De Do Do Do, De Da Da Dwayne

November 17, 2010

I didn’t meet Dwayne until I entered high school. Though our hometown was a speck, we had attended different schools until our freshman year. I had been subjected to Catholic school and Dwayne had attended the public school.

And, even though our town was so small and I knew a lot of the kids at the public school, Dwayne lived a good twenty miles outside of town in a two-story farmhouse, nestled in a small, wooded valley with only a few other houses within easy walking distance.

But I knew his name by the time I was in junior high. He was some unstoppable, unbeatable wrestler.

Some of my football teammates also wrestled and all of them spoke with a reverential awe of Dwayne.

Several other friends wrestled once we reached high school and it was through them, as well as having classes together, that I met Dwayne.

We got on well.

(then again, everyone got on well with Dwayne)

He was short but formidable, slightly bowlegged with a mop of dirty blonde hair. His athletic ability was obvious the first time that I watched him do a handstand on his chair in the middle of class.

(usually to the great consternation of Herr Jack in German class)

After gym class, the towel he’d use in the locker room revealed his warped sense of humor. The white towel was inscribed with black letter that noted it to be “property of the Mississinewa State Hospital.”

We knew that to be a psyche hospital in the southern part of the State, though we were more colorful and less politically correct in our description.

“Yeah,” Dwayne replied, confirming the towel’s origin. “The old man swiped a bunch the last time he was in.”

I recall him groggily telling us as to why he was so tired one morning between classes.

“The old man went mental last night,” he yawned. “I decided to sleep in the woods.”

The explanation was presented as though such zaniness was reasonable to expect.

The classes that I had with Dwayne had potential to be entertaining and sometimes memorable. Today, I’m sure that he’d have been dosed with chemistry at the first handstand, but, for the most part, even our teachers were charmed by his antics as they were usually good-natured and resulted in no casualties.

The only thing that I recall him doing that might have been considered grounds for dismissal occurred during our junior year. Thanks to the inability of our school board to properly vet not one but two teachers, the English class that I had fall semester was on our third teacher before Thanksgiving.

This instability led to the inmates taking over the asylum. It wasn’t exactly the prison colony in Alien III, but the class was far more prone to stretches of chaos and disorder than our others.

I sat in the back row with my buddy Bosco and mostly stayed out of the fray. It was forty-five minutes during I mostly just stared into space, sleeping with my eyes open.

One afternoon, as Teacher #3 stood at the blackboard, conjugating something in chalk, Dwayne popped up out of his seat in the front row and there was a sudden explosion of yellow.

Bosco squinted at the board – his eyesight was questionable – and asked me what happened.

“I think Dwayne threw an orange at the board.”

(it was actually an egg)

A half dozen of us were ushered to the principal’s office for interrogation; Bosco and I both pleaded ignorance.

(convincingly, I’m sure)

As we left school that day, we asked how he had beaten the rap.

“I told him that I sit in the front row,” he replied. “I’d have to be crazy to pull a stunt like that.”

He climbed into his beat-up Camaro, and – with the stereo blaring – sped off.

If I had to guess, it was probably 96Rock – an album rock station from Hamilton, Ohio – which Dwayne had blasting that day. Here are four random songs I very much recall hearing on the station during the early ’80s…

Russ Ballard – Voices
from Russ Ballard

Englishman Russ Ballard had ties to The Zombies and Argent and success penning hits like Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone, Santana’s Winning, and America’s You Can Do Magic.

In our part of the world, Ballard got played on several stations with On The Rebound and The Fire Still Burns from his solo albums. And the moody Voices was mammoth, but it seemed to be one of those songs that everyone knew, but no one knew who the singer.

Lita Ford – Gotta Let Go
from Dancin’ On The Edge

In 1984, I certainly knew the music of Joan Jett and I imagine I had heard a song or two by The Runaways, but Gotta Let Go was the first time I’d heard a song by Joan’s former Runaway bandmate, Lita Ford.

I know that I’d seen Ford in Circus magazine and, as I had seen and read about her in Circus magazine, I undoubtedly assumed she was music for numbskulls. And though the oh-so ’80s metal of Gotta Let Go is hardly rocket surgery, it’s got an indeniable charm.

Kansas – Fight Fire With Fire
from Drastic Measures

This wasn’t Dust In The Wind.

When I hear Fight Fire With Fire, I think of seeing the clip for the song on Friday Night Videos in the autumn of ’83. I have always considered it to be the greatest video with swarms of giant mosquitos in it that I’ve ever seen.

Rewatching it, there are not swarms of giant mosquitos. There is one giant mosquito that looks – quite frankly – to be shoddily constructed.

