Hanging Out At The Zap

June 27, 2012

It was hardly the most clever of names, but, it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing.

The Zap.

It could have been an arcade in any small, Midwestern town in of the early ’80, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose, though we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and a ratio of bars to citizens that I have only observed in the UK.

(any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville)

And we had The Zap.

For the couple of years that it existed, The Zap was the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes.

Housed in a minimally remodeled building that had previously been home to a beauty salon on one side, an auto repair garage on the other, The Zap was a less glamourous version of the game room in Dazed And Confused on a smaller scale.

The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, making it one of the few places we kids could escape the heat and humidity of summer.

(though the place was frigid in the winter)

It had video games and pinball machines.

It was about the greatest place on earth.

(provided we define earth as the six square miles that was our hometown)

And The Zap had a jukebox.

That jukebox provided some of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or playing a few more songs on the jukebox.

I usually opted for more music.

As the summer began in 1984, my friends and I had our driver’s license. The sole objective most days was, somehow, to procure a vehicle and head for Cincinnati.

(and, often, such plots were hatched at The Zap)

But once you’d roamed the malls of the dirty city – been to arcades that would fill a barn – a dozen games, a few pinball machines, and a pair of pool tables is not impressive.

It was sometime toward the end of that same summer that The Zap closed.

And as we left The Zap in our dust and escaped to civilization, we often had the radio tuned to 96Rock, a station that, despite its shortcomings, was the one that meshed most with our various interests.

Here are four fairly random songs that we would have likely heard on one of those summer road trips in the year of Orwell…

Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire (1984)

HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve who had been in Santana with Schon. There were a few songs from the short-lived union’s lone album that I heard on radio at the time.

Their version of the iconic A Whiter Shade Of Pale got played quite a bit and I suspect I hadn’t heard the original.

(and, if I had, I doubt I could have told you it was Procol Harum)

The Pretenders – My City Was Gone
from Learning To Crawl (1984)

I got really burned out on My City Was Gone in 1984. Most of the radio stations which we listened to were located across the state in Ohio, so the song – about Chrissie Hynde’s home state – got played on all of the rock stations.

By summer, six months after the wonderful Learning To Crawl was released and radio stations had stopped playing Middle Of The Road, Show Me, and Back On The Chain Gang, My City Was Gone was still being played as if it had just come out.

(I much like the song again twenty-eight years later when it pops up)

Box Of Frogs – Back Where I Started
from Box Of Frogs (1984)

I loved the name of Box Of Frogs, but I was mostly indifferent to Back Where I Started. Like Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, Box Of Frogs had a brief existence, reuniting three founding members of The Yardbirds.

Fellow Yardbird Jeff Beck guested on several tracks including the shuffling Back Where I Started which I really dig now.

Iron Maiden – 2 Minutes To Midnight
from Powerslave (1984)

Though no metalhead, when 2 Minutes To Midnight arrived, I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden through my buddy Beej’s brother, who was obsessed with the band, and another buddy who, if we had snagged his dad’s car, would pop in a cassette with The Number Of The Beast on one side and Men Without Hats’ debut on the other.

The scorching 2 Minutes To Midnight got played a lot – 96Rock had an odd mix that ranged from Motley Crue and Ozzy to The Fixx and Missing Persons – and it was one of the few songs by Iron Maiden that I ever heard on the radio.

Summer Cometh When The Iceman Goeth

June 23, 2012

As a kid, the NBA championship meant that summer had arrived.

School would have ended a couple weeks before the title series, so staying up until the wee hours watching tape-delayed broadcasts of playoff games on late-night CBS was a seasonal ritual in the early ’80s.

(as was sleeping in ’til mid-morning)

We had an NBA franchise within a short drive, but all of our media was from Cincinnati, across the border and as the city no longer had a team, pro basketball received scant coverage.

With no abiding loyalty to our local team because they were mediocre at best and boring with no superstar, my friends and I were fans of individual players and, by extension, their team.

Everyone loved Dr. J, so the Sixers were popular.

The Lakers had Magic and the Celtics had Larry Bird, our state’s greatest gift to the world, so both of those teams had their loyalists.

