Suicide Hill

December 15, 2010

Like a good portion of the States, our region was smacked with the first snowstorm of the season.

The cover of white that we awoke to this morning, though, had largely disappeared by the time I faced the evening’s rush hour hell. Nothing makes the trip as potentially as treacherous as when a wintery mix is added to the commute.

Yeah, the cast of Ice Road Truckers might brave the elements, but they don’t do it with thousands of other vehicles driven by oh-so attentive folks who – aside from a couple days a year – have little experience with such conditions.

I exited the interstate and headed home along a frontage road, From the road, I could see several kids were making use of the conditions and gravity, hurtling down a good-sized hill on various crafts.

Though it’s fortunate for me that we get little snow and it’s rarely on the ground for more than a few days, it’s the children who suffer. The snow on that hill already had wide swaths that was revealed the grass.

Those kids were sledding on borrowed time.

Growing up in the Midwest, me and my friends could usually expect ample oppotunities to hit the slopes each winter.

Several of us lived along a country road that bisected a subdivision and farmland. As soon as there was snow, we would jump the fence across the road and drag our sleds up a small hill.

If there was enough snow, we would eventually create rudimentry bobsled runs, piling the snow and creating a half pipe. If the weather held, over the course of a week or so, the run would pack – smooth and slick – and become more delightfully lethal.

As we grew older, we would head for Suicide Hill with most of the other kids in our hometown. From the top, we’d stare down at the state road in the distance. The busy road posed no danger as it was unreachable, separated from us by a drop into a small creek.

To get to the bottom, you navigated a path that took you between the 11th and 18th holes on a golf course. And, if you managed to make the run cleanly – avoiding trees and such – you still had to contend with that water hazard.

We lived for the rare spectacle of someone plunging into the drink.

As Christmas approached in 1980, my friends and I were halfway through our middle year of junior high. It was beginning to dawn on us that it might be better to be inside on winter days – somewhere where there might be music and girls – then outside risking hypothermia.

But, in December of ’80, Suicide Hill was still a siren’s song to which we had to respond. Music was still mostly incidental to me, but, over the next six months or so, I’d be hooked.

Here are four songs that were on the chart in Billboard thirty years ago…

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
from The River

Hungry Heart most likely served as my introduction to The Boss. The River was his current release in late 1980 and, though I was just discovering radio, I was familiar with this song as well as Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, and the title track.

It would take more time for my young ears to embrace the stark brilliance of the follow-up Nebraska , but I was on board for the long haul.

Blondie – The Tide Is High
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one band that had caught my attention in 1980. Songs like Heart Of Glass and Call Me were such mammoth hits that you would have had to have made an effort to not hear them at the time even if, like me, the radio was nothing more than an occasional companion.

(lead singer Debbie Harry also gave the band a visual component that did not go unnoticed)

I vividly remember hearing the breezy, island groove of The Tide Is High blasting from the radio when someone’s older sister gave us a ride home after one of those afternoons spent sledding. It was a wonderful antidote to the winter weather then and it still is.

The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
from Dumb Waiters

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the lone US hit by The Korgis on the radio. I certainly don’t recall hearing it thirty years ago when it was a hit.

The first time I do know I heard Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime was when The Dream Academy covered the song in the late ’80s. And, I also heard Beck perform a version of it on the soundtrack to the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind before I heard the original.

There really was no need for the song to be covered, though. The Korgis’ version is lovely – wispy and fragile – and flawless.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from Super Trooper

ABBA and T. Rex occupy a similar niche in my music world. I could probably distill both to a dozen songs (most of which I never tire of), but I own way more of both acts’ work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.


The Chicken Baron Of Devil’s Tower

November 13, 2010

As Paloma will attest, I will drive into the hinterlands for fried chicken.

And though I saw them on what seemed like every corner of Kuching while traveling in Borneo, visiting our nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken is a trip into the urban hinterlands – a twenty-minute drive to a dodgy part of town.

About two or three times a year the lure will be too strong and I’ll make the trek.