(quite disappointing…)

Prism – Don’t Let Him Know
from Small Change

Prism never really broke through in the States, but I recall several songs by the Canadian band on the radio as a kid. None more so than their lone US Top Forty hit Don’t Let Him Know.

Written by Jim Vallance and a pre-fame Bryan Adams, the stomping rock song is an earworm. During the winter of 1982, Don’t Let Him Know was constantly blaring from the juke box at the bowling alley where my friends and I would hang out.

(it’s as Midwestern rock, circa ’82, as it gets)


The Chicken Baron Of Devil’s Tower

November 13, 2010

As Paloma will attest, I will drive into the hinterlands for fried chicken.

And though I saw them on what seemed like every corner of Kuching while traveling in Borneo, visiting our nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken is a trip into the urban hinterlands – a twenty-minute drive to a dodgy part of town.

About two or three times a year the lure will be too strong and I’ll make the trek.

It’s also seared into my memory to hear The Drunken Frenchman quite drunkenly hoist a glass to toast, “Colonel Sanders – a great American!”

That inexplicable, wholly random declaration – completely unrelated to any conversation at our table of friends that night – has baffled me for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps it was a message from the cosmos that I must unravel to achieve enlightenment.

Perhaps the Frenchman was merely very, very drunk.

So when I happened across a bio about the chicken mogul, I watched.

I don’t think that I would have wanted to have a drink with The Colonel.

He seemed like a bit of a douche.

But, that aside, there’s no debate that the man made a pretty strong bird.

The universe, through The Drunken Frenchman, might have been telling me that the path to enlightenment is to become a fried chicken mogul.

Perhaps I was just craving fried chicken.

I’m going to put aside the need for perfecting a strong bird of my own for the moment. Obviously a culinarily masterful, palatte-pleasing recipe will be integral to achieving moguldom, but I turned my attention to another important element.

Location.

Col. Sanders first restaurant was located strategically on a highway in a rural part of Kentucky. That left forty-nine states and howevermany territories and protecterates from which to choose.

A few nights later, I finally popped in the DVD of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that I’d purchased several weeks before. As I watched the breathtaking classic film, the universe nudged me again.

The volcanic outcropping known as Devil’s Tower – where the climax of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind takes place – is located in a national state park in the northeastern corner of Wyoming and nearly half a million tourists visit each year.

There would be no shortage of travellers wanting nothing more than to finger lick chicken from their phalanges.

And, if the aliens do show up at Devil’s Tower as they do in the movie…well, I’d have to think that fried chicken favored by our interstellar overlords trumps eleven herbs and spices proffered by a Colonel who wasn’t even a colonel.

Perhaps somewhere on US 90, leading to Devil’s Tower, is my Kentucky and my shot at fried chicken moguldom.

One more sign from the universe and Paloma and I will be packing up the animals and heading for Hulett.

Perhaps I should get started concocting a recipe.

In December, it will be thirty years since The Colonel hung up his mortal apron and headed for some kitchen in the afterlife. Here are four songs from albums that had recently been released and might have been added to his collection…

The Police – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
from Zenyattà Mondatta

Three albums in and the British trio broke through with Zenyattà Mondatta which took them to the Top Ten on the album chart as well as the singles chart with the deceptively insightful and ridiculously catchy De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

I know that, at the time, I was unfamiliar with earlier hits that The Police had notched with Roxanne and Message In A Bottle, but I took to De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da the first time I heard the song. It wouldn’t be long before I was a devoted fan and knew their catalog inside and out.

(I’d like to imagine The Colonel singing along as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da blared from a transistor radio in the kitchen)

Harry Chapin – Sequel
from Sequel

I knew little of singer/songwriter Harry Chapin’s music aside from a few songs (one being, obviously, his enduring hit Cat’s In The Cradle, a song whose bad rap I never quite understood).

However, the late singer is a favorite over at The Revue Review, though, and over the course of a number of posts there, I’ve become far more familiar with Chapin and increasingly fascinated by both the man and his underappreciated music.

I don’t recall hearing Sequel when it became Chapin’s final hit in 1980 – a year before his tragic death – but the song is a poignant and satisfying follow-up to the tale Chapin had recounted almost a decade earlier with his hit Taxi.

Suzi Quatro – Lipstick
from Rock Hard

Leather-clad rocker Suzi Quatro, who had portrayed leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, is another act that has existed mostly under my radar. I knew the name, but I had heard nothing by the singer aside from Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman from 1978.

In Lipstick, I hear an engaging fusion of Blondie, Joan Jett, and Them’s classic Gloria . I also hear a scorned woman whose affections I’d be hesitant to trifle with.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, Skateaway has always been one of my favorites by them.


