In The Darkest Corner Of A Cemetary On The Edge Of Town…*

October 30, 2011

Growing up, there was no house in my hometown that the kids passed warily, whispering amongst themselves as they eyed the dilapidated structure and weed-riddled, overgrown yard reined in by nothing more than a decaying wrought iron fence.

However, I know from the television and movies I’ve consumed over my life, that everyone else had such a landmark in their life.

In fact, I can think of nothing in my small hometown that had a paranormal bent to it – no legends, no lore, no creatures lurking in the woods. There was simply no sinister goings on and never had been.

(perhaps the townsfolk lacked imagination)

The closest thing to the macabre I recall was one grave.

On the southwest edge of town, one street led to a small, non-descript bridge. There were fewer homes as you approached the bridge, even though it was no more than a twenty-minute walk from the center of town; travellers crossed into a vast stretch of sparsely populated farmland.

It was dark out that way at night.

A classmate lived in a massive, three-story Victorian which was one of the last houses before reaching the bridge. Running past their home, off the main street, was a tree-lined lane which led to a cemetary a half-mile or so down the gravel road.

The trees grew more dense as you walked deeper into the grounds, culminating in thick woods, separated from the cemetary by a small ravine.

There was little reason to go back there. There were a number of places for the high school kids to escape from supervision, so that cemetary wasn’t even a gathering place where minors might smoke or drink.

But, there, under a canopy of thick trees, was a rectangular, stone slab, with weather-worn scripture quotes and no name.

At one end of the slab was a small stone lamb with no head.

The story our classmate had told us was that, a hundred years earlier, the property had been owned by a well-known racist. Hunting in those woods one day, he spotted a young Native American girl on the far side of the ravine.

Then, like Roland did to Van Owen in Warren Zevon’s Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, the racist land owner raised his gun and blew off the Native American girl’s head.

“Her head popped off and rolled into the ravine.”

It was the Native American girl supposedly buried beneath that slab.

I suppose that it would make the tale eerie if townsfolk claimed to have seen a headless spirit or heard mournful wails from those woods.

If there are such stories, I’ve not heard them.

Here are four songs for the Halloween season…

Outlaws – (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
from Ghost Riders (1980)

The radio station in our small town had flipped from Top 40 to country around the time that Southern rockers Outlaws released their cover of (Ghost) Riders in the Sky. The radio in the kitchen was usually tuned into the station and I think I heard it every morning for months on end during breakfast before school.

I was just beginning to be interested in music at the time and the spectral song always caught my attention as I listened for the school closings, hoping that the previous night’s snowfall was enough to merit a reprieve from trudging into the elements.

Annie Lennox – Love Song For A Vampire
from No More I Love You’s single (1995)

If it’s between vampires and werewolves, the lifestyle of the latter holds more appeal to me. Chicks might dig vampires, but immortality sounds exhausting, you have to dress like a dandy, and you can’t go in the sun.

As a werewolf, you’re like a big dog, you don’t have to wear pants and you can pee wherever you please.

As for the ex-Eurythmics vocalist, I prefer my Annie to be more edgy like her classic stuff with partner Dave Stewart, but even on something more slight – like her track from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula – her voice is still mesmerizing.

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon
from Bark At The Moon (1983)

I could never take Ozzy Osbourne seriously, certainly not after seeing the goofy covers for albums like Blizzard Of Oz, Diary Of A Madman, and Speak Of The Devil. However, the ex-Sabbath singer was a favorite of most of my junior high/high school classmates.

Then, Ozzy issued Bark At The Moon and the hallways were filled with hushed whispers usually reserved for a cheerleader pregnancy over the inclusion of So Tired, a ballad, on the album.

But I do dig some of Ozzy’s catalog and the lupine-laced Bark At The Moon is good fun.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

All You Zombies, with its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. Though Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, the Philadelphia band’s debut had several hits over the next year or so.

Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks), but main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian have certainly received some nice royalty checks over the years for penning Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

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Swinging To The Sounds Of The ’70s

October 26, 2011

During several years as the head buyer for a very large record store, I had a few dozen label reps wooing me on a regular basis.

As they were giving me stuff, I was receptive to being wooed and I got along quite well with all of them except for the one we’d dubbed Dodgeball. He went behind my back to get an order for some long-forgetten band called Space Monkeys.

(no one needs 300 copies of Space Monkeys – not in 1997, not now, not ever)

One rep who I always got a kick out of was Lenny, who walked with a limp and resembled Kenny Rogers.

As much as those details alone made him compelling – had The Gambler been shot? – I liked Lenny because he’d worked in the music industry for decades and could spin a yarn.

He had little interest in the grunge and alternative rock that was dominating the musical landscape at the time and he’d often ask me how old I was.

He’d bob his head like some bird that might eventually end up as part of a meal at a Kenny Rogers Roasters.

“You know, you’ll eventually end up listening to country music.”

I suppose that he was telling me that I’d outgrow the greasy kids stuff.

This migration toward country music hasn’t occurred, but I have come to realize that there’s something about the music of the ’70s that makes for a good morning commute.

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.

The music of ’70s is familiar to me, but much of it’s not overly so. Even big hits of the decade are songs I’ve probably heard less than some of the minor hits of the ’80s when I was listening to the radio obsessively.

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 Sundown, and The Knack’s Good Girls Don’t (as I did on the commute one morning this past week) works well enough for me.

And, to add some detail to the sometimes fuzzy memories I have of the music of the ’70s, 7 Inches Of 70s Pop and 70s Music Mayhem – two wonderful sites devoted solely to the decade – are frequent destinations.

