August 29, 1981

August 31, 2011

At the suggestion of a friend from college, I’ve been reading and reading with the actual intent to learn and not merely for entertainment.

I’ve actually been studying, something that I rarely did in college.

Some of the concepts have been abstract, but the neurons still fire and the subject matter holds the potential for being of great use.

(as opposed to those metric tables junior high)

Thirty years ago, I was in eighth grade and mindlessly memorizing metric conversions that I would never use. Football and classmates of the female persuasion were the primary recipients of my interest and attention.

For the first time in my life, I was actually interested in music and spending increasing amounts of time with the radio on.

And five songs were making their debut on the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine…

The Go-Go’s – Our Lips Are Sealed
from Beauty And The Beat
(debuted #90, peaked #20, 30 weeks on chart)

The Go-Go’s built the perfect beast with Our Lips Are Sealed, their first hit, and the one-time punk band’s New Wave-tinged pop was both old and new (and completely irresistible) as its sunny vibe helped hold back the impending chill of autumn in 1981.

By summer of the following year, the all-female band was a pop culture juggernaut – Beauty And The Beat had sold millions of copies, We Got The Beat was playing over the opening credits of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and the band memorably appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in their underwear.

(which Jane Wiedlin and I discussed when I had the opportunity to interview her twenty years later)

Aretha Franklin with George Benson – Love All The Hurt Away
from Love All The Hurt Away
(debuted #89, peaked #46, 10 weeks on chart)

I’m certain I didn’t know Aretha Franklin in 1981. As for George Benson, I know that I’d heard his silky-smooth, lightly funky Give Me The Night a year earlier as it was pretty inescapable.

I didn’t know their duet Love All The Hurt Away then or until now. If Paloma was listening now, I think she’d nod and say, “Quiet storm.”

Love All The Hurt Away does have a mellow vibe, but the song builds to a dramatic crescendo.

Atlanta Rhythm Section – Alien
from Quinella
(debuted #88, peaked #29, 15 weeks on chart)

As a kid in the late ’70s, I remember hearing Atlanta Rhythm Section’s Imaginary Lover and So Into You often on the soft rock stations the parents would play in the car. I was listening to music more than I ever had in 1981, I don’t really recall hearing Alien, though.

The song has a laid-back groove like Imaginary Lover and So Into You, but Alien might be even more drowsy than those earlier hits.

I’ve read that much of Atlanta Rhythm Section’s catalog was more Southern Rock – the band came together as session players in a Georgia studio used by Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special – but I’ve only heard the mellow stuff.

Dan Fogelberg – Hard To Say
from The Innocent Age
(debuted #72, peaked #7, 19 weeks on chart)

A Dan Fogelberg song was on the radio one recent Saturday morning and Paloma noted that she liked his voice.

(I agreed)

I mostly know the late singer/songwriter for his early ’80s hits – songs like Same Old Lang Syne, Leader Of The Band, and Missing You – which I heard often while listening to the radio at the time.

Though Hard To Say is pleasant, it wasn’t my cup of tea for the months in late ’81 when I’d hear the song several times each day.

I had little interest in the song, but my neighbor and childhood friend Will seemed to harbor a burning hatred of Hard To Say. One snowy afternoon, having just seen the song on the Solid Gold countdown, he turned to me and said sullenly, “I think Dan Fogelberg just ruined the Solid Gold dancers for me.”

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes
from Private Eyes
(debuted #68, peaked #1, 23 weeks on chart)

Hall & Oates had resuscitated their career from a late ’70s commercial lull with 1980’s Voices. It was impossible to not hear You Make My Dreams or Kiss On My List on the radio at the time.

The duo followed that album with Private Eyes in the autumn of ’81. The title song was ridiculously catchy, had a bit of New Wave sheen and was a mammoth hit.

(and for the next half dozen years, there always seemed to be some new Hall & Oates song on the radio)

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Dig

August 27, 2011

As a child, I had an obsession with dinosaurs and the prehistoric world. It likely was triggered by seeing Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster in the theater and watching B-movies on late-night television in the ’70s.

It’s why I still pause, as I did the other night, when I stumble upon Jurassic Park.

I can’t help but think that had that movie arrived a decade or so earlier, I might have ended up a paleontologist.

I dug Sam Neill’s style as Dr. Alan Grant.

He had a groovy hat.

His work attire was well within my sartorial range.

He spent his days under expansive skies in the Badlands, digging about in the dirt, searching for the fossils and bones of fantastic creatures.

Yes, I think that I’d enjoy the paleontological lifestyle. It seems to be relatively uncomplicated.

(at least until some well-intending, yet short-sighted, billionaire industrialist recegenrates velociraptors)

Not being a homeowner or an escaped convict, it’s been awhile since I’ve had to dig. In fact, I don’t recall digging for any reason – for bait, for treasure, to bury a drifter – since before I left for college.

(where I, unwisely, didn’t study paleontology)

I’m confident that – thanks to a pop-up book I had when I was five and late-night movies – I know enough to recognize dinosaur bones should I happen upon some.

