January 28, 2012

There were few greater things in childhood than popcorn.

Popcorn was a foodstuff that you ate at the movies or a basketball game.

Pretzels, potato chips and their ilk might be in the pantry at home, but popcorn was not such a common nosh.

Popcorn was an event.

I was likely munching on popcorn as King Kong ascended to the top of the Twin Towers and, later that same winter, when Rocky almost upset Apollo Creed for the heavyweight title.

Popcorn meant spectacle.

Of course, there was the occasional tin of Jiffy Pop on the stovetop. If it lacked the scale of the cinema, popcorn at home in the household den still made an impression. In the more intimate setting, popcorn was the spectacle.

The exploding corn under the ever-expanding foil of the Jiffy Pop container was a bit like playing with fireworks in the house.

And, as any kid exposed to a billion hours of Brady Bunch reruns in the ’70s will tell you, it was a trail of popcorn that played a pivitol role in Mike and Carol rescuing the boys from the clutches of Vincent Prince.

Yeah, popcorn is all right.

It would have been early 1972 when I would have seen the first movie I recall seeing in the theater, the cinematic classic Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster, the trippiest of all the Godzilla flicks and an experience I’ve recounted before.

As I was four, music wasn’t really on my radar, but here are four songs that I might have heard at the time that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 during this week in 1972…

Don McLean – American Pie
from American Pie (1971)

Few songs have been as dissected and parsed as thoroughly in the history of mankind as Don McLean’s magnum opus, so, really, what more is there to add.

Climax – Precious And Few
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I remember Precious And Few from some television commercial in the ’70s – Kodak, maybe? I don’t know and I’m too lazy to care, but I will consider it a middle finger to the marketing world that I still know the song if I can’t recall what was being shilled.

The Stylistics – You Are Everything
from The Stylistics (1971)

I know that Philly is famous for soul music, but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the genre. The Stylistics are one of those acts who I love the handful of songs I know and keep intending to check out their music beyond the hits.

They’re still on that list – thanks to a combination of apathy and forgetfulness – because I never tire of songs like Betcha By Golly Wow, I’m Stone in Love With You, Break Up To Make Up, and the silky smooth You Are Everything.

Elton John – Levon
from Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume II (1977)

One of the few times I remember taking note of a song as a kid was hearing Elton John’s Benny And The Jets blaring from a jukebox in a Pizza Inn in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I don’t remember hearing Levon from a couple years earlier.

I do love Levon, though. The lyric has always intrigued me and the song is more striking to me the older I grow.

Happy Birthday, Excitable Boy

January 24, 2012

That’s right. If it hadn’t been for a miserable little tumor, Warren Zevon might be having cake and wearing a silly hat today.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bad Example couldn’t be with us.

My interest in Zevon began with his 1987 album Sentimental Hygiene. I was in college and the fact that the members of R.E.M. served as Zevon’s backing band legally mandated my curiosity.

The album left me slightly underwhelmed but intrigued enough to snag a copy of the compilation A Quiet, Normal Life: The Best Of Warren Zevon.

It was a revelation as I discovered there was much, much more to the man than a single song about werewolves – beheaded mercenaries, diplomats, duplicitous waitresses, and innumerable other, colorful ne’er-do-wells populated the lyrics.

I was hooked.

Paloma gave me a copy of his biography, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, three Christmases ago, which I inhaled in about two days. Compiled by his ex-wife with instruction by Warren to leave nothing out – including a recipe for meatloaf – it is so candid that it’s a bit exhausting at times.

The man did lead a full-grown life that would make for a good screenplay. If you can start a story with a sixteen year-old kid stealing a Corvette which his Russian father – who is a professional gambler – has won in a card game and taking off to New York to be a folk singer in the late ‘60s even though he aspires to be the next Igor Stravinsky (under whom he has studied)…

By the time I graduated from college, I had listened to a lot of Zevon and had seen him live at The Vogue in Indianapolis. I’d continue to listen to a lot of Zevon and I’d see two more of his shows.

I also once had a bizarre dream where Warren had been sentenced to some community service work for some transgression. He was to take underprivileged kids camping.

Instead, this motley collection of kids ended up in sleeping bags on the floor of some posh hotel suite; the carnage of dozens of room service trays everywhere (certainly at least one pot roast).

And Warren?

He was standing amidst the wreckage, cigarette in hand as he growled, “We’re roughing it now, aren’t we kids?”

Wherever he might be on this day, I hope he’s enjoying a sandwich.

Here are eight songs from the late, great Warren Zevon…

Warren Zevon – Desperados Under The Eaves
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Leave it to Warren Zevon to make the hum of an air conditioner sound like a spiritual refrain.

Warren Zevon – Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Streuss, a buddy from high school and college, accompanied me the first time I saw Zevon live. As Streuss was prone to declare, “I’m part Norwegian,” I think he took particular pride in the exploits of “Norway’s bravest son.”

Warren Zevon – Play It All Night Long
from A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon (1986)

Life is hard and apparently more so in the rural South. Possibly the only song in the history of mankind which mentions brucellosis.

Warren Zevon – Splendid Isolation
from Transverse City (1989)

The first “new” album by Warren Zevon that I bought at release. There were no shortage of eclectic musicians who guested on Zevon’s albums, ranging from R.E.M. to Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan to George Clinton.

Neil Young makes an appearance on the splendid Splendid Isolation.

