasingly popular destination and friends were also turning me on to new music.

Here are four songs from then…

David Bowie – China Girl
from Let’s Dance

Did I even know any of David Bowie’s music at the time of Let’s Dance‘s release?

I suspect I didn’t.

Not that I wasn’t aware of Bowie. I vividly recall browsing through albums – years before I really became interested in music – and being intrigued by the cover art for albums like Diamond Dogs and Lodger.

But Let’s Dance would prove to be inescapable in ’83 and, while it was the title song that was the first single and most successful track, I much preferred the mesmerizing and mysterious China Girl that I was hearing on the album rock stations.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting

My friends and I wouldn’t acquire our driver’s licenses until the end of ’83 or early ’84, so, as the Ewoks were causing such consternation, we were more distressed by our lack of mobility.

Being stuck in our small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my friend Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

I vividly remember Uncle Dave turning us onto Tears For Fears’ debut and I’m still puzzled as I recall him describing the duo as similar to Culture Club to us.

Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
from Killer On The Rampage

Personally, there are few songs – if any – that I so completely and absolutely associate with summer as Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue.

Maybe it’s because it seemed to come out of nowhere as the season arrived in ’83 or because it seemed to be playing constantly – on every station almost regardless of format – throughout that summer before vanishing as we headed back to school.

Peter Gabriel – I Go Swimming
from Plays Live

I knew Peter Gabriel when he released his Plays Live set in ’83. He was the unusual singer that had implored us to “shock the monkey” during the previous winter.

As for everything else in Gabriel’s catalog – be it his work with Genesis or his previous solo efforts – I wouldn’t catch up for several more years.

But WEBN and 96Rock played the hell out of I Go Swimming and there was something about the song that resonated with me. Little did I know at the time how much of a Gabriel fan I would one day be.

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Somewhere Don Meredith Is Clearing His Throat

May 27, 2010

As a kid at the time, one of the highlights of Monday Night Football was – at some point late in the game with the outcome no longer in doubt – hearing commentator Don Meredith croon, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

(According to Wikipedia, Dandy Don also announced that he was “mile-high” before a game in Denver)

If I was that Lipton tea-lovin’, ex-Cowboys quarterback, I’d be cuing up the Willie Nelson song on my iPod, for my iPod.

If the device was Old Yeller, well…

(and, as an odd aside, I realize that the last time I saw Old Yeller, I watched it at a friend’s house with a couple of cats who were unaffected by the flick)

Yes, the iPod is slipping.

I first noticed an occasional, unrequested skip over a song or some other indifference to my command.

Now, there are other symptoms, occuring with greater frequency, that lead me to believe that it’s a matter of time before the longtime companion heads off to eternally dream of electric sheep.

I wasn’t keen on the iPod when I acquired it as a prize. I had an mp3 player. It worked well. And I didn’t necessarily feel the need to have tens of thousands of songs at my fingertips.

It was a throwback to college and most of my twenties when I was used to having a dozen or so cassettes in my backpack for the Walkman.

And there was a method to my madness.

Though I understood that lots of music, easily accessible, was cool in concept, I liked the fact that having fewer songs in one place made me more inclined to listen to tracks I might have overlooked, thus, discovering new favorites.

I can’t say that I was wrong.

How many times over the past three years have I skipped over a song by The Jam because I wanted to hear something I knew and loved?

I quite like The Jam, but aside from a handful of songs of which I am well familiar, I have another 60 or so songs by the trio of which I am far less – or maybe not at all – familiar.

(I bought Paloma the box set years ago)

But, instead of taking the time to check out an obscure track – be it by The Jam or Bob Dylan or whomever -when it shuffled up, I often shuffle forward to find something I know.

(because I do need to hear Fleetwood Mac’s Sara one more time)

I’ve been doing research for this iPod’s replacement. And, of course, it is the model with the greatest storage capacity – enough space for damned near everything I own – that has caught my eye.