I dug, George Gervin, the rail thin, guard for the San Antonio Spurs who was the best pure scorer in the league.

No one was more chilled on the court than the Iceman and one thing he could do…was finger roll.

Unfortunately, Ice would end up on summer vacation before I would. There were a couple seasons during which he managed to get the Spurs to the brink of the finals but no dice.

I’ve been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs this spring and Oklahoma City’s superstar Kevin Durant – Gervin 2.0 – has made me think of watching the Iceman as a kid.

And, as I did as a kid, I’ve been watching this season’s final series.

It’s been compelling and, whether you’re a fan of his or not, if you know basketball at all, you know what an epic romp through the playoffs and championship LeBron James had.

I didn’t stay up late, though, shutting things down most nights during the third, maybe early fourth quarter.

I no longer sleep until mid-day.

And the end of the series is no longer a marker, a sign post noting that for the next ten weeks you were mostly unfettered.

The summer of 1983 began with the Spurs losing in the conference finals. It would be the last time during Gervin’s seasons with the team that they would get so close to a championship.

It would be the last summer that my friends and I would lack driver’s licenses, but it was also the last summer that most of us were unencumbered by jobs.

I have no idea how George Gervin spent that summer, but I spent it with a lot of music. Here are four songs that I was hearing as the summer began in 1983…

Hall & Oates – Family Man
from H2O (1982)

Hall & Oates were in the midst of a ridiculous run of hit singles as the summer began and Family Man hit radio. Dark and paranoid, the song was a bit of a departure for the duo with its edgy guitar and New Wave vibe.

Family Man was a cover of a song by Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame and, despite its darker feel, followed Maneater and One On OneH2O‘s previous hits – into the Top Ten.

The song seems to have been lost in the wake of all of those other hits from Hall & Oates during the early ’80s as I’ve rarely heard it on the radio in the past thirty years.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)
from Listen (1983)

1983 was also the year when I began to really build a music collection and few releases were as eagerly awaited by me as Listen, the follow-up to A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut from the year before as I had adopted them as my band. Heavier on its use of electronics than its predecessor, the album initially disappointed me.

I did love the first single, Wishing, which would become the last of the A Flock Of Seagulls’ three Top 40 singles in the US and possibly their finest effort.

The dense, swirling cascade of multi-layered synthesizers and guitar gave the song a wall of sound for the New Wave era feel not surprising given that the band’s best-known song, I Ran (So Far Away), had apparently caught the ear of legendary producer Phil Spector.

The Kinks – State Of Confusion
from State Of Confusion (1983)

Despite the bulk of their success coming before we were born, The Kinks were one of the most popular bands among my friends and our schoolmates. It wasn’t just the classic ’60s stuff, but the newer material from albums like Low Budget and Give The People What They Want.

So, it was a given that 1983′s State Of Confusion would have our attention. It turned out to be popular with a lot of listeners as Come Dancing was the band’s biggest hit in years.

My favorite song from State Of Confusion was the driving title track, a lovely mix of angst and optimism with a mesmerizing chorus.

Iron Maiden – The Trooper
from Piece Of Mind (1983)

I wasn’t a metalhead and never went through such a phase, but I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden at the time as my buddy Beej’s little brother was obsessed with the band. As we spent a lot of time at his house that summer, we heard a lot of Maiden blaring from Davy’s room.

A year or so later, once we had our driver’s licenses, another buddy, Streuss, would baffle us when he’d toss in a cassette he had made with Men Without Hats on one side and Iron Maiden on the other. I soon developed an appreciation for the band.

Though not as memorable to me as some of their songs, The Trooper is standard-issue Maiden, galloping along at a breakneck pace driven by their twin-lead guitars and Bruce Dickinson’s throaty wail.

It also might be the only song I know with the word musket in it.

Tim Sings Blue Silver

June 17, 2012

The first time that I ever heard of Duran Duran was from a classmate who lived a few houses down the road, touting the greatness of Hungry Like The Wolf.

(by summer, this same kid had gone metal and was slavishly devoted to the bands in Circus)

Three days later, I heard Hungry Like The Wolf for the first time, listening to the radio on a sleepy Saturday morning with snow on the ground outside.

