H ve A Great Summ r

July 31, 2010

For years, the realization that July had become August produced a Pavlovian sense of dread in me.

As a kid, August was the month in which we were herded back into the educational system. The first day of the month made that impending event palpable to me.

Sure, there was still a few weeks of warm days spent idly doing nothing at all, but – deep down – I felt the awful truth that it was over.

Wimbledon and the 4th of July – two signposts of summer for me – had already happened.

If we had gone somewhere on vacation it would have likely been in July. By August 1st, the trip seemed as if it had happened a lifetime before rather than mere weeks (at most).

August turned me into a dead man walking as I shuffled toward the first day of classes.

Not this year, though, not this summer.

This summer, there is absolutely not one fiber of my being that has twitched reflexively at the approach of August.

Each morning, I sit drinking coffee in a state of early-morning confusion. The local news is on the television where it remains until the weather forecast has been delivered (at which time, it’s ESPN2 and Mike & Mike In The Morning).

Usually, I halfheartedly listen to the weather, mostly making sure that there isn’t some impending weather disaster headed our direction.

This has been the ritual.

But, the past few weeks my attention to the weather report has been increasingly focused. The extended forecast causes me to marshall the limited powers of concentration I possess at 5:10 a.m.

93-96-98-95-97-94

I study the forecasted daily highs like a hobo that has spent his last dollar on a pick-6 ticket and shake my head.

I welcome August this year because August is next to September and – unless this is the year that summer never ends – that means that the temperatures have to abate.

Ten weeks ago, the marque outside a high school on my morning commute heralded the end of the school year. A week later it wished all to “Have A Great Summer.”

This week, I noticed that a couple letters were missing.

Here are four songs that accompanied me back to school in Augusts past…

John Denver – Annie’s Song
from The John Denver Collection

As six-year old starting school in ’74, I knew John Denver. He had one of the biggest hits in the country with Annie’s Song. Mostly, though, I knew him from his television specials.

There he was – granny glasses, floppy hat – traipsing around in the mountains communing with nature, animals, granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair. I dug the guy.

I still think Annie’s Song is lovely (if a bit melodramatic).

Joan Jett – Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)
from Bad Reputation

In August of ’82, I was fourteen and headed from the comfortable confines of grade school to the unknown petri dish of high school. It was a fairly seamless transition as I had Will, my best friend from our neighborhood and a year older than me, as a guide.

Music had really gotten it’s hooks in me that summer. My interest having reached critical mass after simmering for about a year or so. It was mostly radio or mix tapes of songs I’d taped from the radio since I owned no more than a dozen cassettes.

One was Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll which had been massive since winter -when the title song became an ’80s anthem – and throughout the summer with a version of Crimson And Clover.

By August, I was catching up to her solo debut and another stellar cover song.

Godley & Creme – Cry
from The History Mix Volume 1

Three years later, August brought the beginning of senior year. It was a good time, but it had been hyped in the “86”s scrawled on notebooks and spraypainted on bridges since fifth grade.

That August, Godley & Creme’s video for Cry was causing a sensation on MTV. The duo of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme had split from 10cc and become acclaimed producers of videos.

(Duran Duran’s Girls On Film, Asia’s Heat Of The Moment, The Police’s Every Breath You Take, Wrapped Around Your Finger, and Synchronicity II, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes…)

Cry was a groundbreaking video and the song is hypnotic.

Tom Cochrane & Red Rider – Boy Inside The Man
from Tom Cochrane & Red Rider

I didn’t realize that Red Rider was relatively unknown in the States until lead singer Tom Cochrane had a solo hit with Life Is A Highway. Growing up in the Midwest, the band got a lot of attention from several rock stations I listened to in the ’80s.

I was the buyer for a large record store in another part of the country when Life Is A Highway became a hit for Cochrane. It seemed clear that, unless they were more than casual music fans, the customers searching for the hit were generally unaware of Cochrane or Red Rider.

But, five years earlier in August, 1986, Cochrane was still a member of Red Rider and, as I prepared to head of to college, I was hearing the band’s Boy Inside The Man on the radio.

