Thank You For The Music, Mona

September 30, 2010

As I entered seventh grade, the decade of the ’80s was less than ten months old and music was something in which I had minimal interest.

On the first day of school that September, I learned that I had been assigned a new teacher for my homeroom class.

She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, a young blonde female in a school in which half of the teachers were nuns.

Really, really old nuns.

Our town was small and the kids in my seventh grade class were kids I had known since we’d started school. We had never had a teacher like Mrs. Winston – so young and so blonde.

It’s no surprise that the guys in our class took slack-jawed note of her, but so did the girls. She could have stepped from the glossy cover of a magazine.

She looked like the The Beach Boys’ California Girls sounds.

She’d wear a green sweater dress with knee-high, tan boots and little make-up.

She was a natural beauty.

I’m not sure where Mona was from, but, if I recall her voice, there was a slight drawl that makes me think Texas would be a good guess. And she was married to an attorney.

My male classmates and I were reaching an age at which hormones were taking the first hostages. Our locker room now sounded like a locker room.

The merits of the girls in our class were often discussed, but as most of us had no experience with those of the double-x chromosomes, much of the banter was merely speculative.

And though less-accessible women such as Cheryl Tiegs, the actresses on Three’s Company, or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders might also enter into our conversations, Mona never did.

Maybe it was because she was so geniunely kind and, unlike most adults we knew, treated us kids as intelligent beings.

Maybe it was because she was so casual and real.

Though my classmates and I were well aware of Mona’s beauty, I don’t recall any of us viewing her with anything more than respectful awe.

But, for more than her aesthetic virtues, Mona was memorable for providing fuel for the small flicker of interest I had in music.

As September morphed into October, more and more recesses were spent stuck inside as a grey rain fell outside. Mona brought in a turntable and encouraged us to bring in our albums. So, as we were all scattered throughout the classroom during those rained-out recesses, there was constant jockeying to play DJ.

I owned little music at the time – a couple albums that had been gifts, maybe a dozen 45s – but as I played tabletop football with friends, I was hearing Queen’s The Game, AC/DC’s Back In Black, and The Cars’ Panorama.

Most of the albums played were current and most had a song or two that had been hits. Though I didn’t know much music, I wasn’t totally in the weeds.

Soon, being trapped indoors at lunch wasn’t such a bummer and, for the first time, I was actively listening to music.

By the time the school year ended, I was hooked.

Mona – her taste in music was light rock. So, here are a quartet of songs from some of the albums she brought in for those recess listening sessions from thirty autumns ago…

Christopher Cross – Sailing
from Christopher Cross

I don’t think I would take the plunge and – like some five million other people in the States – buy a copy of Christopher Cross until months later (perhaps with money received at Christmas), but Sailing had been the song of the summer and I couldn’t hear it enough.

Ride Like The The Wind, Sailing, and a couple more hits that I’d heard on the radio led me to purchase the cassette, but the fact that it was a favorite of Mona’s no doubt added to the album’s cachet for me.

Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List
from Voices

Although Kiss On My List wouldn’t become a hit (and a massive one at that) until the following spring, I recall that the song was the one that Mona referred to her as her favorite when she played it for us in the fall of ’80.

From the stutter-step opening, Kiss On My List hooks me when I hear it. It’s lighthearted, playful, and has a fantastic chorus.

Air Supply – Every Woman In The World
from Lost In Love

Like Christopher Cross, Australia’s Air Supply arrived on the scene in 1980 and had already notched a couple of huge radio hits with Lost In Love and All Out Of Love by the time we were closing in on autumn.

I liked the group. The songs were breezy and light and, at the age of twelve, I assumed that these Aussies had love figured out since it was the subject of every song. I’m sure that I surmised their music could offer me valuable insight into charming the ladies.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black

On the other side of the Australian coin…Back In Black wasn’t an album that Mona brought in, but she didn’t keep us from playing it when one of my classmates dropped it onto the turntable.

I’m not so sure that she dug the album, but millions of the other humans did.

(and, like Air Supply, AC/DC had advice for us about the ladies)

Did people at the time realize what a perfect rock song that AC/DC had given the world with You Shook Me All Night Long? It’s still an arresting three and a half minutes of bravado, lust, and adrenaline.

