Apocalypse Now And Then

May 29, 2011

I stumbled upon Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now the other evening.

To be specific – and with the numerous versions of the film I suppose that’s necessary – it was 2001’s re-release Apocalypse Now Redux. I know that I’ve seen portions of this lengthier version through the years, but I haven’t owned a copy in any version since having one on VHS.

I didn’t see the movie in the theater during its original release. I was eleven or twelve and it wasn’t really of interest to me. Instead, it would be four or five years later before I saw the iconic ’70s film.

It was late on a Friday night that a handful of us ended up hanging out in my buddy Streuss’ house after a night most likely spent driving aimlessly around town. With us sprawled about the family den, Streuss popped the tape of Apocalypse Now into the VCR (which was still quite the novelty).

Of course, Robert Duvall’s Col. Kilgore was a hit and the Do Long Bridge scene was memorably trippy, especially The Roach.

The Roach has about three-minutes of screen time and utters fewer than a dozen words as he cooly dispatches a Viet Cong sniper. Then, after being asked by Martin Sheen’s Capt. Willard if he knows who is in charge at the outpost, The Roach replies with a simple, “Yeah,” before vanishing like a well-armed apparition.

(making his appearance even more awesome, IMDB lists Herb Rice, the actor who portrayed The Roach, as having merely three minor credits)

It wasn’t long after Do Long, after Willard, Chief, Chef, Lance, and Clean reach Cambodian waters but well before Hopper and Brando are found, that I think I dozed off. It wasn’t that the movie wasn’t compelling, but it was late and the movie was long.

(I have no doubt that I had never seen a movie running almost three hours before)

I didn’t make it to the end the other night, either. I have the stamina for a three-hour movie (or in the case of Redux, four plus) but bedtime is even earlier these days.

But, as I do whenever I come across Apocalypse Now, I did hang with the crew of the Erebus until The Roach informed Willard and me who was in charge.

Here are four war songs…

X – Country At War
from Hey Zeus!

I’ve noted before that I have never been able to embrace the music of seminal L.A. punk band as much as I feel I should. That’s likely why I held on on to the promo copy I received of the band’s ’93 reunion/swan song Hey Zeus!

But Country At War is a cool rock song juxtaposing the banalities of life on the homefront during a conflict far away.

Paul McCartney – Tug Of War
from Wingspan: Hits And History

Paul McCartney’s 1982 album Tug Of War arrived with great expectations as it found the former Beatle reuniting with famed producer George Martin. As I recall, the album received glowing reviews at the time and became a huge commercial hit driven by the ubiqitous duet with Stevie Wonder, Ebony And Ivory.

The title track is a rumination on conflict that alternates between gentle and dramatic with a lilting melody and a hopeful vibe.

Gavin Friday – You Me And World War Three
from Shag Tobacco

Gavin Friday is probably best-known as a longtime friend of, and occasional collaborator, with U2’s Bono. That relationship once placed me in the middle of a case of mistaken identity with the former in a Dublin hotel.

On the sophisticated pop song You And Me And World War III, the Irish artist croons his way through a wry lyric about more immediate and personal friction.

Bob Marley And The Wailers- War
from Songs Of Freedom

One of the more famed songs by Bob Marley had its inspiration in a speech by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I before the United Nations General Assembly in 1963.

If X’ Country At War expressed the general apathy of a nation toward a far-flung conflict, the punchy War seethes as it demands justice for those who are more directly affected by those far-flung conflicts.

Life Post Rapture (It’s Not Just The Pious Who Are Bummed)

May 26, 2011

Since that whole Rapture dealio surprisingly fizzled, I can’t help but think that the real losers were the non-pants wearing inhibitants of this planet.

Imagine how elated the animal kingdom would have been had several hundred million humans simply vanished.

I picture camels, cockatoos, coyotes – all creatures great and small – breaking into song and dance like cartoon characters at the idea of fewer of us humans mucking up the scene.

Word would obviously be spread by the whales as they are able to communicate to all of the world’s oceans through their song. I know this because Charlotte Rampling’s professor character said so in Orca.

(I feel that a Dino De Laurentiis’ flick I saw as a kid at the drive-in in 1977 is a credible source for ichthyological information)

I thought that Prof. Rampling also told the hungover college kids something about some philosopher who had speculated that God would return to earth as a whale.

Maybe The Old Fellow Who Cried Judgment Day needs to factor that concept into his calculations.

In the meantime, the animals no doubt have champagne on ice. Here are four animal songs…

The Judybats – Animal Farm
from Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow

I’ve stumbled across songs from Southern jangle rockers The Judybats twice of late as I’ve looked for songs to post and I’m surprised that its taken me nearly twenty years to discover them.

(especially since I’ve had Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow since it was released in ’92 when I snagged a promo copy)

Better late than never, though, and the charming Animal Farm is not only a cover of a song by The Kinks, but it’s nowhere near as dystopian as the classic novel of the same name.

Talking Heads – Animals
from Fear Of Music

One of my high school buddies was a rabid fan of Talking Heads, so I was familiar with the band’s catalog before the mainstream success of the stellar Burning Down The House and its parent album Speaking In Tongues.

I dig The Heads and own a good chunk of the band’s catalog, but there is a portion of their output that is difficult to embrace. If I had to choose one Talking Heads’ album, though, I would likely opt for the textured Fear Of Music.