It’s also seared into my memory to hear The Drunken Frenchman quite drunkenly hoist a glass to toast, “Colonel Sanders – a great American!”

That inexplicable, wholly random declaration – completely unrelated to any conversation at our table of friends that night – has baffled me for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps it was a message from the cosmos that I must unravel to achieve enlightenment.

Perhaps the Frenchman was merely very, very drunk.

So when I happened across a bio about the chicken mogul, I watched.

I don’t think that I would have wanted to have a drink with The Colonel.

He seemed like a bit of a douche.

But, that aside, there’s no debate that the man made a pretty strong bird.

The universe, through The Drunken Frenchman, might have been telling me that the path to enlightenment is to become a fried chicken mogul.

Perhaps I was just craving fried chicken.

I’m going to put aside the need for perfecting a strong bird of my own for the moment. Obviously a culinarily masterful, palatte-pleasing recipe will be integral to achieving moguldom, but I turned my attention to another important element.

Location.

Col. Sanders first restaurant was located strategically on a highway in a rural part of Kentucky. That left forty-nine states and howevermany territories and protecterates from which to choose.

A few nights later, I finally popped in the DVD of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that I’d purchased several weeks before. As I watched the breathtaking classic film, the universe nudged me again.

The volcanic outcropping known as Devil’s Tower – where the climax of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind takes place – is located in a national state park in the northeastern corner of Wyoming and nearly half a million tourists visit each year.

There would be no shortage of travellers wanting nothing more than to finger lick chicken from their phalanges.

And, if the aliens do show up at Devil’s Tower as they do in the movie…well, I’d have to think that fried chicken favored by our interstellar overlords trumps eleven herbs and spices proffered by a Colonel who wasn’t even a colonel.

Perhaps somewhere on US 90, leading to Devil’s Tower, is my Kentucky and my shot at fried chicken moguldom.

One more sign from the universe and Paloma and I will be packing up the animals and heading for Hulett.

Perhaps I should get started concocting a recipe.

In December, it will be thirty years since The Colonel hung up his mortal apron and headed for some kitchen in the afterlife. Here are four songs from albums that had recently been released and might have been added to his collection…

The Police – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
from Zenyattà Mondatta

Three albums in and the British trio broke through with Zenyattà Mondatta which took them to the Top Ten on the album chart as well as the singles chart with the deceptively insightful and ridiculously catchy De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

I know that, at the time, I was unfamiliar with earlier hits that The Police had notched with Roxanne and Message In A Bottle, but I took to De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da the first time I heard the song. It wouldn’t be long before I was a devoted fan and knew their catalog inside and out.

(I’d like to imagine The Colonel singing along as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da blared from a transistor radio in the kitchen)

Harry Chapin – Sequel
from Sequel

I knew little of singer/songwriter Harry Chapin’s music aside from a few songs (one being, obviously, his enduring hit Cat’s In The Cradle, a song whose bad rap I never quite understood).

However, the late singer is a favorite over at The Revue Review, though, and over the course of a number of posts there, I’ve become far more familiar with Chapin and increasingly fascinated by both the man and his underappreciated music.

I don’t recall hearing Sequel when it became Chapin’s final hit in 1980 – a year before his tragic death – but the song is a poignant and satisfying follow-up to the tale Chapin had recounted almost a decade earlier with his hit Taxi.

Suzi Quatro – Lipstick
from Rock Hard

Leather-clad rocker Suzi Quatro, who had portrayed leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, is another act that has existed mostly under my radar. I knew the name, but I had heard nothing by the singer aside from Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman from 1978.

In Lipstick, I hear an engaging fusion of Blondie, Joan Jett, and Them’s classic Gloria . I also hear a scorned woman whose affections I’d be hesitant to trifle with.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, Skateaway has always been one of my favorites by them.


Thank You For The Music, Mona

September 30, 2010

As I entered seventh grade, the decade of the ’80s was less than ten months old and music was something in which I had minimal interest.

On the first day of school that September, I learned that I had been assigned a new teacher for my homeroom class.