Warren Zevon – Heartache Spoken Here
from Mr. Bad Example (1991)

Dwight Yoakam adds harmony vocals to the twangy Heartache Spoken Here and makes me wonder of the hijinks which might have ensued had Warren gone country and ended up at the Grand Ol’ Opry.

Warren Zevon – Searching For A Heart
from Mr. Bad Example (1991)

“They say love conquers all. You can’t start it like a car. You can’t stop it with a gun.”


Warren Zevon – Mutineer
from Mutineer (1995)

Near the end of his life as he was dying from cancer, Warren made an appearance on long-time fan David Letterman’s show (the only time Letterman has ever devoted an entire show to one guest). Part of the interview and a rather poignant performance of Mutineer can be seen here.

Warren Zevon – Keep Me In Your Heart
from The Wind (2003)

I wasn’t particularly wowed by Zevon’s late ’90s output, but the man went out on a high note with The Wind, released just two weeks before he passed away.

It was his sardonic wit that drew me to Warren Zevon’s music, but the man was capable of delivering the sweet with the bitter and Keep Me In Your Heart is the simple and poignant song that closed The Wind.

Things That Rhyme Like Nipsey Russell

January 22, 2012

Paloma and I upgraded to HD recently which is how I ended up on the Game Show Network the other night.

As HD is a new experience, I find that I surf for shows to look at rather than watch.

I didn’t even know we had the Game Show Network, but when I saw The $25,000 Pyramid listed as I scrolled through the channel guide and couldn’t help but be curious as to what a game show from the 1970s might look like in HD.

I tried the channel and the sight of Nipsey Russell and Vickie Lawrence bantering with host Dick Clark materialized from the pixels.

The show used to air in the mornings on weekdays, so I’d only see it on rare occasion during the school years, the handfuls of days off for snow, sickness, or holidays.

During the summer, The $25,000 Pyramid was more regularly viewed. As I watched the show for the first time in thirtyplus years, I couldn’t help but think that, at that time, it was as educational as portions of our actual educational system.

(I undoubtedly learned new words and it stimulated creative thinking)

And, in a world with far less media and far more mystique, The $25,000 Pyramid provided a chance to see television actors outside their usual time-slotted habitats.

Loretta Swit, whose name I’d read during the opening credits of M*A*S*H, was truly a real person and Margaret Houlihan was truly fictitious.

The show was likely my introduction to Dick Clark as I don’t recall American Bandstand airing in our locale. By the end of the ’70s, I’d know Clark for his New Year’s Eve countdown.

In the early ’80s, not long after I discovered Casey Kasem counting down hit songs on American Top 40, I would come across Dick Clark doing the same on The Dick Clark National Music Survey.

Where as Casey’s program aired on several stations, regularly, Clark’s show seemed to only be broadcast on one station, erratically, on late Sunday afternoons. It also used the record charts published by Cashbox as opposed to Casey’s use of Billboard.

Not being familiar with either publication, I recall being puzzled as to the differences between where songs would end up on each countdown, but, probably because it aired on more stations, I assumed Casey’s take was more “real.”

Here are four songs that I might have heard listening to either Casey Kasem or Dick Clark count down the hits during this week in 1983…

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)

There were a lot of acts that previously had not achieved a lot of mainstream radio success making waves in early 1983. Though The Clash had notched a Top 40 hit a few years earlier with Train In Vain, the legendary punk band was having their greatest commercial success at the time with the übercool Rock The Casbah.

Though I knew The Clash by name, I had never heard their music prior to Rock The Casbah. It would be over the next few years – and thanks to the passion my buddy Streuss had for the band – that I would discover what all the fuss was over “the only band that matters.”

ABC – The Look Of Love (Part One)
from The Lexicon Of Love (1982)

ABC’s debut The Lexicon Of Love is widely regarded as a classic ’80s album. It wasn’t as wildly popular in the US as it was in the UK, but The Look Of Love and Poison Arrow got played on even the most pedestrian of Top 40 stations which I was listening to at the time.

Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
from The Youth Of Today (1982)

Growing up in the lily-white Midwest of the US, reggae didn’t exist. I might have known the name Bob Marley, but it would have only been from perusing Rolling Stone.

The teenaged quintet Musical Youth managed to notch a Top Ten pop hit in America with the pop-reggae of Pass The Dutchie, but had it not been for listening to countdown programs on the radio, I would have never heard the song. It might have been a sizeable hit, but it was one that I never heard on the stations to which I was listening.

In fact, the only Musical Youth that I ever heard on the radio during that period was the song 007 -which was largely ignored – from the group’s follow-up album to The Youth Of Today when 97X went on the air toward the end of ’83.

Christopher Cross – All Right
from Another Page (1983)

Like most of my friends at the time, I embraced much of the new music – New wave and synthesizer bands – that was arriving from the UK. I also maintained an interest in the more traditional pop music I was hearing on the radio. I didn’t make much of a differentiation.

It was all just music and I had a curiousity about most of it.

Christopher Cross had taken three years between his debut and follow-up album – a ridiculously long period at the time. I had made Cross’ mega-successful debut the first album I had ever purchased, but during that hiatus, not only did the rest of the world move on, but I made the quantum leap from twelve to fifteen which is twenty-one years in dog years and during that time I, like the rest of world, came to he startling realization that flamingos and rock and roll don’t mix.

Twenty-five years later, I find All Right to be pleasant enough, though.