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I’m Taking The BC Lions And The Eleven Points

September 25, 2010

Of late, Canada has had an increased presence in my life.

(not that there’s anything wrong with that)

There’s long been music from north of the border in my world and some fantastic stuff at that.

And, a month or so ago, I happened across a groovy website for the brilliant Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall.

(I keep the page open at work and – to balance out the moments when I want to set fires – I often will read a transcript of a sketch or two)

As much as I dug Second City Television, I thought that The Kids In The Hall was the better of the two groups. In fact, I’m willing to state that The Kids In The Hall was as good if not better than the more heralded Monty Python.

(of course, Monty Python did provide the demented template for acts like The Kids In The Hall)

I digress.

There’s been more than music and merriment that has made me wonder if I’m turning Canadian.

I’ve been watching broadcasts of the Canadian Football League on Friday nights.

It happened unexpectedly one evening when I dialed up the NFL Network and found a pre-game show for that night’s CFL game – Calgary and Saskatchewan. It was no-frills, football not antics.

I dug it.

The games I’ve watched have been entertaining and the style – due to differences from the American version – is wide-open. The quarterbacks seem to take more shots deep than their brethren here in the US.

It is strange to hear the announcers note the difficulties for teams that find themselves in a lot of “second and long” situations. For thirty plus years, that scenario has merely meant your team needed some yardage to avoid having to convert on third and long.

(that missing down really makes the brain a bit dizzy)

And I find myself mentally chastising quarterbacks for throwing passes that I expect to sail out of the endzone only to remember that there’s twice the amount of real estate in the Canadian version.

Oh, I’m not ready to abandon the NFL. Not yet.

But it is a pleasant throwback to watch a game and not have the screen plastered with so much information and a neverending crawl that makes focusing on the actual game a potentially seizure-inducing effort.

It is a delight to not have to sit through the “entertainment” added to attract viewers that would otherwise have little interest in tuning into a game.

(seriously, does the NFL feel that the health of the league can only be ensured by having that fleshy-headed icon of mediocrity known as Daughtry perform at each game?)

No, I’m not Canadian, but I realize that I might be edging toward the morning when I spit out my coffee, demand a cup of brew from Tim Hortons, and start planning Thanksgiving break around the Grey Cup.

Anyone know a Canadian bookie?

While I sort out how to develop a problem gambling on Canadian football, here’s some songs by the first four Canadian acts that scrolled up on shuffle…

Daniel Lanois – The Maker
from Acadie

The ridiculously talented Daniel Lanois helped U2 achieve greatness and helped Bob Dylan reclaim relevence, and those are just two of the highpoints of a career that has seen him produce and work with a staggering area of music legends.

He’s a talented musician in his own right, though, and Aaron Neville makes an appearance on the moody, world-weary modern spiritual The Maker from his solo debut.

Blue Rodeo – 5 Days In July
from Five Days In July

It makes me happy to read Blue Rodeo described as “a veritable institution in their home country” on All-Music Guide’s site. The alternative roots rock band should have had a larger audience in the States.

Paloma and I saw the band live in the mid-’90s. I believe it was some show we’d gotten into as guests of the label and had no expectations or much knowledge of Blue Rodeo. It was a small club – maybe two hundred people – and I left believing I the band was one of the best live acts I’d ever seen.

Bryan Adams – Diana

Diana hit radio during the summer of ’85 when Bryan Adams’ career had taken the jump to megastar with the release of Reckless the autumn before.

The song wasn’t on the album – I think it was on a twelve-inch single with one of the hits – but the stations in our area played the hell out of the catchy rock song in which Adams pined for the Princess Of Wales.

At the time, my buddy Beej had a girlfriend who was obsessed with Diana. She actually resembled her and cut her hair to mirror the princess.

(it was a bit trippy)

The Odds – Wendy Under The Stars
from Neopolitan

The Odds were a wonderfully quirky band who released their debut, Neopolitan, in 1991. I saw the band sometime that autumn as the opening act for Warren Zevon.

(great show except for the loon who squawked for Mohammed’s Radio through the entire two hours)

The band might slow things down a bit on Wendy Under The Stars but the engaging song is still power pop with a bit of jangle as the protagonist recounts his memories of the night Elvis died.

