What The Hell?

February 22, 2012

Paloma was twitterpated when I arrived home this evening over the spectacle of a pair of preachers proselytizing on the sidewalk down the street.

Apparently the duo was covering, loudly, the things that would result in the college kids at the university across the street heading straight to hell – no need to pass go, no need to study for finals.

(of course, this misses the point that the main reason for attending college is to spend four to nine years doing things that might earn you eternal damnation)

We had a street preacher at my school who remains a part of lore there. His name really was Max, but I’m not sure if the Mad portion of his moniker predated or was inspired by the Mel Gibson flicks.

Mad Max was already a fixture the moment that I set foot on the campus more than a year after the cinematic character walked off into the sunset beyond Thunderdome. He was in the same spot in the heavily-trafficked heart of campus delivering fire and brimstone daily.

The movies have remained entertaining, but our Max went from being riveting street theater to merely being part of the landscape before I made it home for Thanksgiving break that first autumn.

Paloma and I live in a region where, even in such an über religious nation, most folks are crossing off the days ’til the rapture. I’ve long suspected that if I asked a random sampling of citizenry to balance their bank account, they’d stare at me like a dog that had been shown a card trick.

However, ask the same random sampling about what God wants and they’d blather away with absolute certainty.

I might be crazy, but if there is some omnipotent entity that steers the universe, I’d think it would be far more incomprenhensible than basic algebra.

So, perhaps there is some fiery destination where those who’ve misbehaved end up as Beelzebub’s bitch.

Or, perhaps hell is no different than heaven except there is no cake.

I doubt I’m getting the answer from someone screaming on a sidewalk.

In the meantime, here are four songs on the subject…

AC/DC – Highway To Hell
from Highway To Hell (1979)

I remember reading an interview with AC/DC guitarist Angus Young sometime in the late ’80s upon their release of a new album. The interviewer asked him to address critics that accused the band of releasing the same album twelve times.

Angus corrected him, informing him that it was, actually, thirteen times.

Well played, sir.

Squirrel Nut Zippers – Hell
from Hot (1997)

Hot was released as there was a retro swing music revival in the US and resulted in Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Hell being inescapable for months on end.

Sure the song is supposed to be a cautionary tale, but it’s so intoxicatingly festive that it fails to spook.

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Have You Ever Been To Hell
from Conscious Party (1988)

Conscious Party was released in the spring of 1988 as my sophomore year of college was ending. That summer was the first one which I wouldn’t return home as I was taking classes and working in a record store.

Produced by Talking Heads’ rhythm section Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, Conscious Party was perfect to put on and groove to for forty minutes or so during lazy summer days at the store. The breezy Tomorrow People managed to reach the Top 40 in the States, but the album was worthwhile from start to finish.

The Clash – Straight To Hell
from Clash On Broadway (1991)

Straight To Hell is hypnotic and off-kilter. The song’s lyrics are hypnotic and scathing – particularly those about a Vietnam-era soldier abandoning a child he fathered during that war.

I always thought it was one of The Clash’s finest moments and most fully-realized songs.

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Bagpipes

February 18, 2012

I keep seeing some television commercial, touting some MMA bout.

With bagpipes blaring over fight footage, some participant is in the frame spouting Irish proverbs in an accent that I’m not quite sure is Irish or Scottish.

The commercial always causes me to lose the next ten minutes to two hours pondering whether this cat is supposed to be Irish or Scottish and, if he’s Irish, should his speil be accompanied by bagpipes.

I think of bagpipes, I think Scotland.

I also think of a trek to work one summer day. I must have had the four-to-midnight shift at the record store where I worked. The store was located across the street from a large college campus and there was a small meadow that I would often cut across to get there.

On this particular afternoon, I stopped, hearing bagpipes mixing with whatever I was listening to on my Walkman. I pulled the ear buds out as I shuffled through the grass and past a girl, sitting underneath a tree, playing bagpipes.

I thought to myself that it wasn’t every day that you see a girl sitting under a tree playing bagpipes.

(and it isn’t)

Here are four songs by Scottish acts…

Altered Images – I Could Be Happy
from Pinky Blue (1982)

Altered Images released a trio of albums in the early ’80s and even managed a handful of hits in the UK, but the group had little success in the States.

I don’t recall if I heard I Could Be Happy back in the day, though it’s entirely possible that 97X played the song. Produced by Martin Rushent, who had recently helmed Human League’s breakthrough Dare, I Could Be Happy is shiny New Wave reminiscent of New Order, with Clare Grogan’s perky, playful vocals juxtaposing the dark lyrics.

It’s ridiculously catchy.

Primal Scream – Movin’ On Up
from Screamadelica (1991)

There are a handful of songs that never fail to make me smile. Movin’ On Up is one of them.

