The Remains Of The Day

November 24, 2012

Years ago, while studying in Singapore, a half-dozen of us took off to Thailand for a stretch.

During the last few days of the junket, several of us were verging on cashed, including me and my buddy Vince. To maximize our minimal funds and thus afford passage back to Singapore, we put into effect a plan to not eat before sunset each day.

(any similarities to an observance of Ramadan would have ended hours earlier at the pool’s bar)

We were at that bar late one afternoon, having a pint as the sun edged toward the horizon and anticipating grabbing some dinner. Several nights earlier our group had discovered a pizza place not far from the beach.

Babylon Pizza could have been located in the States. Open to the street, it was filled with wooden tables, checked tablecloths, and lots of brick. They served the only good pizza we had eaten in six months.

The impending feast caused the conversation between Vince and I to become about Thanksgiving. We sat at the bar, stomachs growling, ticking off the dishes that made the holiday a glorious one. One of us would describe an item in detail as the other nodded in agreement, struggling not to drool.

We reached the conclusion, though, that as wonderful as Thanksgiving might be, the best meal of the day was later, often after everyone had gone to bed and the house was still. It would then be into the kitchen to pile a plate high with leftovers from the fridge.

And, this year, I invoked that tradition. With Paloma and the animals slumbering, I shuffled out to the kitchen and prepared a late-night feast.

As I topped it all off with some gravy, I paused and raised the ladle in a toast to Vince before heading into the living room and settling in to watch Gonzaga and Clemson in some holiday hoops tournament.

It was the perfect ending to a lovely day.

Here are four songs by bands who had success as leftovers following the departure of well-known lead singers…

Genesis – Follow You, Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three… (1978)

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You, Follow Me came after Peter Gabriel’s exit and the reduction of the band to a trio, an incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

Follow You, Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.

Van Halen – Why Can’t This Be Love
from 5150 (1986)

Music fans can (have and will) argue about the quality of the Sammy Hagar-led version of Van Halen as opposed to the output of the band’s music when fronted by David Lee Roth, but there’s little denying that the band’s second act garnered them a more mainstream audience and sold a lot of albums.

The pulsating Why Can’t This Be Love served as Van Hagar’s introduction to the world when it hit radio in early 1986.

Marillion – Easter
from Seasons End (1989)

I actually grabbed a copy of Marillion’s Seasons End while on that trip to Thailand, completely unaware that lead singer Fish had left the progressive band until I read the liner notes.

Fish’s departure would have received little mention or been of much interest in the States where Marillion had little more than a cult following. I had only become aware of Marillion from the scant airplay of their song Kayleigh in 1985 and seeing the band open for Rush at the time.

With new lead singer Steve Hogarth, Marillion continued to have success in their native UK into the ’90s including having a hit with the lovely, elegiac Easter.

10,000 Maniacs – More Than This
from Love Among the Ruins (1997)

As a college student in the latter half of the ’80s, I was quite familiar with alternative folk rockers 10,0000 Maniacs who were darlings of the burgeoning college rock scene. Mainstream success eluded the band until issuing their MTV Unplugged set in 1993 and scoring a hit with a cover of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen composition Because The Night.

When lead singer Natalie Merchant set out on a solo career, 10,000 Maniacs tagged Mary Ramsey, who had played violin and viola as well as adding backing vocals on MTV Unplugged, as their new vocalist.

As Merchant was selling millions with her solo debut Tigerlily, easily eclipsing the commercial fortunes of her former band, 10,000 Maniacs notched a second Top 40 hit in the States as Ramsey gave voice to the band’s version of Roxy Music’s More Than This.

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The Carnival Is Over, Let The Carnival Begin

August 28, 2010

There’s a party semi-raging on the ground floor of our three-story treehouse. Paloma and I are sandwiched between it and a couple of Chinese grad students on the top floor.

We won’t be attending.

(I doubt that the Chinese will either)

It isn’t because of the music, though the organ-driven jam band is hardly a selling point. It’s a lot of noodling and the kindest I could be in describing their efforts is symmetrical.

We won’t be attending because there is nothing left that either of us could accomplish at such a scene.

Both of us managed to eke out a good decade or two more out of behaving like rock stars on tour than folks who were relegated to weekend warrior status by their early twenties.

I think we’re still catching up on sleep we didn’t get in the ’90s.

And, we don’t want to end up as carnies.

As if the universe knew of this impending soiree, I received a rare e-mail this morning from Kelso, one of our friends. We had all worked together at a record store in the mid-’90s and he had news of The Drunken Frenchman, who had also worked with us in the same store.

“He’s working in a traveling carnival as a ride operator,” the friend wrote. “He’s a carny. This gives me great pause.”

Such an outcome isn’t really surprising. There are a finite number of record stores in the world – fewer each day – and, even then, The Frenchman seemed destined to work his way through most of them.

I guess he finally did.

And now he’s a carny.

Of course, with his craggy features, hangdog eyes, and gruff, indifferent exterior and demeanor, The Frenchman is well cast in this role.

Paloma – though never having been fond of The Frenchman – was sympathetic, considering his gig with a shudder.

“He gets fresh air,” I offered.

Any of us from that time could have ended up as carnies.

Here’s hoping he finds love with the bearded lady.

It really wouldn’t surprise me.

Here are four songs from fifteen years ago when all four of us – Paloma, Kelso, The Frenchman, and me – were still part of the carnival…

The Verve – On My Own
from A Northern Soul

The Verve just simply wasn’t meant to happen in the States (at least not on the scale of success the band achieved in the UK). First, they were forced by the record label to change their name here to The Verve UK.

