Everything But A Dead Body And Keifer Sutherland

August 18, 2010

There are certain dates imprinted upon my brain because of their significance to me.

August 18, 1981, though, remains lodged in my brain even though nothing particularly important happened.

It was a Tuesday and the start of eighth grade was in sight. The first football practice had been the day before, taking the first chunk out of the dwindling summer.

I’m not sure how I spent that morning. I’d probably slept in after staying up until the middle of the night watching the CBS Late Movie.

Whatever hours left in the morning might have been spent playing some baseball with the handful of kids in our neighborhood. Or, maybe I lounged on the couch in the den and read.

I do know that I hung out with my buddy Will after lunch. He lived several houses down from me and, for about three years, the two of us were inseparable.

Will was a year older and entering high school. He’d already had a week or more of football practice under the hot, late afternoon sun.

There were patches of woods bordering the farms and cornfields that surrounded our small subdivision. Like dogs, kids love trees and the woods provided hours of entertainment and an escape from the dog days of summer for us.

So, Will and I spent the early afternoon traipsing around in the woods, killing time before we had to head off to our respective practice sessions. A year earlier, we might have been climbing trees, but a year had seen us evolve into teenagers.

Instead of climbing trees, the woods was a place where we could hang out away from parents, siblings, and the other neighborhood kids who hadn’t yet reached thirteen. We could engage in deep conversations about girls and sports and, on occasion, smoke a couple cigars he’d nicked from his old man.

At some point that afternoon, we came to the edge of a small ravine and spent time attempting to hit targets on the other side with rocks. I eventually grew bored, borrowed Will’s knife, and carved my initials and the date into the truck of a large tree.

I noted the date – 8/18/81 – and the near symmetry of the 8s and 1s.

Each year since, when August 18th pops up, I can’t help but think of those numbers carved into that tree on a day that really wasn’t unlike a lot of days I spent hanging out with Will which, I suppose, does make it memorable.

By August of ’81, I was definitely spending more time listening to the radio and becoming mesmerized by music. Here are four songs that were on Billboard‘s charts that week…

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as the summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon, it had added cachet for me at the time.

Thirty years later, I stiill think it’s a wickedly cool song.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Carl Carlton – She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)
from Carl Carlton

There was essentially one R&B station on our dial – Blaze 103 – and I rarely strayed there as the reception was a bit spotty. So, unless the song crossed over to the pop charts, I wasn’t hearing it.

I know that I didn’t hear Carl Carlton’s She’s A Bad Mama Jama on the radio, but Will and I discovered the song on some K-Tel hits collection that he’d snagged from his sister. We immediately related to the song’s sentiment and “bad mama jama” quickly took a hallowed place in our lexicon.

Eddie Rabbitt – Step By Step
from Step By Step

Our hometown radio station had flipped from rock to country by the time the ’80s arrived. And, Eddie Rabbitt had notched a string of pop hits during the first few years of the decade, so I was quite familiar with songs like Drivin’ My Life Away and I Love A Rainy Night.

When Step By Step became a hit, each time I heard it, I thought of Angie, a red-headed tomboy in my class with whom I was smitten as I knew she was an Eddie Rabbitt fan. In some alternate universe, I undoubtedly declared my feelings for her either using the advice offered in the song or clumsily working those lyrics into some heartfelt, half-baked letter.

(I’m sure that worked out well)

In our universe, Will ended up dating her several years later.


Rocky, The Terminator, Dolph And A Wacky Little Guy Named Jong Il

August 14, 2010

So, from what I understand, the action flick The Expendables arrives in theaters this weekend. I know because I’ve been suckered into the commercial on numerous occasions the past few weeks at the first notes of Guns ‘N Roses’ Paradise City.

(I’ve often wondered if it is true that the titular city is a reference to Indianapolis, Indiana)

The first time I saw a commercial, I was surprised as it was made to appear that – aside from bringing together every action star dating back to Johnny Weismuller – the movie featured the testosterone-laden trio of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis.