(the song captured the attention of a crowd that had been – up to that point – indifferent as soon as the band got to the chorus)


And Next…Domino’s Will Split The Atom

September 22, 2010

A headline that Domino’s is, for the first time, having a location near the University Of Dayton that will be open ’round the clock popped from the screen at me.

Pizza at all hours is an idea is so obvious I have to wonder if anyone at the top of the food chain at Domino’s has taken time to calculate the millions (billions?) of dollars in revenue lost by not providing drunken college students an alternative to small, square burgers sold by the dozen.

Imagine the sights you would surely see delivering pizza at four in the morning to college kids in various altered states.

(and Col. Kurtz thought he had witnessed horror in Apocalypse Now)

The concept of pizza being brought to you has to be considered one of mankind’s greatest achievements and, unlike most advances made by the humans, home-delivered pizza is not something that can be weaponized or has military applications.

As wonderful as the concept of pizza available at all hours might be, for several semesters of college I existed in an even more blissful state.

I had a housemate who was a perpetually stoned, unscrupulous manager of a Pizza Hut.

I was a couple years younger than Kirk, but when I moved into the house, I think I had already accrued more credits than he had.

The rest of our housemates were all within a couple semesters of graduating and several that had occupied the house – who had all moved in with Kirk initially – had already done so.

Mostly, he dropped acid like it was Pez, openly discussed the idea of a road trip to Chicago to kill a drifter, and took just enough credits to retain a student parking tag.

(add in pizza and it was a bit like some demented dinner theater)

And there was pizza.

On the nights Kirk worked, it was the closing shift. Half an hour or so before close, one of us would give him a call and make our requests. There were five of us, so he’d arrive home some time after midnight with half a dozen or more pizzas and bags of breadsticks.

And we would feast.

The remnants would clutter the kitchen table for days. The sliding doors to the deck were never locked and friends would come and go, helping themselves to cold leftovers. The empty boxes would eventually end up in the fireplace.

The house was drafty and barely insulated, so those cartons were much needed kindling in the winter.

Yeah, Domino’s might be mediocre pizza, but pizza at any hour of the night is an idea whose time has come.

Here are four songs that I remember from the first few days of autumn in 1988, when it seemed as though there would never again be a day without pizza…

Dreams So Real – Rough Night In Jericho
from Rough Night In Jericho

Dreams So Real were contemporaries of R.E.M. and a part of the ’80s music scene in Athens, Georgia, but I don’t recall being overly familiar with them during that time. I think I might have known their name.

I don’t remember where I heard the song Rough Night In Jericho, either. It might have been in the record store where I was working, but I tend to think it might have been late one night on MTV. It’s relatively straight-ahead rock with a bit of twang to it and a big, dramatic chorus that got my attention at the time.

When In Rome – The Promise
from When In Rome

I knew nothing about When In Rome when The Promise became a hit. I know nothing off the top of my head now except that I believe the act was a British duo. I never even heard another song by them.

But I know The Promise like the back of my hand. It pulsates and it truly sounds like it should have come out in 1983 rather than 1988. I have no trouble hearing this played as an import on 97X alongside Tears For Fears and Echo & The Bunnymen.

And for a band that pretty much vanished into the ether (this was apparently their only album), the song has been surprisingly enduring even popping up at the end of the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
from Twice Upon A Time: The Singles

I wasn’t a fan of everything by Siouxsie & The Banshees, but there was stuff that I thought was brilliant and quite inventive. They’re undeniably one of the iconic acts of modern rock.

Peepshow, on which Peek-A-Boo first appeared, got a lot of play in our record store. Peek-A-Boo was genius – a bizarrely hypnotic pop song comprised of samples, backwards masking, accordion, discordant guitar, and Siouxsie Sioux’ haunting vocals.

Michelle Shocked – Anchorage
from Short Sharp Shocked

There were a number of female acts in ’87/’88 who found mainstream success with their folk-inflected music.

(Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman being the most notable)

There were artists like Michelle Shocked who didn’t become a household names, but did earn love from critics and devoted audiences on a more intimate scale.

One co-worker at the time was rabid about Short Sharp Shocked, playing it often in our store and much to my dismay. It’s sound wasn’t really where I was then, but, twenty years later, I understand the charms of songs like the gentle Anchorage.