The Road (There And Back)

November 27, 2011

As a kid, the family usually made at least one trek annually to visit relatives in Western Pennsylvania.

To mitigate the need to navigate traffic, we would often set off on these trips in the wee hours of the night, getting the first couple hours in before the sunrise.

It was thrilling to be up in the middle of the night, at an hour whose existence was wholly unknown to me at the time.

As my younger brother and our mother would be asleep in the backseat, I was accorded shotgun, road atlas perched in my lap and serving as navigator for our father.

I assumed the responsibility of the task with deadly seriousness and a certain belief that any failure on my part might result in us being lost forever, though little navigation was truly needed and the position was essentially honorary.

Thirtysome years later, it’s simply good to that Paloma and I have made our Thanksgiving trek with no difficulties and are safely back in the treehouse with the animals.

Here are four road songs (out of the numerous ones residing on the harddrive)…

John Fogerty – The Old Man Down The Road
from Centerfield (1985)

I was a junior in high school when John Fogerty released his first new music since before I had even begun the educational process. I was hardly enamored with Centerfield or the handful of tracks that were getting airplay, but the album and Fogerty’s comeback was inescapable (especially as my buddy Beej loved the record).

For me, it was a bit too twangy for my tastes at the time, though now I have a much greater appreciation and affection for the ex-Creedence singer’s bayou brew. And, Paloma and I came across a fellow in a roadside McDonald’s that certainly would have been well cast as the titular character.

Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere
from Little Creatures (1985)

As John Fogerty was making a comeback in 1985, art-rockers Talking Heads were making a belated arrival, notching the most commercially successful album of their almost-decade long career with Little Creatures. Sure, the quartet had a major radio hit two years earlier with the übercool Burning Down The House and, though nothing on Little Creatures matched that success, the album had several songs that got a lot of airplay.

One of those songs was the skittish march Road To Nowhere which I heard a lot on 97X that spring and was accompanied by an expectedly eye-catching video that MTV played incessantly.

Steve Earle – Six Days On The Road
from Essential Steve Earle (1993)

Paloma and I didn’t spend six days on the road – two was more than enough for us – so we didn’t quite reach the level of weariness that the protagonist felt in the song that was a major hit for country singer Dave Dudley in 1963.

Nearly a quarter century later, Steve Earle contributed his version of the song to John Hughes’ movie Planes, Trains And Automobiles, a flick that has become a holiday perennial.

Eddie Vedder with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – The Long Road
from Dead Man Walking soundtrack (1996)

Traveling through the Midwest, Paloma and I heard a similar rotation of artists and songs on the (mostly) classic rock stations we’d pull up on the radio. And, there amongst ’70s warhorses like Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Skynyrd was – over and over again – Pearl Jam.

(much to Paloma’s chagrin)

Personally, it reminded me of how much of Pearl Jam’s catalog I have enjoyed over the years. The band certainly has had its detractors (aside from Paloma), but there’s always been something about the grunge icons that has struck me as geniune.

And, over the years, lead singer Eddie Vedder has, like several other members of the band, stepped out on his own as he did in 1996 when he collaborated with the late Pakastani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the lovely, mournful The Long Road for the soundtrack to the movie Dead Man Walking.

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Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, like the once annual airing of The Wizard Of Oz used to be, is an event.

Yeah, some people make it out to be dysfunction junction (and for them, maybe it is), but getting to watch football all day on a day which usually would be spent slogging through work is a brilliant concept.

And, of course, it is a chance to feast.

It’s like being king for a day.

Bring me gravy! I shall gnaw on this turkey leg in a slovenly fashion as these superhumans on the television perform amazing feats for my amusement!

OK. It’s not necessarily that dramatic and, as the Lions always play on Thanksgiving Day, the feats are not always amazing in a good way.

(though I cannot imagine how empty a Thanksgiving without the Lions playing the early game would be – it would be like a Halloween without a visit from The Great Pumpkin)

One Thanksgiving was spent living in London, eating some take-out pizza in an ice-cold flat.

And, in a cruel twist, my favorite team was making a rare Thanksgiving Day appearance. They would lose, in overtime after a bizarre coin toss snafu to begin the extra period.

It was a game that would have been maddening to have watched and it was maddening to miss.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been brilliant every year, but that year – no food, no football, no heat – is really the lone one I recall as being truly miserable.

As a kid, our parents dragged us off to mass. I mean, you have the day off school and can sleep in and lounge on the couch; the last thing you want to be doing at an early hour is trudging off to church.

When I was fifteen, the priest decided to use his sermon to rattle off a laundry list of accidental nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR that had been narrowly avoided.

(this was 1983 and two months earlier there had been all of the hullaballoo surrounding the television movie The Day After)

I kept having images of an extra crispy bird and excessively dry stuffing.

It was a bit of a bummer.

It was also a year when my team had a Thanksgiving game and Detroit bottled them 45-3.

But, global tensions and football smackdowns aside, I have no doubt that the food was good.

That autumn, I was still listening to a lot of Top 40 stations, but Q95, an album rock station out of Indianapolis, had caught my attention as well and 97X was exposing me on a semi-regular basis to modern rock for the first time. Some of the songs on the radio that Thanksgiving…

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining (1983)

Yes, it’s the M&M song and I say good for The The’s Matt Johnson for banking some nice coin after being essentially ignored in the States (I think that the project had a bit of success across the pond).