And then I heard it again…and again…and again…

By the time we returned to school on Monday it was impossible to surf the radio and not hear, on one station or another, the suddenly familiar laugh that opened the song.

Most of us dug Hungry Like The Wolf, but, in 1983, cable television was still exotic to most of us and MTV wasn’t available in our area, so the opportunities to see Duran Duran’s groundbreaking music videos was limited to those who had access to USA Network’s Night Flight.

Duran Duran mania might have been raging in the outside world, but not so much in our small town in the hinterlands of the American Midwest.

The trappings of the New Romantic movement were not easily adopted with the nearest Chess King and Merry-Go-Round locations sixty miles away.

We were mostly a jeans and t-shirt crowd in our high school.

Except for Tim.

Like half of the kids with whom we attended school, Tim was a farm kid whose family lived at the outskirts of the furthest bus route. He had five older brothers who were indistinguishable having the same curly hair and low-key demeanor as Tim.

Tim was a bright kid who, since grade school, we had watched drive our teachers to distraction with his mumbled answers that would invariably prompt requests to be repeated.

He was, like a lot of us, mostly an extra in the daily drama of high school life.

But, as we settled back in for a new school year that August, with Duran Duran on the radio with Is There Something I Should Know?, a track culled from their debut album that had been ignored in the States two years earlier, Tim returned with a new look.

It wasn’t a profound transformation – his curly hair sculpted into a swoop with a hint of purple that covered one eye, a shirt with a flap across the chest that snapped closed on the side – but it was enough to set him apart in the sea of Rush and Triumph concert shirts of our high school hallways.

It had the makings of a PR fiasco.

Instead, Tim was drawn into conversations with kids from social cliques who had never paid much attention to him.

I didn’t experience Duran Duran mania, but the band did provide entrée for one of us into a higher echelon of the high school caste.

Here are four songs from Duran Duran…

Duran Duran – Girls On Film
from Duran Duran (1981)

A lot of my friends owned copies of Rio, but I think it was my buddy Beej who quickly picked up a cassette of Duran Duran’s debut.

(he was also one of the few friends who had cable at the time and, thus, was familiar with the band from seeing their videos)

The video for Girls On Film caused a stir, but, when I finally saw it several years later, it was a bit underwhelming and less racy than what aired on Cinemax late at night.

And, I was underwhelmed when I heard Duran Duran on the heels of Rio, but I loved the lean, frenetic Girls On Film.

Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio (1982)

Hungry Like The Wolf exploded within hours of my first hearing it on the radio, becoming immediately inescapable as it would be for the next several months.

It’s odd to think of a world without Duran Duran as Simon LeBon and company have been a part of the musical landscape from almost the beginning of my interest in music. I was entranced with the kinetic and mysterious Hungry Like The Wolf from the first time I heard the laugh of LeBon’s girlfriend that opens the song.

Duran Duran – Do You Believe in Shame?
from Big Thing (1988)

I loved Rio, but going forward found their singles to be a mixed bag and their albums to offer diminishing returns. The band went on a hiatus after recording A View To A Kill during which the members split into Arcadia and The Power Station.

When Duran Duran returned with the funkier Notorious, I was in college and had no interest remaining in the band. I saw the videos for Big Thing‘s hits I Don’t Want Your Love and All She Wants Is often, but I was non-plussed.

When someone at the record store where I worked played Big Thing, it was the somber, hypnotic Do You Believe In Shame? that I wanted to hear.

(I still thing it’s damned hypnotic)

Duran Duran – Ordinary World
from Duran Duran (The Wedding Album) (1993)

Duran Duran had vanished from the scene when I found an advance cassette of their single Ordinary World. I was working a Saturday morning shift at record store with a prickly co-worker who was immersed in the grunge scene.

We popped the cassette in and I was surprised by the song. It seemed so grown-up.

Somber and deliberate, Ordinary World renewed interest in Duran Duran and became one of the biggest hits of their lengthy, hit-laden career. The lyrical content was as memorable as the musical packaging and I’d likely name the song as my favorite by the band.