Run Zola Run

July 29, 2012

The first summer Olympics that I recall in more than fuzzy detail was the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

For me, the first thing that comes to mind from those games isn’t Carl Lewis or Mary Lou Retton, it’s Zola Budd.

It must have been in Sports Illustrated that I first read of Zola, a diminutive South African teenager who had broken the women’s world record in the 5000 meters, a record that was unrecognized as it had taken place in a race in her homeland.

I found Zola fascinating as she wasn’t much older than I was and, at an age when five years was forever, this gangly, curly-haired sprite was apparently smoking the adult runners against whom she competed.

And she ran barefoot.

I was a sixteen year-old kid in a small town in the American midwest and on the high school track team and this was exotic stuff.

In the days before constant media, Zola was a mystery to most of the world, and – in this pre-internet, pre-ESPN world – I don’t think I’d even seen footage of her running.

But she was in the sports news a lot in the time leading up to the 1984 Olympics, for record-setting performances and for being granted UK citizen to be able to compete in the games.

(South Africa athletes being banned from international competition because of their country’s apartheid system)

I was watching the night of the 3000 meter finals which had been hyped as a showdown between Zola and American Mary Decker.

Decker had been Zola a decade earlier, a teen-aged running prodigy in pigtails, who had missed chances for Olympic glory due to injuries and the 1980 US boycott of the Soviet games.

And I was watching when, halfway through the event, with Zola leading a pack including Decker, the two became entangled as Decker clipped Zola’s bare heel, sending the American tumbling in a heap into the infield.

As Decker writhed in pain at the side of the track, the race continued as the massive crowd of 85,000 spectators viciously booed.

It was brutal to watch.

Zola had been the target of ongoing protests because of being South African, but this was different. She had described Decker as her heroine and had posters of the older runner on her bedroom walls.

She led for another lap or two but faded to seventh, later explaining that she couldn’t quit, but that she couldn’t face receiving a medal in front of the hostile crowd.

That summer was one were my musical interests were continuing to undergo a shift. For the first time since I’d begun to really care about music a couple years earlier, Top 40 radio was losing sway with me.

Sure, I’d still listen to Top 40, but more often than not, it were the album rock stations that were favored and, once the sun set, I’d tune into the modern rock of 97X. It might have been the most unconsciously open-minded I’ve ever been about music.

Scanning through the Billboard Hot 100 chart for this week in 1984, most of it is familiar. Here are four of those songs…

Scandal featuring Patty Smyth – The Warrior
from The Warrior (1984)

My buddy Beej had turned me onto the debut mini-album by Scandal and not long after the band was getting a lot of radio attention with Goodbye To You and Love’s Got A Line On You. Their full-length debut pushed lead singer Patty Smyth to the forefront.

The Warrior might have been goofy – and the video didn’t help – but the song is an earworm and Smyth was the kid sister Pat Benatar might have had.

(and, oddly enough, as I watch the 2012 summer Olympics, tennis great/commentator John McEnroe – who is married to Smyth – is hanging with Bob Costas)

Bananarama – Cruel Summer
from Bananarama (1984)

My buddy Beej brought a lot of new music to us via his uncle, a college professor who lived in the city. So, we knew of Tears For Fears, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and Echo & The Bunnymen before we might have heard them on the radio.

Bananarama was another one. The trio’s Deep Sea Skiving might not have been more than a cult hit in the States, but I did hear He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ and Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye often when 97X went on the air in autumn of 1983.

I dug Bananarama, though I didn’t own Deep Sea Skiving as, for quite some time it, was an expensive import. And I dug the loping Cruel Summer (as well as Robert De Niro’s Waiting… from earlier that summer)

(then the group got involved with producers Stock Aitken Waterman and I was out)

The Cars – Drive
from Heartbeat City (1984)

I recently posted several songs by The Cars and there was great outrage over my neglecting to include Drive. Actually, the only reason that it didn’t make the cut was that I knew I had written about the song before.

However, Drive is certainly among my favorite songs by The Cars and I took note of it the first time I popped in a copy of Heartbeat City not long after the album was released in the spring.

The song was so atypical for the band, a lush, dreamy ballad sung by bassist Ben Orr. As pretty as Drive is, it has a desperate, dark undercurrent to it which was reinforced by the video which seemed like something Rod Serling might have conjured.

Quiet Riot – Mama Weer All Crazee Now
from Condition Critical (1984)

No metalhead was I, but there was a bit of hullabaloo surrounding the release of Condition Critical, Quiet Riot’s follow-up to the mega-selling Metal Health from the year before. That album had brought metal to the mainstream, topping the album charts and spawning a Top Ten single with the group’s cover of Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize.