Then, in 1998, driven by its use in a Nike commercial, the group notched a mammoth global hit including in the US with Bittersweet Symphony only to see the Stones take all of the royalties in a controversy over a brief sample.

At the time, I thought that The Verve was one of the great rock bands on the planet and – listening again to their scant three albums from the ’90s – I still feel the same.

Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
from The Bends

Though it was released earlier in the year, The Bends was an album that was still in constant play for me in August of ’95. The album failed to generate the enthusiasm that Creep had a year earlier from their debut Pablo Honey, but it was immediately apparent after one listen that Radiohead was a force with which to be reckoned.

Sometime in August or September, I caught the band opening for R.E.M. and told the friends I was with that – though I wasn’t sure when it would happen – we had just seen a band that would in the near future be the biggest band on the planet.

(it would happen two years later with the release of OK Computer)

As for the soaring, atmospheric Fake Plastic Trees – it’s quite simply one of the most gorgeous and compelling songs of that decade.

Natalie Merchant – Carnival
from Tigerlily

Ms. Merchant had just embarked on her solo career with Tigerlily following a lengthy and successful run fronting 10,000 Maniacs. Her former group had been a staple on college radio in the late ’80s and Tigerlily brought Merchant to a whole new audience.

That album and the slightly funky Carnival wasn’t much of a departure from her work with 10,000 Maniacs except for being a bit more polished and arriving at a time when mainstream radio was embracing artists once relegated to alternative outlets.

However, my enduring memory from that time is seeing Merchant on a bill with World Party at an outdoor venue with Paloma and the ten minutes during which she interrupted her set to save a moth that had made its way on stage.

Tricky – Ponderosa
from Maxinquaye

Once a member of pioneering trip-hop act Massive Attack, Tricky became a critically-acclaimed force in his own right with the release of Maxinquaye. It was impossible to ignore the clattering, hypnotic rhythm of tracks like Ponderosa.


I’m Waiting For The Rain Man

October 24, 2009

rain manSome bloggers whose writing I regularly enjoy incorporate recurring segments into their mix.

JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has One Day In Your Life, Whiteray has the weekly Saturday Single at Echoes In The Wind, and the Major Dude of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart has several regular features.

(I keep waiting for another installment of Major Dude’s Great Moustaches In Rock)

Alas, though I might have recurring subject matter, I haven’t had the imagination or commitment to post such an ongoing series.

(psychobabble apparently being a train that runs on no fixed timetable)

I have posted several times of my discovery of alternative rock when I first tuned into 97X. The station, a pioneer in alternative rock radio, is also secure in pop culture lore for its reference in the movie Rain Main as Dustin Hoffman incessantly repeated the station’s tagline “97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”

So, when I happened upon the movie the other night, inspiration struck. I thought, why not post a handful of random tracks from the 97X playlist I’ve created. And, why not do so each time I do come across Rain Man while channel-surfing (or, at other arbitrary times).

However, I think I might hold off on giving a name to this random ongoing series until I decide to keep it…

Here are four random tracks that I would have heard on 97X back in the day as well as Freur’s Doot Doot, the song which led me to rediscover the station twenty years after I last listened to it…

INXS – Don’t Change
from Shabooh Shabah

Coincidentally, I mentioned Don’t Change this past week in a post and it shuffles up on the iPod first. I declared it to be brilliant then and nothing has changed my thoughts on the matter in the past seventy-two hours or so (or, really, twenty-five years or so).

Don’t Change is simply a transcendent four minutes and change.

10, 000 Maniacs – What’s The Matter Here
from In My Tribe

By 1987, the only time that I got to listen to 97X was on the rare treks home from college. I was already hearing 10,000 Maniacs a lot at school as Natalie Merchant and the band were college rock darlings at the time.

Years later, with mainstream success for the band and Merchant’s solo career, people seemed to either adore the singer or think she was insufferably precious. She was granola. I once saw her open for R.E.M. and she stopped her set for five minutes tending to an errant moth that had landed on stage.

I dug some of the Maniacs’ stuff and Merchant’s as well, and What’s The Matter Here is some melodic folk-tinged pop gem despite the grim subject matter.

Devo – Through Being Cool
from New Traditionalists

This song immediately makes me think of the movie Heavy Metal. Though Devo’s Working In The Coal Mine is probably their better known song from that flick, Through Being Cool was in it, too.

Devo is a bit like Sparks to me. Both were quirky and underappreciated for their twisted pop. I had a high school friend who was wildly into both bands, so I got to hear a lot of their music. I thought much of it was wonderful stuff and I’ve always meant to go back and delve into their catalogs.

Concrete Blonde – Joey
from Bloodletting

I absolutely loved Concrete Blonde in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Their music was so gritty, usually (bitter)sweet and responsible for how I’ve always imagined Hollywood to be.

Their records could be erratic, but all had scattered treasures. I think I’d go with Mexican Moon as their most consistently strong and rewarding album, but Bloodletting wouldn’t be a bad choice.

The album is burned into my memory as one of the soundtracks to my last winter living in the Midwest. It suited the short hours of daylight, the shadows, and the chill autumn air. And I still can vividly recall being stretched out on the couch with notes, not studying, and seeing the video for Joey in the wee hours.

It captivated me then and it still does.

Freur – Doot Doot
from Freur