Somehow I’d forgotten about the delightfully paranoid Animalson which David Byrne expresses his great distrust of the titular creatures – “I know the animals are laughing at us” – and concern that, since “they’re living on nuts and berries” and “they say they don’t need money,” “they’re setting a bad example.”

(damned socialist animals!)

The Fixx – Calm Animals
from Calm Animals

I’ve long liked the idea of The Fixx more than the actual band and much of their music. Their albums were uneven and I didn’t like One Thing Leads To Another even before it got played into the ground in the autumn of ’83.

But, when things truly jelled, The Fixx had some killer tracks – Red Skies, Saved By Zero, Secret Separation – and, listening to it for the first time in years, the more rocking Calm Animals is pretty cool.

Def Leppard – Animal
from Hysteria

It’s Def Leppard, man. I mean, once we’re gone, the animals are certainly going to have a major blowout and why wouldn’t they throw on some Def Leppard?

From The Backseat Of A Turquoise Gremlin

May 21, 2011

Paloma was sweet enough to set me up with a Sirius satellite radio for Christmas to help tamp down the existential angst of the commute for me.

It is the ’70s channel, conveniently nestled between its ’60s and ’80s counterparts, to which I often gravitate. Though I am decidedly a child of the ’80s, enough of that childhood took place in the ’70s that the decade of shag carpet and disco is hardly terra incognita.

I was two as the decade began and twelve as it concluded. Music was just beginning to be of interest to me in the period after disco had crashed and burned. It wouldn’t be until the first couple years of the next decade – the ’80s – that my interest in music became more than passive.

Yet there’s something about the music of the ’70s that makes for a good commute.

The Sirius ’70s channel plays, so far as I can tell, songs that made the US Top 40 in Billboard during the decade. So, here and there are songs that I don’t recognize when the title pops up on the dashboard screen.

Often, the mystery song will click when it hits the chorus and I will think, oh, yeah, I know this.

(White Plains’ My Baby Loves Lovin’ )

Now and then, there will be a song that, though it was a hit and I might have head it at the time, I don’t recall ever hearing.

(Vanity Fair’s Hitchin’ A Ride)

So, most of the playlist is familiar, but there are surprises. It’s that mix – I think – that has drawn me to the station.

And, unlike the stuff that I grew up with in the ’80s when I was listening to the radio obsessively, even many of the big hits of the decade that get played on Sirius’ ’70s channel are songs I’ve probably heard less than some of the minor hits of the ’80s.

Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold might have been a #4 hit in 1970, but I suspect that I heard something like Planet P Project’s Why Me? considerably more during the summer of 1983 despite that song not even making the Top 40.

Even now, I doubt that I’ve heard Band Of Gold as many times as Why Me?, which was constantly on the radio as I was listening thirty years ago. I have no recollection of hearing the former in 1970.

And though the ’70s – like the ’80s – have certainly been unfairly maligned, hearing Hot Chocolate’s Every 1s A Winner, 10cc’s The Things We Do For Love, Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, and The Knack’s Good Girls Don’t (as I did on the commute one morning this past week) works well enough for me.

Inspired by whiteray over at Echoes In The Wind, I thought I’d peruse one of the Billboard Hot 100 charts from the earliest parts of my childhood and see if there was much I actually remember hearing at the time.

So, here are four songs that were on Billboard‘s chart
during this week in 1971
when I was three and whatever music I was hearing was likely from the backseat of the family’s Gremlin…

The Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
from Gold

One of my earliest memories of music is The Carpenters and I can effortlessly picture sitting in the back seat of the Gremlin and there always being something on the radio from the duo. Maybe it’s because the song was a Springtime hit or maybe I’m channeling the lyric and vibe of the song, but it does make me think of overcast skies.

Paloma actually bumped into songwriter Paul Williams who co-wrote the song not long ago. Apparently, he is not tall.

Carole King – It’s Too Late
from Tapestry

Not surprisingly, the songs that I do remember hearing from forty years ago are by some of the most popular acts of the time and Tapestry would, for a time, hold the distinction of being the biggest-selling album of all time.

(not that Carole King’s place in pop music history would be any less secure had she never released anything as an artist)

The Raiders – Indian Reservation (The Lament Of The Cherokee Reservation Indian)
from Have A Nice Decade

About all I knew about Native Americans in 1971 would have been from whatever Westerns I had seen and the anti-littering PSA featuring Iron Eyes Cody that debuted that Spring.

Though the message behind The Raiders’ smash Indian Reservation was likely lost on me then, I vividly recall loving the groove of the song at the time.

T. Rex – Hot Love
from The Legend Of T. Rex

Despite tooling around in a stylish turquoise Gremlin, the parentals were quite pedestrian and, based on the music that I remember hearing, the radio must have been tuned to light rock stations. So, no, I can’t imagine hearing Hot Love in 1971.

And I would wager a lot of folks listening to the radio at the time missed out on hearing Hot Love, too, as T. Rex’ massive success in their UK homeland was largely ignored here in the States.

(maybe everyone’s parents were tooling around in turquoise Gremlins and listening to light rock in ’71)

But, the song gets included here as it’s just so damned catchy and hearing it instantly and without fail improves my mood.