I recall a few of the rock station’s hyping the arrival of Condition Critical and MTV – which we had just gotten access to earlier that summer – heavily playing the first single, another Slade cover.

I was mostly indifferent to Mama Weer All Crazee Now as most of the public proved to be as well. Ratt had become the token hard rock act on pop radio that summer with Round And Round and both Condition Critical and Quiet Riot were summarily relegated to the cut-out bins.

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Metal Guru

July 25, 2012

There is a great likelihood that Paloma and I will be purchasing a new vehicle between now and when the Mayans zap the planet with a giant ray gun.

(or something like that)

I confess that the process – the considerations and calculations of buying a new car – isn’t one that blows back my hair.

I can’t help but think of Jim, the father of a Chris, a high school buddy. Jim had a gig that often consisted of long hours and considerable stress, but he went about his days dutifully.

We all dug Jim and he seemed to envy our youthful antics, wistfully watching us engage in hi-jinks that we took for granted.

(not that he allowed anarchy, but he seemed to understand our need for room to screw up benignly)

He was an educated man who had been in school with Bob Dylan and the quiet of reading seemed to be his one indulgence.

So, my friends and I took note when his demeanor became more relaxed and his his banter with us became more lighthearted.

“He’s buying a car,” Chris explained.

More importantly, the car would essentially be Jim’s car with Chris’ mom getting dibs on the family Volkswagen (which she preferred).

I accompanied the two early one Saturday morning on a trip into the city. Jim was positively giddy.

We picked up the car – an early ’80s Volvo – and Chris and I drove the family car back home.

The transaction took place in a dodgy, decidedly un-Volvo part of the city and under rather sketchy circumstances, resulting in my friends and I amusing ourselves for years discussing the purchase.

(in truth, any possible illegalities were mere figments of our imaginations)

Jim loved that car and, behind the wheel, he was serene with an undercurrent of whimsy.

My friends and I referred to it as “Jim’s Car.”

But Jim was not possessive. It sometimes seemed that we had the car more than he did those last couple years of high school. He rarely balked when Chris asked to borrow it if we’d snagged tickets at the last minute to see Rush or if we simply wanted to be mall rats and roam record stores.

Then, Jim’s car was gone. He’d gotten some nondescript mid-’80s sedan as part of a job promotion and the Volvo was sold.

Perhaps fittingly, Chris and I totaled the new Interlopermobile while home for Christmas break as college freshmen.

Paloma once declared The Cars to be a perfect band for summer and I’m inclined to agree with her. So, in honor of cars – past, present, and future – here are four songs by The Cars…

The Cars – Moving In Stereo
from The Cars (1978)

I asked Paloma for some of her favorite songs by The Cars and Moving In Stereo was the first one that she named.

It’s a classic track by the band and one that I haven’t been able to hear since 1982 and not immediately picture Phoebe Cates climbing out of a pool.

The Cars – Touch And Go
from Panorama (1980)

Moody and menacing, Touch And Go wasn’t one of The Cars’ biggest hits, but Paloma also named it as a favorite from the band and it’s always been a favorite of mine, too.

The Cars – Since You’re Gone
from Shake It Up (1981)

Shake It Up was released right around the time that music was becoming a casual obsession for me and though the title track was a massive hit that got played into the ground, I rarely heard Since You’re Gone, the album’s follow-up single.

The chant-like chorus is just one of the things that hooks me in this pop masterpiece of melancholia and, though many of The Cars’ songs have temporarily worn out their welcome, I’ve never tired of Since You’re Gone over the past thirty years.

The Cars – Magic
from Heartbeat City (1984)

The Cars seem like such a summer band to me because during the summer of 1984, Heartbeat City was – with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA and Prince’s Purple Rain – the sound of that summer.

And nothing on Heartbeat City was more summer than Magic. The song was released as school was ending and it seemed to be on the radio constantly.

And if Magic wasn’t on the radio, the video – which climaxed with lead singer Ric Ocasek walking on pool water – was on MTV. Even now, no matter what the season, I hear Magic and it’s summer for four minutes.


Jaws 3 (in 2D)

July 22, 2012

Though I didn’t see the original Jaws in the theater, I did catch the sequel when it came out during the summer of 1978.

Five years later, though, I opted out of Jaws 3 – no Roy Scheider, no dice – and I somehow avoided seeing it until 1989. I watched it sitting at a small bar, poolside, on an island off the coast of Thailand.

I sat there and watched it as I wrote a letter.

