Today, My Best Friend…Tomorrow, Who Knows?

May 11, 2011

Sometime last week, during the spate of coverage on the demise of Osama bin Laden, I happened upon a program on the life of the iconic terrorist.

One of the people interviewed was described as bin Laden’s best friend as a teenager.

It must make a pretzel of the mind to have such a notorious character as a former best friend.

The first best friend that I can remember having was a kid named George. There’s little else I recall aside from his name and I have no recollection as to what earned him status as numero uno amigo.

I do recall that I stripped him of the title and I slotted another classmate into the position.

I wanted John as my best friend because he was tall, a head taller than everyone else.

(people have been placed in high office using such logic, but I was five)

I’ve had no contact with either of these kids in almost forty years, but it seems as though George is a DJ in the upper Midwest, so perhaps I was being prescient about the interest I’d someday have in music.

By the time I reached high school, I was in a transitional period with friendships. The concept of best friend had evolved into a group of eight or nine of us who would end up together in different permutations and numbers.

One of these buddies was a bit of a fire enthusiast and devotee of things that go kaboom.

During senior year, Kirk The Pyro went to California with another of our friends for spring break.

(most of us settled for wandering the malls in Cincinnati)

This dynamic duo returned to the grimness of March in the Midwest with tans and dynamite.

“Where did you get dynamite?”

“Tijuana”

“So, you brought dynamite from Tijuana on your flight home from California?”

It was a simpler world and a time when – relative to today – the airlines essentially had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

The interviewee on the television screen had described bin Laden as quiet and polite, their friendship rooted in a shared love for soccer.

I could only describe Kirk The Pyro as like Woody Woodpecker in human form and our bond forged by a common appreciation for antics, hijinks, and shenanigans.

And though I haven’t had contact with him since college, I also haven’t seen him become the target of a global manhunt.

Here are four friend songs…

Clarence Clemons And Jackson Browne – You’re A Friend Of Mine
from Hero

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were probably as big as any act in my lifetime. During the mid-’80s. Born In The USA sold ten million copies and pretty much every song on the record got extensive airplay on the radio. The group’s success was so massive and demand for more music so great that b-sides like Pink Cadillac and Stand On It got played heavily.

E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons even had a solo hit during the winter of ’85 when he duetted with Jackson Browne on the upbeat and catchy You’re A Friend Of Mine.

The Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend
from Tattoo You

Personally, I’ve always thought that Waiting On A Friend was one of the Stones’ finest post-’70s moments. The song is so casual and the vibe so laid-back that it’s always welcome when it pops up on shuffle.

Apparently it was the first video by the Stones played on MTV (with reggae great Peter Tosh hanging out on the steps).

Grateful Dead – Friend Of The Devil
from Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead got discovered my generation while I was in college when A Touch Of Gray put the venerable band all over MTV. I liked the song and I even liked a lot of its parent album, In The Dark, which was played often in the record store where I worked.

I’ve also enjoyed stuff from their catalog as I’ve been introduced to it here and there, but I’ve never felt the rabid passion for The Dead that they inspired in a lot of my peers.

Jellyfish – He’s My Best Friend
from Spilt Milk

I discovered Jellyfish when the record store where I worked received a promo copy of the band’s debut, Bellybutton, in 1990. The psychedelic album cover was eye-catching and the music earned the group from San Francisco comparisons to greats like Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, XTC, and Cheap Trick.

Despite plenty of swooning by critics, Jellyfish was unable to find mainstream success and would split up after just one more album, 1993′s Spilt Milk, but the group has continued to loom large in the hearts of power pop devotees for the past two decades.

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The Humans Are Making My Head Hurt

July 16, 2008

What is up with this species? It’s growing increasingly hard to understand the antics of the only members of the food chain that wear hats. There’s no shortage of black humor, though. Saturday Night Live has to hire God as a writer.

There’s a commercial which I’ve seen numerous times, hawking some commemorative twenty dollar coin certificate tied to September 11. Crass, but the concept merely made me shrug. What did make me go “hmmm” was the voiceover mentioning this strange currency being legal tender only in Liberia.

“Did he just say it was Liberian currency?”

Paloma expressed uncertainty with a shrug of her own.

I’d recently been reading a book chronicling Liberia’s never-ending civil war and the children often conscripted into fighting the conflict. It struck me as odd that this currency commemorating an event representing the darker aspects of human nature could be used to purchase cheeseburgers in a country so rife with their own atrocities.

I don’t know if Alanis Morrisette would call it ironic, but it certainly seems askew.

How long would it take – if you quit your job – to listen to every song about money?

Warren Zevon – Lawyers, Guns, And Money
I think I’ve mentioned the late, great Warren Zevon as often as Christopher Cross (both, several times I know, which is bizarre and slightly troubling). Personal issues aside, this song is one of his classics.

Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)
There’s a part of me that thinks I probably should reacquaint myself with Pet Shop Boys as I’ve usually liked what I heard over the years. I simply haven’t paid attention to them over the past fifteen years. My friend Chris thought it was Al Stewart when we first heard West End Girls and Neil Tennant certainly has a similar nasally quality in his vocals.

Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand
The preposterously titled left-field smash from a former air traffic controller (as I recall), the lyrics are pretty inscrutable, but this melancholic song hooked me the first time I heard it. As for the rest of the album from which it came…I remember hating it far less than it seemed as though the rest of the world did.

The Beatles – You Never Give Me Your Money
Is there a sadder song in The Beatles’ catalog? (Paloma makes me skip it when it comes on the radio or iPod)

And, are there two, more necessary pilgrimages a music fan should make in their lifetime than to Abbey Road and Matthews Street?