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The Drive-In

July 27, 2010

Aside from the ten or so nights a winter when the high school hoops team had a home game, the movie theater just off the square was the hub for nightlife in our town.

The nearest multi-plex was in Cincinnati – an hour’s drive -so it was fortunate that we had relatively quick access to the major movies of the day and, as a kid, the theater was the place to see and be seen.

There was also a drive-in located on a state road a mile or so out of town, surrounded on either side by fields of corn and soy beans.

Me and the kids in my neighborhood lived off that state road and the screen of the outdoor theater was the size of a postage from our homes. During the summer, we’d sometimes be shooting hoops in someone’s poorly-lit driveway and see the flicker of the movie on a Friday night.

Despite our proximity, I don’t think I spent even a dozen evenings there and most of those times had been with my folks, brother and maybe a couple friends before we were old enough to drive.

Once we were old enough to drive, if one of us managed to acquire a vehicle, we were far more likely to hang out at the town square or head into Cincinnati to wander about the city.

In fact, the drive-in wasn’t as much of a hang-out among the high school kids in our class as it likely had been for our parents. But, it was a presence and remained open for a good fifteen years after I graduated from college and moved on.

One of the last times I was in my hometown, I drove by the abandoned drive-in. It was strange to see the empty lot, waist-high weeds swallowing the posts for the speaker units and the screen, standing, but noticeably weathered.

I felt a little like Charlton Heston at the end of Planet Of The Apes.

One venture to the drive-in I do remember is the summer night I talked my parents into taking us to see King Kong. Sure, I’d seen it six months or so earlier, weeks after its release, but this was a chance to see it under the nighttime skies…sitting in the family car…eating popcorn.

And, sweetening the deal was the pairing of King Kong with another Dino De Laurentiis production, Orca, which had just been released that summer.

I was nine and life couldn’t have been better.

I was on the swim team that summer and, though I had minimal interest in music, I heard a lot of music blaring from the radio and above our din on the long bus rides to meets.

I probably heard more music that summer than any summer of my life up to that point. Here are four songs that I very much remember hearing during the last week of July in ’77…

Fleetwood Mac – Dreams
from Greatest Hits

You know, I dig Fleetwood Mac.

A lot.

Yet Dreams is a song that I was blasé about for years. There were a number of songs on Rumours that I liked better and it kind of bored me.

But, it was Dreams that seemed to be playing everwhere that summer. It’s swimming pools and sunshine to me and, as the years pass, it becomes more of a favorite.

Steve Miller Band – Jet Airliner
from Greatest Hits (1974-1978)

I think that every friend I had growing up had a copy of Greatest Hits (1974-1978) that had been handed down or borrowed from an older sibling (not that the songs weren’t radio staples).

Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville
from Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

I can’t say that I have much music by Jimmy Buffett aside from a handful of his better-known songs which, personally, is about all I feel I truly need, but it’s impossible not to admire (and envy) the niche he’s carved out.

Heart – Barracuda
from Greatest Hits

Though Heart might have had a commercial lull in the early ’80s, the band remained popular on radio stations in our area. Then, the band exploded in the mid-’80s, notched a string of massive hits and platinum-selling albums that not only revived their career but took it to new heights.

Personally, I dug a lot of their mid- to late ’80s hits, but I preferred their less-varnished ’70s stuff. The ubiquitousness of that later period made it easy to forget how much raw energy the band possessed and how utterly fierce they could be.

And Barracuda – driven by Ann Wilson’s piercing banshee wail – was as fierce as a band could hope to be.


Scared Straight

July 24, 2010

In the late ’70s, there was a documentary called Scared Straight in which young delinquents/aspiring felons visited hardcore criminals doing time in Rahway State Prison. The theory was that being exposed to the harsh realities of prison life might alter the kids’ behavior.

The film caused a stir, won some awards, and used to pop up on PBS, which is where I think I saw a portion of it one night when there was nothing on the other four or five channels available.