Frog’s Midnight Album

November 10, 2010

For the first year or so that radio first had captured my interest, I was hesitant to roll the bones and scan the dial for fear of ending up in some hostile, unfamiliar musical terrain that might warp my psyche.

So, the orange hand indicating frequency on the cheap stereo in my bedroom was perpetually set to 101.9 – Q102. The station – based on the talk ’round the water fountain – tested well with my junior high peers.

As, at the outset, I had no expectations that music would be much more than something to fill the air around me, it made sense to align myself with a station that allowed me to contribute to hallway chatter.

So, it was Q102 which was Top 40 station but with a dose of songs from acts like The Who, Led Zeppelin, and others that would – a decade or so later – become the backbone of classic rock stations.

(at the time, neither Baba O’Reilly nor Black Dog were even ten years old and Keith Moon and John Bonham were still recently deceased)

There was a small cadre of classmates who were fiercely loyal to WEBN.

These kids usually had older siblings in high school and there was something more dangerous about ‘EBN in my mind. It was the station for long-haired hooligans who smoked cigarettes as the station blared from their Trans-Ams.

I doubt that I’d even listened to the station and I likely suspected that doing so would turn me into a juvie.

But as we reached the summer of ’82 – for me, the summer between leaving junior high and entering high school – I began to surf the dial with total abandon and even dial up ‘EBN.

No portal to Hell opened.

The station played some songs that I knew from Q102 so I was familiar with Journey, Joan Jett, and Asia, but there were acts that I’d never heard before – Black Sabbath, a lot of solo Ozzy, Rush, Jimi Hendrix…

It didn’t all resonate with me, but it became obvious that music was not going to turn me into a juvie.

And, the most appealing thing about this new station to me was Frog’s Midnight Album during which each weeknight the station would air a new album, one side at a time.

I had just begun to make a commitment to music, buying a handful of albums on cassette.

Frog’s Midnight Album was a chance to preview candidates that might earn consideration for my meager, hard-earned allowance. Of course, as blank tape was more affordable, the show also allowed me to build up a bit of a collection of albums.

Scanning the albums released as we headed for Thanksgiving in 1982, there are plenty of familiar titles. Here are four songs from some of those arrivals that I seem to recall hearing on Frog’s Midnight Album

Rush – Subdivisions
from Signals

I quickly realized upon entering high school that Rush was the only band that mattered for the stoners in band. At the time, I might have known the Canadian trio’s Tom Sawyer but likely little more.

But the group had a hit from Signals New World Man – that was getting played on all the stations and, upon hearing the album, I became a devotee of the band, eventually owned most of their catalog, and have seen them a couple of times live.

The pulsatic Subdivisions, which chronicled the pressures to “be cool or be cast out,” seemed awfully deep at the time and, if it might sound considerably obvious now, it’s still pretty stellar.

Pat Benatar – Anxiety (Get Nervous)
from Get Nervous

Even had I not ventured beyond Q102 or Top 40 radio, I would have been well acquainted with Pat Benatar as a string of hits made her a fixture on the airwaves in the early ’80s. She was fetching in spandex and her songs were on every crude mixtape I was making from the radio.

I dug the New Wave-vibe on Anxiety. I don’t remember hearing it on the radio, but I do know for certain that I had Get Nervous recorded onto a Maxell cassette courtesy of Frog’s Midnight Album.

Missing Persons – Destination Unknown
from Spring Session M

I do remembering hearing Destination Unknown on ‘EBN that autumn and, as much as I hate to admit it, my newly-developing ears mistakenly though the song to be The Go-Gos (especially as the station wouldn’t always name what had been played).

By the following summer, it seemed all of my friends and I had a copy of Spring Session M. Their sci-fi, space-age sound and the comely looks and style – plexiglass, fishbowl bra cups, bikini bottoms made of posters, and cotton-candy hair – of lead singer Dale Bozzio were irresistible to our teenage ears and eyes.

Jefferson Starship – Winds Of Change
from Winds Of Change

I knew Jefferson Starship for Miracles and early ’80s hits like Jane and Find Your Way Back. I saw them perform the latter two on an episode of Fridays late one night in ’81 (introduced by Father Guido Sarducci and Dawn).

Grace Slick struck me as a force of nature and, if I made a list of favorite female vocalists, she’d have to be considered. I’ve never really delved into the music of Jefferson Airplane/Starship much beyond the radio hits.

But I dug the title song for Winds Of Change when I heard it late one night on ‘EBN. The album got disinterested reviews at the time (if I recall), but I liked the song’s spacey, barren feel and Grace’s howl.