As for the song, it reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved The The in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

Men At Work – Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive
from Cargo (1983)

By the end of 1983, Men At Work, who had burst onto the scene a year earlier, was over. It was amazing how massive they were and how quickly it ended, but their quirky music still sounds delightful twenty-five years later.

Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive was their third hit from Cargo, following Overkill and It’s A Mistake on the airwaves. I still think the former is their finest moment, but the latter did little for me.

I don’t actually recall hearing Dr. Heckyll And Mr. Jive on the radio much, but I always smiled at the line, “He loves the world except for all the people.”

(some days, I concur)

Michael Stanley Band – My Town
from You Can’t Fight Fashion (1983)

Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening.

There was a lot of economic malaise in the first few years of the ’80s, especially in the Rust Belt. The punchy, anthemic My Town was rock straight from the heartland and its sing-a-long chorus got it a lot of airplay, especially when stations began editing in a shout out to their respective city – Cincinnati! – into the song.

Rufus And Chaka Khan – Ain’t Nobody
from Stompin’ At The Savoy (1983)

I wasn’t much into R&B growing up. There was one station and, on occasion, I would end up there, but, unless the song crossed over to the pop stations, I wasn’t likely hearing it.

Ain’t Nobody crossed over big time and it hooked me the first time I heard it.


Norman, Daryl, And A Brother Named Daryl

November 20, 2011

Though Kevin Costner has provided me with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to surviving apocalyptic scenarios involving water and lack of mail delivery in Waterworld and The Postman, respectively, he’s offered no cinematic advice for dealing with the undead.

Fortunately, Norman Reedus has become a fine role model to me for how best to navigate a zombie apocalypse through his portrayel of the crossbow-wielding, squirrel-gutting, walker-slaying, Southern redneck anti-hero Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead.

(and he’s Zen)

Norman Reedus is new to me. His lengthy list of credits contains nothing with which I am familiar, though apparently he’s pretty stellar in the vigilante flick The Boondock Saints.

This unfamiliarity with the actor makes it believable to me that Daryl truly is some mountain hillbilly, plucked from rural Georgia and put in some television show.

(if Daryl was a real person, he would summarily put an end to Chuck Norris, gut him, use his ears as a necklace, and, then, deadpan a line revealing someone quite self-aware)

But Norman Reedus is apparently a real person and, based on his Wikipedia bio, seems like a fairly interesting cat in his own right, having left home at twelve and lived in England, Spain, and Japan.

He also had a kid with Helena Christensen, who broke Chris Isaak to the mainstream with the video for Wicked Game.

If you’re hooking up with supermodels, you must have some kind of mojo.

Of course, the two apparently named their kid Mingus which, if true, is either genuinely cool or pretentitious, hipster silliness.

As for Norman, I don’t recall that name having much cachet during my lifetime, being neither plentiful nor iconic.

(I can’t think of knowing a Norman and – thanks to Three’s Company – the first one that comes to mind is Norman Fell)

I did know a Daryl as a kid, the brother of a good buddy and neighbor.

Daryl was six or seven years older and out of high school when Will and I were still in junior high. I think he worked in construction.

A tall, lanky kid, Daryl had sideburns and shoulder-length hair, and his usual attire would have gained him admittance to any biker bar (there being a few in the area).

He might not have been killing zombies – though he did hunt, on occasion, with a crossbow – but we considered him to be pretty badass.

And when Daryl screamed out of their driveway in his beat-up Camaro on Saturday night, gravel becoming tiny, lethal projectiles, he might well have ended up at some watering hole that would have been frequented by his Walking Dead namesake.

Here are four songs that might have been blaring from the eight-track player in his Camaro…

Nazareth – Hair Of The Dog
from Hair Of The Dog (1975)

One eight-track that I know resided in Daryl’s Camaro was Nazareth’s Hair Of The Dog. Every now and the, Daryl would give me and Will a ride somewhere and the language of the album’s ferocious title track made us feel like we were on the highway to hell with a true outlaw.

Blue Öyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
from Agents of Fortune (1976)

There will be no cowbell joke here. The mighty Blue Öyster Cult deserves more respect than that and, to quote The Smiths (to Paloma’s delight), that joke isn’t funny anymore.

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Tuesday’s Gone
from Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd (1973)

Like Blue Öyster Cult, Skynyrd has been reduced to many to one tired joke. And, classic rock radio has so burned me out on the Southern rock band to the point of disinterest.

Then, I hear something like the wistful Tuesday’s Gone and make a mental note that a personal reassesment of Skynyrd might be in order.

Alice Cooper – School’s Out
from School’s Out (1972)

My all-time greatest arch-enemy might have been a third-grade teacher who, on more days than not, I was at odds. She was an Alice Cooper fan, so I’m not sure if that was why I never bothered with the music or rather because during the ’80s – my musically formative years – he wasn’t on top of his game.

But I’ve gained a greater appreciation for Cooper’s catalog in recent years and, even as a third-grader in the late ’70s, had an appreciation for the sentiments of the stomping School’s Out.