Surely leading the life of a paleontologist can’t be as simple as getting a pick, a shovel, and a floppy hat and moving to Southern Utah.

Maybe all of the really cool dinosaur bones have been dug up.

Then again, perhaps paleontology is as straightforward as finding a plot of earth and digging until you hit T. Rex remains or China. You either end up on the National Geographic channel or causing an international incident.

So, I might soon suggest to Paloma that we pack up the Volvo, load up the cats, and head westward.

In the meantime, here are four songs to get us aspiring diggers in the mood…

Peter Gabriel – Digging In The Dirt
from Us

Despite a great affection for Peter Gabriel’s music, his leisurely pace in releasing new albums has caused me to lose track of him over the nearly two decades since he released Us.

(which arrived a mere six years after the commercially successful So)

I much preferred the emotionally gripping Us and the brooding Digging In The Dirt might make a swell theme song for a freelance paleontologist.

(plus, seeing Gabriel on the ensuing Us tour might be the highlight of my concert-going life)

The Pixies – Dig For Fire
from Death To The Pixies

Though The Pixies were poster children for the burgeoning alternative rock movement that took place while I was in college, I had little more than a passing interest in the band. Why I’m not sure as I quite like much of their catalog.

(Paloma would likely put them high on her list of favorites)

Dig For Fire has been described by lead singer Black Francis as an homage to Talking Heads and the catchy track does possess the latter act’s jittery, stutter-step spirit.

The Who – Dig
from The Iron Man: The Musical By Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend’s adaptation of a children’s story was released while I was studying in Southeast Asia, leading to several confusing exchanges with shopkeepers as I attempted to find a copy…

me: “Pete Townshend of The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”
me: “Yeah, The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”

The album, despite guest appearances by everyone from John Lee Hooker to Nina Simone, wasn’t worth the effort of acquiring it. It did feature two new songs by The Who – the first since the band’s first farewell with It’s Hard in ’82 – including an ill-advised cover of Arthur Brown’s Fire.

But I dug Dig and, though it’s hardly a Who classic, the repetitive use of the title does make me want to pick up a shovel.

Blondie – Dig Up The Conjo
from No Exit

So, I’m a bit confused by Dig Up The Conjo, from Blondie’s 1999 reunion album No Exit.

It sounds as though the band is imploring me to “dig up the Congo,” which would be ambitious as the Congo River is the deepest river in the world.

But, “conjo” is apparently a Spanish insult.

Of course, Blondie was often lyrically nonsensical, so perhaps my confusion is justifiable, but I thought No Exit was a strong return for Blondie (after a seventeen-year hiatus) and Dig Up The Conjo is dense, swirling, and hypnotic.


Holding Auditions In My Head For A Potential Imaginary Friend*

August 24, 2011

As I often remind Paloma, my childhood was spent in the hinterlands of the Midwest, right past where the flat Earth ends, amidst a lot of corn. Its charm is far more apparent given time and distance.

Paloma has heard me recount tales of my years in the wild. There was no MTV because there was no cable. And new music was not easily attainable. Life was often accentuated by imagination out of necessity and, yet, I never had an imaginary friend.

The last item came to my attention the other night when I happened across my copy of The Essential Calvin And Hobbes. The comic strip, which ran for a decade or so beginning in the mid ‘80s was drawn by Bill Watterson, whose been quite reclusive and rarely (never?) has licensed the use of the characters.

Calvin was a hyperactive and imaginative six-year old tyke; his constant partner-in-crime was a stuffed tiger, Hobbes who was as real to Calvin as anyone else. I can’t do them justice in writing, suffice to say it’s good stuff.

Reacquainting myself with the duo, I wondered if I had missed an important childhood trinket, so I held an audition in my head for such a sidekick.

The name Captain Erving popped into my head. I’m thinking it must be some subconscious homage to the great Dr. J, so I kind of like it. And, for some reason (perhaps some subliminal, nautical influence due to repeated viewings of Jaws), I envision Captain Erving, my potential imaginary friend, as a lobster.

It does seem like a lot of responsibility, though, this imaginary friend business. And, I’d much rather have a dog.

I have nothing in my head right now, so here are four songs about the contents of other people’s heads…

The 6ths (featuring Georgia Hubley) – Movies in My Head
from Wasps’ Nests

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which became the group’s first major single in the States.

The Cars – Got A Lot On My Head
from Candy-O

I think that I could pick random track after random track from the catalog of The Cars and I’d hit something that would make happy most of the time.

There’s a lot of classic stuff there and the rest is, at the very least, usually a lot of fun like Got A Lot On My Head.

Shonen Knife – Tomato Head
from Rock Animals

From the country that gave us Godzilla, the all-female trio Shonen Knife were darlings of the alternative rock world in the ’80s. I heard songs here and there and was charmed by their zany brand of garage band pop, but never enough to own anything

I did snag a promo of 1993’s Rock Animals which featured the blissfully enigmatic (and slightly menacing) Tomato Head.

There was also a nifty little 3D reproduction of the album cover enclosed in some of the CDs like a Crackerjack prize.