The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

Nothing Says Easter Like Ravenous, Rampaging Rabbits, Mushrooms And Extra Cheese

April 23, 2011

It’s Easter weekend and people all over the globe will, to paraphrase the late, great visionary Bill Hicks, commemorate the death and resurrection of their professed savior by telling children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.

Forget the hunt for pastel-colored eggs. the ceremonial carving of the spiral-cut, honeybaked ham, and religious observances. Several years ago, Paloma and I opted for a more unique way to do Easter – snagging a carryout pizza and watching Night Of The Lepus.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic opus, Night Of The Lepus was born out of the nascent groundswell of environmental consciousness of the early ’70s, a movement that provided inspiration for a number of science fiction films at the time.

I must have been six or seven, when I first saw the movie, sitting in the dark of our living room, on the CBS Late Movie. As the credits appeared on the screen, I asked my dad, “What the @#$%& is a lepus?”

(actually, my vocabulary was less sodium-based at the time and it’s likely all I said was “huh?”)

But, despite my father’s surprising reply to my lepus query, I knew the CBS Late Movie to be a cornucopia of B-movies shown after the local news in the ’70s which often featured nature run amok.

And amok it runs in Night Of The Lepus in the form of rabbits the size of Volkswagens who have developed a taste for humans. Actually, they seemed disinclined to consume the terrified townsfolk, instead gnawing on them as though they were large, pale carrots.

Paloma and I had tentatively planned to make a tradition of a viewing of Night Of The Lepus on Easter, but, alas, one viewing of the film seems to have been enough for her.

So, this year, it’s Chinese take-out and Watership Down.

Night Of The Lepus was in theaters in 1972, so I must have seen the movie for the first time the following year. Here are four songs that were on the Billboard singles chart in late April of ’73…

Lou Reed – Walk On The Wild Side
from Transformer

How can a listener not get drawn into Lou Reed’s tawdry tale of life in the dirty city?

Is it possible to not hear Walk On The Wild Side and not have the colored girls singing “doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo” in your head for the rest of the day?

But, when I think of Lou Reed, I can’t help but remember a summer afternoon in 1986 when I was hanging out with my high school girlfriend, lounging in the den, watching MTV. Her great-grandmother, visiting from the Phillipines, was sitting there with us when the video for Reed’s No Money Down came on.

Great-grandmother had paid little attention to the television until, midway through the song, Reed began to claw at his face as he sang, tearing the skin off and revealing his skull as the old woman – now watching the proceedings for which she had no cultural frame of reference – freaked out.

War – The Cisco Kid
from The World Is A Ghetto

On the mental list which I keep of songs that I’d rather not hear ever again is War’s Low Rider. There’s just something about the song that is like a popcorn kernal caught between my molars.

But the south of the border groove of The Cisco Kid is always welcome.

Stevie Wonder – You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
from Song Review: Greatest Hits

Some love songs are dramatic.

Some love songs are gooey.

And then, there is the occasional love song that captures a feeling of contentment which I would offer as the most accurate vibe of the emotion. Well done, Mr. Wonder.

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the song that drew me in even in ’73.

Jim Croce And Model Plane Dogfights In Basement Skies

September 18, 2010

This morning, I headed out to run errands and, as often is the case, Paloma had left the station tuned to the adult alternative station. One of the DJs hosts a flashback show on Saturday mornings, so I left it on to see if the year being highlighted hooked me.

Jim Croce’s Operator was playing.

The song by the late singer took me back to childhood – small memories both good and bad, and one that I’d truly forgotten.

Jim Croce died in a post-concert plane crash on September 20, 1973 as he was finally achieving widespread fame and success. I wasn’t even in grade school, yet Bad, Bad Leroy Brown had been one of the first singles I owned and I recall his songs on the radio, especially in the wake of his death.

As Operator played, my mind conjured up the memory of a cold, dark winter morning not long after Croce’s death. It was my birthday, but, early that morning, my father received a phone call with the news that a co-worker and one of his closest friends – like Croce, named Jim – had been killed in a car accident.

I remember accompanying my father on several occasions to visit his friend’s widow and how empty the house seemed, how it seemed provide no shelter from the howl of the wind during those December days, and how there seemed to be no light, nothing but shadows in black and white.

Then, my mind remembered the model planes, something of which I had not thought in twenty-five years or more and something so vague in my immediate recollection I briefly considered that the memory was not real at all.

But it was.

I couldn’t pick the face of my father’s friend from a line-up of people I have barely known, but the model planes came into clearer focus as Jim Croce sang on the radio.

The planes – scale-replicas of World War II aircraft -had been given to my father by his friend’s widow and were hung by wires from the ceiling of the basement where my brother and I played as children.

Of course, we were children and the planes – hanging just beyond our reach, frozen in imaginary dogfights near the laundry room – were irresistible to us and, as often happens when children lay their hands on fragile items, the results were predictably disastrous.

The planes were subjected to small-scale carnage no less damaging than their real-life counterparts might have experienced over the skies of Europe decades earlier.

No lives were lost and all my brother and I received was some relatively minor punishment. To us, at that age, they were just mere toys and their destruction was was just another day’s work as kids. We didn’t – and couldn’t – understand that their value was far greater than the other items that had met their demise at our small hands.

Operator ended and the DJ began to babble about weather and traffic and such. Soon, he was touting the opening of a local pizza joint as though having some commerce-inspired fit of Tourettes Syndrome sans the profanity.

Someone has something for sale – something his listeners need to buy.

All I could think as I opted for the iPod and searched for another Jim Croce song was that not everything is for sale, not everything can be bought, and not everything lost is always lost for good.

Listening to Jim Croce is like the sweater that I pull out often as the weather gets colder (the one for which Paloma would happily host a retirement party should I remove it from heavy rotation). Here are four songs from the late, great singer…

Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection

I remember my dad quoting the advice given in You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, so I might have heard the song when it became Croce’s first hit in late summer of ’72. It’s a rollicking number much in the vein of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, which would be an even bigger hit the following spring.

At one record store where I worked, five or six of us had a bookie named Stick Daddy.

I never met Stick Daddy, but Jim Croce probably did.

Jim Croce – Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels)
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection

Even though Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was such an important song in my childhood and even though the guy did some wonderful upbeat stuff, when I think of Jim Croce, I think of the more somber songs.

(which, given the circumstances of his death, is not surprising)

There’s too much humor in the songs of Jim Croce, though, to think he was some melancholic singer/songwriter. Maybe I think of the more somber songs because of the brilliance of tracks like Operator.

Jim Croce – Time In A Bottle
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection

Inspired by the birth of his son (and future musician) A.J., Time In A Bottle became a posthumous number one hit for Croce in late ’73 when his death gave the song an added measure of poignancy.

I’ve heard the song so many times that, when I hear it, I don’t always hear it. But, truly listening to it again, it’s undeniably lovely.

Jim Croce – I Got A Name
from Bad Bad Leroy Brown: The Definitive Collection

I Got A Name was the title track from the album that Croce had just completed before his death and would be one of three hits – with I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song and Workin’ At The Car Wash Blues – from the record.

There’s just something about I Got A Name that I’ve always loved. The melody is engaging, the vibe is determined, and, in an economical three minutes and change, the song never fails to leave me feeling that everything is going to work out.