It wasn’t dreadful, rather, it was just there, taking up space on the television.

Taking up space here is what we started here – the third and final installment of our running diary of a recent viewing of the original Jaws.

Brody, Hooper and Quint have hit the high seas and they’ve come across the shark for the first time.

Brody had just made his famous take on their situation…

1:28:05 Quint and Hooper drink to each other’s seafaring (and non-seafaring) injuries. All Brody has to hang his hat on is an appendectomy scar, so he doesn’t get to drink. Of course, as he has been drinking for the entire movie, his blood-alcohol level is still higher than that of John Bonham at the drummer’s death.

1:29:12 Quint tells his tale of the USS Indianapolis. Though Robert Shaw was an acclaimed actor and accomplished writer, I don’t necessarily recall seeing him in any other role than Quint. At this point, having seen Jaws so many times, he is Quint to me.

Although I am capable of reciting it almost at will, Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis’ sinking hooks me the moment he recounts how a “Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side” and I remain riveted until he concludes – “Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Shaw’s performance in this scene is simply riveting and the man supposedly knocked it out in one take.

1:38:26 Quint has officially gone Ahab, battering the radio to bits as Brody tries to call for help.

1:43:32 Quint is giddy as a schoolgirl at the idea of having the shark stuffed and mounted for his den.

1:52:16 Hooper descends in the shark cage – something I would have been unwilling to do for all the lithium in Afghanistan.

1:55:06 Hooper magically transforms himself into a “little person” as the shark destroys the cage.

(an actual little person was used to make the shark appear bigger)

And speaking of little people, why does The Learning Channel have so many reality shows featuring little people? Little People, Big WorldThe Little CoupleOur Little Life

The unemployment rate in the US is better than nine percent, but thanks to the efforts of the imaginative minds at TLC, it’s less than two percent for little people and falling.

1:57:16 And Quint is going…going…gone. For years, the scene of Quint’s demise was brief, but, eventually, on one of the anniversary versions of the DVD, there was additional footage. I remember the first time I saw it and how surprised I was at the carnage – a good thirty seconds of Quint thrashing about in the mouth of the shark.

1:58:05 And now there’s just Brody, fending off the shark as the Orca goes down. I imagine that the crime in New York City – which he lamented upon meeting Hooper – probably looks good about now.

2:00:14 Boom!

2:01:12 Hooper resurfaces, normal-sized and he and Brody share a laugh before beginning the swim back to shore.

One thing that has always made me wonder…you’ve just blown up a massive shark, spewing thousands of pounds of shark meat, blood, and other miscellaneous viscera into the ocean. Isn’t this going to attract every predator within several nautical miles?

Well, that’s a wrap and I now can move on to examining the unexamined minutea that has piled up in my head over the past week.

I wasn’t listening to much music at the time, but had I been listening thirty-five years ago – when Jaws had just arrived in theaters – here are four songs that were on the charts during this week in 1975

Elton John – Someone Saved My Life Tonight
from Greatest Hits, Volume II (1977)

There were two acts that I can think of who, in 1975, were such radio juggernauts that even a seven-year old such as myself was well acquainted. One was The Carpenters; the other was Elton John.

If I were to rank my favorite Elton John singles, I suspect that the lovely Someone Saved My Life Tonight would be in the top ten – everything about the song works for me (even if it does remind of a half-witted co-worker I once had who insisted that the name of the song was Sugar Bear).

Glen Campbell – Rhinestone Cowboy
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I do remember Glen Campbell as a kid, not so much for his music but because he always seemed to be a guest on whatever afternoon talk show – Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas – that my mom would be watching.

And, I do remember Rhinestone Cowboy during its time on the charts as my brother had the 45 and played it constantly.

Maybe ten years ago, I was sitting in a bar, having a few drinks with friends when a melody caught my ear over the din of the crowd. It was a dance mix of Rhinestone Cowboy and – and I’m not usually a fan of such mixes – but it worked spectacularly.

Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
from Armageddon soundtrack (1998)

I’ve never been an Aerosmith devotee. Possibly because their ’70s heydey was over by the time I was getting into music and their late ’80s comeback came as I had discovered college rock.

That said, there is a clutch of their songs which I do think are rather stellar, Sweet Emotion being one of them.

Janis Ian – At Seventeen
from Between The Lines (1975)

I had no frame of reference for the plight of the protagonist in At Seventeen in 1975.

(again, I was seven)

But, I did understand that things weren’t going well for her.

As for Janis Ian, I used to see her on occasion at a coffee shop where I’d stop and, though I never spoke to her, it appeared that things were much better for her than they had been at seventeen.