Here are four mostly random hits from the ’70s…

Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection (1998)

I remember my dad quoting the advice given in You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, so I might have heard the song when it became Croce’s first hit in late summer of ’72. It’s a rollicking number much in the vein of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, which would be an even bigger hit the following spring.

At one record store where I worked, five or six of us had a bookie named Stick Daddy.

I never met Stick Daddy, but Jim Croce probably did.

Lobo – Me And You And A Dog Named Boo
from Have A Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Though I was a toddler in 1971, I do remember hearing Lobo’s Me And You And A Dog Named Boo on the radio at the time. I imagine the fact that the singer had a dog appealed to me.

(my brother and I had to make do with a hamster and hamsters, if no one has ever told you, don’t fetch).

But I dig the breezy song which I can’t help thinking would have made a most excellent theme song to a Saturday morning kids show.

Looking Glass – Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)
from Have A Nice Decade: The 70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Brandy is perfect, a song that is always welcome when it pops up on the iPod’s shuffle (or in the supermarket, for that matter). It seems that it would be ripe to be covered, but, then again, perhaps its nautical themes and tale of those residing at a port in a harbor town wouldn’t resonate with today’s pop audience.

Boston – More Than A Feeling
from Boston (1976)

For some reason, even though it was apparently a hit in the winter months, I think of More Than A Feeling as a summer song. Although I’m not rabid about the song, it does conjure up a good vibe for me and I’ve never quite understood the venom reserved for Boston.

Also, I find it amusing that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit was influenced by the song.


Saturday Night Fever

October 22, 2011

The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever was the first vinyl album I remember owning, a Christmas gift in 1977.

I had little interest in music at the time, but I imagine that lots of folks received that album, that Christmas season, from people who knew them well enough to feel compelled to give a gift, yet not well enough to not what the recipient might truly want.

I received my copy from from an aunt.

(she wasn’t some cool, hip, younger aunt, but, rather, an older widow who swore like a sailor, drove a beat-up Oldsmobile like a lunatic accompanied by a German Shepherd named Odd, and lived in a crumbling, urban neighborhood prone to gang violence)

Of course, even with meager interest in music, I was aware of the first hit from the soundtrack – The Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love – which was the Number One song in the US on Christmas Day.

The movie had been released in November and I do recall the stir it had caused. My best friend Will had a sister in high school at the time who was obsessed with the movie. The poster from the movie adorned her bedroom wall – Farrah Fawcett’s famous poster hung in the room Will shared with his brother.

(I suppose that if future archealogists unearthed such a tableau, it wouldn’t be a bad pop culture snapshot of the times)

I was ten and hadn’t seen the movie.

Not that I had much interest in it, nor would I have been able to get past the box office at our town’s small movie theater. Everyone knew everyone, making underage admittance to an R-rated movie a no-go.

I would somehow avoid seeing Saturday Night Fever for two decades.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I also never thought to myself, damn, I’ve received a blessing from the Dalai Lama, but I really should sit down and watch Saturday Night Fever.

One of friends at a record store where I worked had told us during one our usual post-shift drinking sessions of his aunt, who worked on the lighting for the dancefloor in the movie and even appeared in a number of scenes.

During that same time, I traveled through the UK with one of those barroom buddies. In Stratford-upon-Avon, we returned to our accommodations following an evening of toasting Shakespeare.

It was one of the nicer places we had stayed, a small bungalow-type dwelling with a living room and kitchen.

My buddy crashed, but I sprawled out in the living room, working my way through bags of crisps and channel-surfing.

The screen was suddenly filled with Tony Manero, dressed like a dandy and strutting down some grimy Brooklyn street, making a clumsy attempt to pick up some chick and eating pizza.

All as Stayin’ Alive played over the opening credits.

So, I hunkered down, tore into more crisps, and watched.

And, sure enough, there riding shotgun in the DJ booth was our friend from back in the States, dressed in drag and wearing glasses.

Thirty-four years ago, Saturday Night Fever had yet to be be released to theaters and How Deep Is Your Love had been on the charts for a mere five weeks. Within six months, the movie was a smash, the soundtrack was a juggernaut, and thirty or forty Bee Gees songs or ones penned by the Gibbs were on the radio.

About the only music I was hearing then was from our town’s radio station which would be playing in our kitchen as I ate breakfast before school. It was still a Top 40 station at the time, leaning toward light rock.

Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 from this week in 1977 that I recall hearing those groggy mornings…

Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better
from Clouds In My Coffee (1995)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my comparison.

But, wasn’t Carly simply one of the sexiest women of the ’70s? I mean, I was ten when Nobody Does It Better, the theme song from the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me, was a hit and I’d figured that out.

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner (1977)

Foreigner’s debut album makes me think of Lynn, the older brother of one of our friends from the neighborhood, who resembled a young Axl Rose and drove a black Trans-Am, tearing through the neighborhood with Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player.

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81.

The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.

Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986 (1988)

In 1977, about the only thing I knew about Paul Simon is that I had seen him on television and I thought that he looked like an older, distant cousin of mine.

I quite liked the laid-back and resigned Slip Slidin’ Away when it would come on the radio, but it would be several more years before I began to learn of Simon’s place in pop music culture and his classic work with Art Garfunkel.

Steve Miller Band – Swingtown
from Greatest Hits (1978)

Even before I was really into music, I knew a lot of Steve Miller songs from his hits in ‘70s. Fly Like An Eagle, Jet Airliner, and Take The Money And Run were always playing over the public pool’s sound system.

Personally, I much preferred Swingtown which was a staple on the jukebox in the bowling alley during the winter of ’77 where my friends and I would spend Saturday afternoons.