Assuming that the movie industry is populated by the same jet-fuel geniuses that burned down the music industry, I couldn’t help but picture someone at the studio giddily punching all of the grosses from all of the films by the three into a calculator and, with great glee, declaring, “If we cast them all, we’ll make this much!”

Of course, each time I have seen the commercial since, the Schwarzeneggar/Stallone/Willis triumvirate seems to be less touted and, from what I’ve read, it’s Stallone’s flick with the other two making mere cameos.

I have no plans to see The Expendables, though. I will staunchly argue that the original Rocky was an amazingly inspired bit of filmmaking and numbers II and III retain a certain charm rooted in childhood, but I don’t think I’ve seen one of Stallone’s movies in the theater since Cobra.

(an, admittedly, regrettable decision)

But the release of The Expendables made me realize that the US is missing an opportunity to calm tensions with North Korea.

Reportedly, Kim Jong Il is movie buff and an action movie enthusiast.

And he craves attention.

We call on the aging action stars of the world for a diplomatic mission thus giving them something to do that will still keep them in the limelight.

We send Stallone, Lundgren, Van Damme, Seagal, and whoever else is willing to go to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il. Dear Leader would undoubtedly be willing to take a meeting with the stars of the movies he loves.

Essentially, we appeal to the egos of the action stars to appeal to the starstruck fandom of a daffy little dictator for a little time out on shenanigans.

A shot to hang with Rambo and Ivan Drago, knowing that the images and stories would be beamed around the world, would scratch Jong Il right where he itches.

He so wants to be a rock star.

He so wants to be cool.

Kim agrees to stop dabbling in nuclear rocket projects and get some sandwiches to his people and Schwarzeneggar and friends agree to spend some time being his buddy – taking him to movie premieres or for walks on the beach, going clubbing, or hitting the links.

We turn the whole thing into a reality show and the ratings go through the roof.

Everybody wins.

In the meantime, here are four songs with heroic implications…

David Bowie – Heroes
from The Singles Collection 1969-1993

It’s classic David Bowie. What more could there really be to say?

The Kinks – Celluloid Heroes
from Everybody’s In Show-Biz

Of course, there’s the downside to fame and notoriety which The Kinks capture wonderfully in the melancholic, wistful Ray Davies-penned Celluloid Heroes.

Foo Fighters – My Hero
from The Colour And The Shape

Sure, I understand the importance of Nirvana as agents of change in the musical landscape, but I’m considerably more likely to pull up something by Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters especially if it’s from 1997’s stellar The Colour And The Shape.

Kiss – A World Without Heroes
from Music From “The Elder”

Aside from a handful of songs, I’ve never been a Kiss fan, but I do find A World Without Heroes to be compelling.

(probably as it sounds so out of place compared to the band’s catalog)

In a bid to reverse declining album sales and gain some artistic credibility, Kiss reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, who was coming off of the massive success of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for a record that was intended to be a soundtrack to a movie that was never made.

Though it did garner some positive reviews, the album baffled long-time fans and bombed. The sparse, spacey A World Without Heroes is atmospheric, but it’s not surprising that it wasn’t embraced by the group’s fans.

I recall seeing Kiss perform the downbeat song along with a couple others from Music From “The Elder” on the late-night comedy show Fridays not long after the album’s release.


Bringing Bender Home

August 10, 2010

I’m not, generally speaking, an impulse buyer.

When I head out to the store early on Saturday mornings to snag provisions for Paloma, the animals, and me, I do so with blinders on.

We need peanut butter, cheese, and bagels, so I am tossing a jar of peanut butter, a wheel of cheese, and container of bagels into the cart, checking out and moving on with life.

(unfortunately, our store does not sell cheese as wheels, but I can dream)

I am rarely tempted to stray from the mental list I have compiled for the trip.

Things do get a little dicier when I set foot in Target. For some reason, I find the store – with everything from frozen pizzas to clocks stocked on the shelves – mesmerizing.