And someday, I might actually give all of those songs by The Jam a listen.

Here are four random songs from the iPod…

The Beatles – Back In The U.S.S.R.
from The Beatles

Pat Benatar – One Love
from All Fired Up: The Very Best Of Pat Benatar

Tom Jones – Thunderball
from The Ultimate Hits Collection

Marvin Gaye – I’ll Be Doggone
from The Very Best Of Marvin Gaye


Little. Yellow. Different.

May 24, 2010

Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air.

Some of us had primitive home systems such as Pong, but our experience with video games was limited.

Space Invaders had been released in 1978, but none of us had played the game until the new decade had arrived. Sometime as the winter snows melted in early 1980, Space Invaders appeared, sitting there against the wall near the small music department in the rear of the Danners Five & Ten.

It quickly became the place to find most of the kids our age after school and on weekends, pouring quarters down the machine’s gullet.

Later, that summer, Asteroids appeared, nestled next to the pinball machines and near the pool tables at the bowling alley and getting a chance to play was about as likely as getting a table at the trendiest bistro in Hollywood.

On May 22, 1980, we were likely counting down the final days of the school year.

Some ten thousand miles away in Japan, twelve-year olds there were being introduced to a video game that would soon be separating us from our hard-earned allowances and change how we would waste our free time for the next several years, ushering in the video game era.

It was Pac-Man.

(actually, it was Puck-Man, but – upon export to the States – someone had the foresight to realize that young vandals such as we would likely alter the “P” to an “F” to the chagrin of more upright citizens)

The first time that I ever heard of Pac-Man was a year or so later when a new girl, Molly, arrived at our school. Sitting next to me in class one day, she began recounting some plot involving a jaundiced little fellow, babbling about a maze, ghosts, eating dots, and fruit.

As video games were not a part of our consciousness despite Space Invaders and Asteroids, I thought that she was describing some movie she had seen.

“We should play some time,” she suggested.

I nodded, having no idea what the hell she was talking about.

Molly and I never did share a game of Pac-Man. The game soon arrived at the bowling alley, but she had been recruited into the group of A-list girls in our class and I was, on a good day, strictly a B-list kid.

However, my friends and I spent a lot of time trying to master the game and memorize the patterns and, with its phenomenal success, new video games began to sprout like weeds. Each would cause initial excitement – “You have to check out Defender” – before being supplanted by the next big thing until there were enough of them to be herded into an gaming menagerie.

Here, in a belated birthday nod to Pac-Man, are four songs from the charts during the week it was introduced to the world. I wasn’t listening to much music, yet, but I might have heard them playing on the juke box at the bowling alley as I played pinball, hoping for a chance to get a shot at the Asteroids machine…

The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night

Smooth and funky, The Brothers Johnson’s Stomp! has an irresistible, anthemic chorus. Disco might have been dead by the end of the ’70s, but it didn’t keep the song from being a mammoth hit during the spring of ’80.

Air Supply – Lost In Love
from Lost In Love

The Top 40 station that I listened to in the first few years of the ’80s was relatively unhindered by its format. They’d play Rush’s Tom Sawyer or something old by Van Halen. There was a lot of Journey and Styx.

But there was also the hits and hits in the early ’80s meant Air Supply.

Lost In Love is pleasant enough, a bit mawkish, but breezy and engaging. I think I thought was Starland Vocal Band when I first heard it.

(I hadn’t listened to much music up to that point)

Billy Joel – You May Be Right
from Glass Houses

Billy Joel seemed edgy to me in 1980.

Maybe it was because when I thought of him I thought of songs like Big Shot or Sometimes A Fantasy before I thought of She’s Always A Woman or Honesty.

And, at eleven or twelve the line about dirty jokes in You May Be Right seemed rather adult.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
from Christopher Cross

Early on, I noted the prominent place that Christopher Cross’ debut occupied in my childhood.

And I really have nothing more to add.