We Could Have Murdered Him (But That Would Have Ruined Christmas…I Suppose)

December 7, 2011

Over at The Hits Just Keep Comin’, JB notes the reaction of listeners to Mannheim Steamroller’s A Fresh Aire Christmas during a stint DJing at an easy listening station in the late ’80s.

(“You wouldn’t think that the elevator-music audience would use language like we heard on the telephone.”)

I remember A Fresh Aire Christmas being released for the holidays in 1988. I was a junior in college and it was my second Christmas working in a record store, having earned the gig as seasonal, part-time help the year before.

Our manager prodded us to mix in some holiday music to little avail until our assistant manager discovered Mannheim Steamroller’s collection of seasonal music that was whiter than the whitest of white Christmases.

His repeated playing of the stuff drove most of us to a murderous rage.

He was a dimunitive graduate student studying French and had floppy hair and long fingernails. He would stroke his goatee, yammering in a language none of us spoke and then, invariably, launch into an impassioned argument with himself on why Quebec should secede from Canada.

(this diatribe was delivered, unfortunately, in English not that we cared whether Quebec remained part of Canada or not)

In truth, most of us wanted to murder him year ’round, but that December he truly risked death each time he put on A Fresh Aire Christmas.

Here are four songs from albums I recall we favored that holiday season…

Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care
from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)

The one word that always comes to mind when I think of The Wilburys is charming. That first record was one that you just wanted to spend time with.

(it actually seemed to ease any tensions amongst the staff when we’d play it in the store…is it even possible to contemplate bludgeoning a co-worker while listening to Nelson, Otis, Lefty, Lucky, and Charlie T. Jr?)

Not that there wasn’t a bit of melancholy around the record with the death of Roy Orbison – Lefty – that December just as the album was becoming a a must-have. And the gorgeous Handle Me With Care is a bit wistful (though not defeated).

Let’s Active – Every Dog Has His Day
from Every Dog Has His Day (1988)

Actually, I doubt that we played Let’s Active in the store. The jangly, Southern power-pop trio never got beyond cult status and a little play on college radio and middle-of-the-night MTV.

I knew a couple of the band’s songs and I certainly knew guitarist Mitch Easter for his production credits including R.E.M.’s Murmur and Reckoning. Years later, I’d realize that I’d grown up with the band’s original drummer

Steve Earle – Copperhead Road
from Copperhead Road (1988)

One of the first celebrities I encountered in the large record store where I worked post-college was Steve Earle. It was pleasant but a bit strange as he came through the doors ten minutes before closing with the lights down, the music off, and us ushering the remaining customers out the door.

He politely asked me if we had his new album, a live set wonderfully titled Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator. As we walked through the dimly-lit aisles to the E section, he lamented that his label hadn’t given him a copy.

The rest of the conversation is long forgotten, though I do remember him seeming to be geniunely appreciative as I handed him the CD and told him how much a lot of the staff dug the record.

“You should make sure they get you a copy.”

Three years earlier, we were digging the tale of the ganja-growing Vietnam vet in Copperhead Road in that college store.

Jane’s Addiction – Mountain Song
from Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

I can’t hear Jane’s Addiction without thinking of my late dog and how he would spring to attention whenever he heard the dog barking at the beginning of their song Been Caught Stealing.

Mountain Song appeared on their full-length debut, though, and it was the first thing I’d ever heard by the iconic alternative rock band. My buddy Streuss threw the song on while I was hanging out with him during his shift DJing on our college radio station and we were duly impressed with the avalanche of sound.

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And Next…Domino’s Will Split The Atom

September 22, 2010

A headline that Domino’s is, for the first time, having a location near the University Of Dayton that will be open ’round the clock popped from the screen at me.

Pizza at all hours is an idea is so obvious I have to wonder if anyone at the top of the food chain at Domino’s has taken time to calculate the millions (billions?) of dollars in revenue lost by not providing drunken college students an alternative to small, square burgers sold by the dozen.

Imagine the sights you would surely see delivering pizza at four in the morning to college kids in various altered states.

(and Col. Kurtz thought he had witnessed horror in Apocalypse Now)

The concept of pizza being brought to you has to be considered one of mankind’s greatest achievements and, unlike most advances made by the humans, home-delivered pizza is not something that can be weaponized or has military applications.

As wonderful as the concept of pizza available at all hours might be, for several semesters of college I existed in an even more blissful state.

I had a housemate who was a perpetually stoned, unscrupulous manager of a Pizza Hut.

I was a couple years younger than Kirk, but when I moved into the house, I think I had already accrued more credits than he had.

The rest of our housemates were all within a couple semesters of graduating and several that had occupied the house – who had all moved in with Kirk initially – had already done so.

Mostly, he dropped acid like it was Pez, openly discussed the idea of a road trip to Chicago to kill a drifter, and took just enough credits to retain a student parking tag.

(add in pizza and it was a bit like some demented dinner theater)

And there was pizza.

On the nights Kirk worked, it was the closing shift. Half an hour or so before close, one of us would give him a call and make our requests. There were five of us, so he’d arrive home some time after midnight with half a dozen or more pizzas and bags of breadsticks.

And we would feast.

The remnants would clutter the kitchen table for days. The sliding doors to the deck were never locked and friends would come and go, helping themselves to cold leftovers. The empty boxes would eventually end up in the fireplace.

The house was drafty and barely insulated, so those cartons were much needed kindling in the winter.

Yeah, Domino’s might be mediocre pizza, but pizza at any hour of the night is an idea whose time has come.

Here are four songs that I remember from the first few days of autumn in 1988, when it seemed as though there would never again be a day without pizza…

Dreams So Real – Rough Night In Jericho
from Rough Night In Jericho

Dreams So Real were contemporaries of R.E.M. and a part of the ’80s music scene in Athens, Georgia, but I don’t recall being overly familiar with them during that time. I think I might have known their name.

I don’t remember where I heard the song Rough Night In Jericho, either. It might have been in the record store where I was working, but I tend to think it might have been late one night on MTV. It’s relatively straight-ahead rock with a bit of twang to it and a big, dramatic chorus that got my attention at the time.

When In Rome – The Promise
from When In Rome

I knew nothing about When In Rome when The Promise became a hit. I know nothing off the top of my head now except that I believe the act was a British duo. I never even heard another song by them.

But I know The Promise like the back of my hand. It pulsates and it truly sounds like it should have come out in 1983 rather than 1988. I have no trouble hearing this played as an import on 97X alongside Tears For Fears and Echo & The Bunnymen.

And for a band that pretty much vanished into the ether (this was apparently their only album), the song has been surprisingly enduring even popping up at the end of the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
from Twice Upon A Time: The Singles

I wasn’t a fan of everything by Siouxsie & The Banshees, but there was stuff that I thought was brilliant and quite inventive. They’re undeniably one of the iconic acts of modern rock.

Peepshow, on which Peek-A-Boo first appeared, got a lot of play in our record store. Peek-A-Boo was genius – a bizarrely hypnotic pop song comprised of samples, backwards masking, accordion, discordant guitar, and Siouxsie Sioux’ haunting vocals.

Michelle Shocked – Anchorage
from Short Sharp Shocked

There were a number of female acts in ’87/’88 who found mainstream success with their folk-inflected music.

(Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman being the most notable)

There were artists like Michelle Shocked who didn’t become a household names, but did earn love from critics and devoted audiences on a more intimate scale.

One co-worker at the time was rabid about Short Sharp Shocked, playing it often in our store and much to my dismay. It’s sound wasn’t really where I was then, but, twenty years later, I understand the charms of songs like the gentle Anchorage.