Channel-surfing the other night, I stumbled across another movie that more profoundly altered the course of my life through its harrowing subject matter.

In December of 1987, I was mid-way through my sophmore year of college and I had snagged a coveted gig at a record store as Christmas help. I wouldn’t become jaded on working the holidays in retail until the following Christmas, so the only downside was being stuck in a town where half the population was students.

Aside from most of my friends heading home as soon as finishing their last final of the semester, I was still living in a dorm which would be closed.

Fortunately, my girlfriend’s brother, a cousin, and several other of their friends had a house off campus where I could crash for a week or so before I got to head home for Christmas break. I spent two nights trying to sleep on the brother’s unheated water bed before relocating to the couch downstairs.

Most days I worked and, most days, it was a closing shift. I’d trudge home in the snow and encamp on the couch, flicking through the cable channels ’til all hours. Two of the housemates were also hanging out until days before Christmas. One was there because he worked at a pizza place which meant we had food.

One afternoon, all three of us happened to be home and decided to head out to a movie.

Those two were a couple years older and would both earn business degrees the following summer. I was intending to enter business school with no intention of entering the business world.

We settled into the seats at the multiplex to catch a weekday matinee of Wall Street which had just been released, arriving less than two months after Black Monday had rocked the stock market.

I suspect it wasn’t director Oliver Stone’s intention, but the housemates didn’t view the character of Gordon Gekko as a villain. As portrayed by Michael Douglas, Gekko’s sophistication and swagger played well with them.

I wanted nothing to do with the stressed out beings scampering about the screen.

I felt no need to own a jet.

Instead, the idea of working in a record store as a career seemed much more zen and to my liking.

I finished school and during those years studying business, it was obvious the influence that Wall Street had had. Gordon Gecko was the patron saint of most of my classmates.

When I graduated, I received the expected queries as to what I intended to do. I gave everyone the same answer.

“I’m going to be a shepherd.”

I didn’t become a shepherd, but I did spend several years post-college working in record stores. Heeding the warning of Wall Street, I avoided the corporate world for longer than most and, when I did become enmeshed in it, I found myself surrounded by the children of Gekko (sans the style and savoir faire).

But, during that Christmas break of ’87, that was all in the future. In that present, there was mostly music. Here are four songs that I remember from that time…

Eurythmics – I Need A Man
from Savage

I’ve always considered the Eurythmics – despite their success – to be one of the underappreciated acts of the ’80s. The masses all aquiver over Lady Ga Ga should be forced to watch the videos of Annie Lennox to observe a performer that was truly groundbreaking.

By the time Savage arrived, the duo’s career was on the decline in the States, but I loved it just the same. The first time we played the album in the store where I worked – after Annie had tore through the aggressive I Need A Man – one of my friends seemed truly frightened.

“You do not want to mess with that chick,” he sagely noted.

Swing Out Sister – Breakout
from It’s Better To Travel

Top 40 was mostly off my radar by ’87, but one gem from that autumn was the irresistible Breakout by the British trio Swing Out Sister. The sophisticated pop song was breezy, sunny and the perfect anitidote to the chill in the air as winter approached.

(and singer Corinne Drewery, with her jet-black pixie haircut, was rather fetching, too)

The Screaming Blue Messiahs – I Wanna Be A Flintstone
from Bikini Red

My buddy Streuss was enamored with The Screaming Blue Messiahs at the time and, whenever I was hanging in his dorm room, it seemed that he was playing Bikini Red.

As a long-time fan of The ‘stones, I immediately dug the manic, rockabilly-tinged I Wanna Be A Flintstone. It was a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly could relate.

Bourgeois Tagg – I Don’t Mind At All
from Yoyo

The lovely I Don’t Mind At All is a timeless pop song. Produced by the legendary Todd Rundgren, the melancholic ballad was every bit as engaging as Swing Out Sister’s Breakout that winter, but, unlike that song, suited the season perfectly.

Rundgren had produced the XTC classic Skylarking a year earlier and I Don’t Mind At All would have fit that album seamlessly.