Fall Break

October 11, 2012

moody-autumn-skyAs a kid, fall break was an inspired construct. It wasn’t as lengthy as spring break – a mere Thursday and Friday – but it’s placement in the school year was almost flawless.

It fell in the latter half of October, a week or so before Halloween and halfway between the start of the school year and Christmas break. It was far enough into the semester that the hopeless feeling that the school year would never end had set in even if the last warm days of Indian summer were reminders of the summer past.

There are a couple schools I pass on the morning commute to work each day. They all have some kind of message board at the front of the school, marquee letters announcing football games and such.

I’ve started seeing dates for fall breaks.

I keep thinking of the fall break in 1984. It was the first fall break where my friends and I all had licenses. Acquiring a vehicle, though, usually demanded nimble gamesmanship and negotiation with parents or an older sibling if not outright chicanery.

That break, my buddy Kirk showed up with his older brother’s car, a late ’60s Ford which we abused as often as possible.

Another friend, Bosco, was with him, but, as Kirk hadn’t actually gotten consent to have the car, there had been no time to assemble the rest of our usual group.

So, the three of us headed to the city – Cincinnati – and an hour later we were rifling through the racks at a record store.

Bosco, an obsessive fan of The Tubes, was determined to snag a recently released solo album by the band’s front man Fee Waybill.

He found the desired vinyl at a Record Bar from a clerk whom he summarily dubbed “DLR” as the kid had adopted the look of Van Halen’s soon-to-be ex-lead singer.

Bosco led us to the stereo department on the top floor of the mall, peeled peeled open the shrink-wrap and threw the new album onto a turntable for us to preview.

(at least until it was requested that we leave)

I remember vividly the overcast skies – much like today – that day, but it was far warmer than it is here, now, where it feels as though we’ve skipped directly from September to November.

As we headed home late that afternoon, the sun did its best to break through the clouds before issuing a surrender and making way for dusk.

I’m less certain of what music I purchased that day, though I have no doubt that I returned home that evening with several new cassettes.

Here is a quartet of tracks from albums that I very well might have snagged on that break in the autumn of 1984…

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
from The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

I do know that I purchased The Unforgettable Fire from a clerk in a record store that had been greatly influenced by Cyndi Lauper. She complimented my purchase and I asked her to marry me.

(it was all a whirlwind and ended with Cyndi answering my proposal with an indifferent shrug)

I arrived home, sprawled out on my bedroom floor with my Walkman, and was promptly confused as the jagged edges which had drawn me to War were now soft like watercolors. There were elements of the past, but I didn’t know what to make of the hints of U2′s future.

But I slowly embraced the more subtle nuances of The Unforgettable Fire.

The title tracks was one of my favorites at the time. Since then, it’s only become more dear to me. Nearly twenty-five years later, I’d consider the song to be four of the finest minutes of their career.

A Flock Of Seagulls – The More You Live, The More You Love
from The Story Of A Young Heart (1984)

In 1984, as U2 was becoming one of my favorite bands, A Flock Of Seagulls, one of my very first favorite bands, was issuing what would be their commercial swansong with The Story Of A Young Heart.

The More You Love, The More You Love got a bit of radio play where I lived and, as MTV had finally reached our part of the world, I do recall seeing the video a handful of times. The song wouldn’t reverse the Liverpool quartet’s fortunes, but it’s actually a very catchy track.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth (1984)

Cherry Bomb – originally performed by Jett’s previous band, The Runaways – is about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be and proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent fire.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.

Advertisements

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.


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.