Snow Patrol – Run
from Final Straw (2003)

I’ve lost track of most of the music world since the odometer hit this century for various reasons (time, or lack of, being partially responsible). However, Snow Patrol is one act since the millenium that has often caused me to prick up my ears.

There’s a brooding tension about Run that draws me in, almost hypnotically, and, when it pops up on the iPod, it’s rare that I don’t listen to the song five or six times.

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown (1984)

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country.

It’s bone-rattling.


Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test*

February 12, 2012

Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me “Cracker Vacuum.”

(it was later translated into Chinese as the far more sonically palatable Bin Gone Kon).

Munchies-inspired nicknames aside, crackers are delightful and the addition of cheese was a great moment in humankind. My enjoyment of this combination has been tempered of late by my concern that – based on knowledge gleaned from numerous viewings of Blade Runner – I might be a replicant.

I didn’t see the sci-fi classic in the theater, but, rather, a few years after its 1982 release. Bladerunner was a favorite of my buddy Streuss and he introduced the movie to a half dozen of us.

It was late on a Friday night and we’d returned from a trek into Cincinnati to roam the malls and record stores. Streuss fired up the VCR as we lounged about on the furniture in his family’s den like lemurs in trees.

I had no expectations, knowing little about the movie aside from Harrison Ford playing the titular character.

Maybe it was the late hour, but I was non-plussed.

Oh, the visuals were stunning – even watching it now, Blade Runner looks like it could have been filmed tomorrow – but it was ponderous and leisurely paced.

Harrison Ford was Han Solo. He was Indiana Jones. He was a Man Of Action trapped in a movie where the action was sporadic and – despite having dispatched Imperial stormtroopers and Nazis – Ford was continually in danger of being rended limb from limb by replicants.

(years later and after repeated viewings, I recognized the utter brilliance of the movie and found the questions the film raised about consciousness and humanity were mind-bending)

Throughout the film, Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos, leaves origami animals for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard and these items – combined with the unicorn footage added for the director’s cut – strengthen the argument that Deckard is a replicant as the unicorn memory is one programmed into all replicants who are unaware that they are synthetic creatures.

(Paloma and I are in opposing camps on whether Deckard is a replicant)

This debate has caused me to question a memory that I have which, though forty years old, remains vivid. On a family vacation, I was allowed to stay up quite late with my uncle; we watched a movie about cartoon cats in Paris and ate cheese and crackers.

I fear this memory couldn’t have happened.

The movie had to have been The Aristocats – is there another cartoon about cats in Paris? – but this was years before VCRs and cable television. Would they have shown such a movie on network television following the late news?

Then there is the inconsistency of this memory with the daily routine of my uncle which was like clockwork – on the river fishing at dawn, an afternoon draining bottles of Iron City at the Moose Lodge, and asleep in his recliner shortly after dinner.

I don’t remember ever seeing the man awake after dark let alone eating cheese and crackers.

I’m left to wonder if the memory is my “unicorn sequence,” one that everyone possesses.

Perhaps Edward James Olmos is someday going to leave a foil, origami Triscuit at my doorstep.

Or maybe a Ritz.

It must have been early 1984 when Streuss introduced us to the gritty future awaiting us in Blade Runner. At the time, I was listening to the alternative rock of the newly minted 97X as much as possible.

Here are four songs I might have heard on 97X twenty-eight Februarys ago…

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for whom Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

The Cure – The Lovecats
from Japanese Whispers (1983)

The Lovecats is downright jaunty (particularly Robert Smith’s vocals which have an almost feline quality) – jaunty not being a description which I would have thought appropo to most of The Cure’s music.

That is until I mentally went back over their catalog and realized, to my surprise, that they have more moments of jaunt than you might think.

XTC – Love On A Farmboy’s Wages
from Mummer (1983)

I thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed their album English Settlement on the Rolling Stone charts.

A year or so later, I would become familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.

But I mostly knew XTC’s music through my buddy Streuss who became enthralled with their quirky style of alternative rock far earlier than most of the kids I knew in college who loved the band.

Howard Jones – New Song
from Human’s Lib (1984)

One of the things I dug most about 97X was hearing songs months and months before they’d break in the States. One of those such songs was Howard Jones’ New Song which had been a success in the UK in the autumn of ’83 as 97X had just taken to the airwaves and six months prior to it reaching the Top 40 in the US.

Jones would have a handful of hits during the next three or four years and they’d mostly be of the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic variety. Mostly I was meh toward them, but, at the time, I did find the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic New Song to be captivating.

*reprised, remixed, and reposted after I stumbled upon Blade Runner on cable the other night