(especially the frozen pizzas and clocks)

So, this morning, I set foot in Target to procure a handful of items that I had neglected to get on Saturday’s usual trip to forage. I had successfully rounded up the items and had even grabbed Paloma a book which she had mentioned she wanted to read.

In the book department was a section devoted to DVDs, most of them budget collections – four films featuring Clint Eastwood or Jackie Chan on one disc. There were also single movies and my eyes immediately locked onto one of them.

The Breakfast Club

Maybe it was having read a lovely tribute noting the one-year anniversary of writer/director John Hughes’ death at Stuck In The ’80s last week, but I paused.

I saw The Breakfast Club in the theater in ’85 as I was finishing my junior year of high school. My friends and I were not only the audience targeted by the movie, we were those kids and – as many in our generation did – embraced the film like few others.

Of course, the themes of the movie were applicable to anyone that had experienced high school. It just happened to be dressed in the trappings of the day and, twenty-five years later, I’ve come to realize that little really changes from high school save for the scenary.

I stumble upon The Breakfast Club on cable every so often and usually I am, regretfully, drawn into watching it. Regretfully, because for a good decade, the viewings have invariably been some bastardized version in which rather than Bender suggesting that Mr. Vernon “eat [Bender’s] shorts,” it is edited to “eat my socks.”

It’s frustrating. Not only am I unable to watch the film as John Hughes intended it to be viewed, it is distracting as – despite the time and distance – I still hear the actual dialogue.

And, I realized that it’s been a good ten years or more – when I owned a copy on VHS that I bought used for a few bucks – since I’d watched The Breakfast Club unedited.

I tossed the DVD into the cart.

Twenty-five years ago, my friends and I were beginning our senior year of high school and quoting The Breakfast Club like the pious quote scripture.

(“Yo Ahab, can I bum my doobage?”)

Musically, I was in a state of transition with Top 40 – the gateway to my music obsession four years earlier – having become such a source of disenchantment that I had mostly abandoned those stations.

I was ridiculously intrigued by the modern rock of 97X, but reception of the station was sketchy, giving me far less oportunity to listen than I would have liked. So, I spent a considerable amount of time surfing between a few album-rock stations.

Here are four songs that I was listening to at the time…

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – So In Love
from Crush

OMD’s breakthrough hit in the States was a year away when their If You Leave would appear on the soundtrack to another John Hughes’ movie, Pretty In Pink.

In the meantime, the airy So In Love was serving as my introduction to the British duo.

Jeff Beck – Gets Us All In The End
from Flash

I’m not sure if I knew of Jeff Beck before 1985. Perhaps I’d come across the name, but I certainly knew no music by the legendary guitarist (who more than a few folks would argue is the greatest guitarist of the rock era).

Flash had already gotten airplay (and MTV play for the video) with his soulful rendition of People Get Ready, on which Rod Stewart provided vocals. As for Get Us All In The End, Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall guested on vocals while Beck handles the guitar work which is simply ferocious.

Bryan Ferry – Slave To Love
from Boys And Girls

Roxy Music was another act with which I had little familiarity in 1985. I know that I’d heard Love Is The Drug on 97X, but I wouldn’t discover them until a year later when, as a college freshman, a French professor would play the group’s classic Avalon before class.

It was certainly on 97X where I was hearing Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry’s Slave To Love and I liked the suave fellow’s style.

Mr. Mister – Broken Wings
from Welcome To The Real World

Mr. Mister seems to get a lot of derision, but someone must have dug them twenty-five years ago because – for six months or so – the band was inescapable with several mammoth hits.

Personally, I loved Broken Wings in the day and I still enjoy the moody track. I recall seeing the video – lead singer Richard Page cruising down a desolate highway in the desert – for weeks before the song popped up on radio. Perhaps it was that video, coupled with the song’s lyric, that makes me think of open spaces and miles of it.