She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, a young blonde female in a school in which half of the teachers were nuns.

Really, really old nuns.

Our town was small and the kids in my seventh grade class were kids I had known since we’d started school. We had never had a teacher like Mrs. Winston – so young and so blonde.

It’s no surprise that the guys in our class took slack-jawed note of her, but so did the girls. She could have stepped from the glossy cover of a magazine.

She looked like the The Beach Boys’ California Girls sounds.

She’d wear a green sweater dress with knee-high, tan boots and little make-up.

She was a natural beauty.

I’m not sure where Mona was from, but, if I recall her voice, there was a slight drawl that makes me think Texas would be a good guess. And she was married to an attorney.

My male classmates and I were reaching an age at which hormones were taking the first hostages. Our locker room now sounded like a locker room.

The merits of the girls in our class were often discussed, but as most of us had no experience with those of the double-x chromosomes, much of the banter was merely speculative.

And though less-accessible women such as Cheryl Tiegs, the actresses on Three’s Company, or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders might also enter into our conversations, Mona never did.

Maybe it was because she was so geniunely kind and, unlike most adults we knew, treated us kids as intelligent beings.

Maybe it was because she was so casual and real.

Though my classmates and I were well aware of Mona’s beauty, I don’t recall any of us viewing her with anything more than respectful awe.

But, for more than her aesthetic virtues, Mona was memorable for providing fuel for the small flicker of interest I had in music.

As September morphed into October, more and more recesses were spent stuck inside as a grey rain fell outside. Mona brought in a turntable and encouraged us to bring in our albums. So, as we were all scattered throughout the classroom during those rained-out recesses, there was constant jockeying to play DJ.

I owned little music at the time – a couple albums that had been gifts, maybe a dozen 45s – but as I played tabletop football with friends, I was hearing Queen’s The Game, AC/DC’s Back In Black, and The Cars’ Panorama.

Most of the albums played were current and most had a song or two that had been hits. Though I didn’t know much music, I wasn’t totally in the weeds.

Soon, being trapped indoors at lunch wasn’t such a bummer and, for the first time, I was actively listening to music.

By the time the school year ended, I was hooked.

Mona – her taste in music was light rock. So, here are a quartet of songs from some of the albums she brought in for those recess listening sessions from thirty autumns ago…

Christopher Cross – Sailing
from Christopher Cross

I don’t think I would take the plunge and – like some five million other people in the States – buy a copy of Christopher Cross until months later (perhaps with money received at Christmas), but Sailing had been the song of the summer and I couldn’t hear it enough.

Ride Like The The Wind, Sailing, and a couple more hits that I’d heard on the radio led me to purchase the cassette, but the fact that it was a favorite of Mona’s no doubt added to the album’s cachet for me.

Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List
from Voices

Although Kiss On My List wouldn’t become a hit (and a massive one at that) until the following spring, I recall that the song was the one that Mona referred to her as her favorite when she played it for us in the fall of ’80.

From the stutter-step opening, Kiss On My List hooks me when I hear it. It’s lighthearted, playful, and has a fantastic chorus.

Air Supply – Every Woman In The World
from Lost In Love

Like Christopher Cross, Australia’s Air Supply arrived on the scene in 1980 and had already notched a couple of huge radio hits with Lost In Love and All Out Of Love by the time we were closing in on autumn.

I liked the group. The songs were breezy and light and, at the age of twelve, I assumed that these Aussies had love figured out since it was the subject of every song. I’m sure that I surmised their music could offer me valuable insight into charming the ladies.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black

On the other side of the Australian coin…Back In Black wasn’t an album that Mona brought in, but she didn’t keep us from playing it when one of my classmates dropped it onto the turntable.

I’m not so sure that she dug the album, but millions of the other humans did.

(and, like Air Supply, AC/DC had advice for us about the ladies)

Did people at the time realize what a perfect rock song that AC/DC had given the world with You Shook Me All Night Long? It’s still an arresting three and a half minutes of bravado, lust, and adrenaline.