Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

November 6, 2010

Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful.

We happened across it, several months ago, while channel-surfing one morning, and we stopped. It was as though the universe had thrown down the gauntlet and we felt compelled to push ourselves to watch as much as possible.

(twisted, yes, but hasn’t everyone done this?)

But, I’ve hit Pretty In Pink tonight and I realize that it’s difficult for me not to think of the movie Mannequin each and every time that Andrew McCarthy appears onscreen

As Blaine, the romantic interest of Molly Ringwald, McCarthy has the charisma of tepid soup.

I first saw Pretty In Pink at a midnight showing in the autumn of 1986 and McCarthy’s uninspired performance bothered me then. Now – post-Mannequin – I keep hoping that this is an alternate version and the movie ends with Blaine’s head on a stick.

Pretty In Pink is a John Hughes classic and a defining ’80s flick, but it wasn’t burned into my consciousness like the late writer/director’s The Breakfast Club, from the year before, had been.

That movie’s dialogue had become central to the syntax spoken amongst me and my friends when it was released during our junior year of high school.

But, as I was of a certain age at the time, I still watch Pretty In Pink if we cross paths.

Molly Ringwald is still endearing, but it’s Annie Potts as Ringwald’s best friend Iona that has always been far more interesting to me.

She’s aesthetically pleasing, owns a record store, wields a staple gun like a gunslinger, and is named Iona.

Neat.

It’s that record store, though, that increasingly stirred my imagination as I continued to watch. It was like seeing an old home movie.

In college, there were half a dozen record stores within mere blocks of one another. It would have been unthinkable at the time had I been told that they all would be gone less than two decades after I’d graduate.

I’d like to think that Iona still has her shop, staple gun still blazing, but I know that’s unlikely.

(at least Andrew McCarthy seems to have vanished, too)

Pretty In Pink‘s soundtrack brought wider exposure to acts like New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, and – with the title song – The Psychedelic Furs. Though I was in college, our school’s radio station was all duct tape and chicken wire with a range of three blocks.

Ironically, I had had more opportunity to hear the music of the nascent college rock scene during my last couple years of high school despite living in a small town in the hinterlands as I was within range and listening to 97X.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

Real Life – Send Me An Angel
from Heartland

When 97X went on the air in the autumn of ’83, the station not only exposed me to acts that I would never hear on the mainstream stations to which I was listening, I also heard songs that, months later, would become mainstream hits.

(Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Peter Schilling’s Major Tom, and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun immediately come to mind)

The ethereal synth-pop track Send Me An Angel by Australians Real Life was another song that I heard for months on 97X before being surprised to hear it on Top 40 stations in early ’84.

Oingo Boingo – Just Another Day
from Dead Man’s Party

It wasn’t 97X, MTV, or the movie Weird Science – for which the band provided the title song – that offered me my first opportunity to hear Oingo Boingo.

It was Dr. Demento airing the Hollywood band’s song Insects on his weekly show a couple years before 97X even existed.

Of course, lead singer Danny Elfman has gone on to great success scoring films, but Oingo Boingo had quite a cult following in Southern California and the group managed to notch a couple minor hits along the way including the twitchy, darkly-tinged Just Another Day.

Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might sound familiar. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never recaptured the audience that discovered Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the film noirish Drive She Said.

The Alarm – Sixty-Eight Guns
from Declaration

Earnest and idealistic, The Alarm had a lot in common with U2 when both bands emerged as part of the post-punk scene in the early ’80s. In fact, The Alarm served as a support act for U2 as the latter was breaking in the States with War in ’83, but as U2 marched onward to superstardom, The Alarm remained a fringe act.

But The Alarm was a contender for a time and, though their albums were inconsistent and their sonic range somewhat limited, the Welsh quartet proved more than capable of delivering some stellar moments such as the bracing anthem Sixty-Eight Guns.


October

October 2, 2010

Was it just two weeks ago that the air conditioner was humming as summer’s last gasp pushed us into one final round of temperatures in the mid-90s?

(it was – I was there)

But the weather has respected the official onset of autumn as well as the arrival of October.

The air is cool and crisp and the sun is providing just enough warmth to allow us to throw every window in the treehouse open. Humans and animals are delighted as the humans drink their coffee and the animals sleep on the window sills.

Even if the past five months had not been a brutal endurance test pitting us against the sweltering heat and unremitting humidity, October has always been one of my favorite months.

I’m not entirely sure why, but the weather is likely a component as October has usually offered up an interesting and accomodating mix of meteorological conditions that often make the days pleasant and the nights perfect for sleep.

As a kid, October meant that we were deep enough into the school year that the culture shock of being back in school had passed as had the grieving process for the lost days of summer vacation. By the tenth month, most of us had adjusted to the routine of class and afterschool practices.

October meant fall break, those glorious two days that allowed us a chance to bask in every minute of the shortening days.

October also meant that we were reaching the end of the baseball season, culminating with the World Series.

(though my interest in baseball has greatly waned as an adult and, unless I am mistaken, the series has encroached on November)

And the birthdays of both my father and Paloma fall in October, which is rather important as both of them have been essential to the operation.

Personally, I’d be good with dispensing with months like February and September and adding a couple more Octobers.

October is a good egg.

October was also the month that, in 1983, I discovered the freshly minted 97X on the radio dial. It was as momentous a moment for me as the pilgrims discovering Halloween was for candymakers.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

XTC – Dear God
from Skylarking

I was familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages, but my main exposure to the British act came once I entered college and my buddy Streuss became enthralled with their quirky brand of Beatles-tinged alternative rock. In fact, Skylarking came out at the beginning of my freshman year when I was learning to live without 97X.

Dear God didn’t appear on the original version of the band’s Todd Rundgren-produced masterpiece Skylarking, but was added after the controversial song gained popularity on college rock stations.

“And all the people that you made in your image, see them fighting in the street ’cause they can’t make opinions meet about God.”

The Plimsouls – A Million Miles Away
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Like a lot of folks who weren’t living in Southern California in 1983, the first time that I ever heard The Plimsouls was in the movie Valley Girl. The power-pop band not only had a couple songs on the once difficult to find soundtrack but made a cameo as a band performing in a club.

Somehow, the jangly, kinetic A Million Miles Away was little more than a minor hit at the time.

(that the ridiculously catchy song wasn’t everywhere is inexplicable)

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for which Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

Psychedelic Furs – The Ghost In You
from All Of This And Nothing

Like The Plimsouls, the British post-punk act Psychedelic Furs had music featured in Valley Girl with the song Love My Way (and would find even greater success when their song Pretty In Pink provided inspiration for the John Hughes movie of the same name).

The Ghost In You would be the first track on the Furs’ 1984 album Mirror Moves and a song that my friend Beej would discover watching WTBS’ Night Tracks late-night video show.

Beej played Mirror Moves into the ground that summer, but I never tired of the lovely and dreamy song (and still haven’t).


Bye Bye, 97X?

March 27, 2010

I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83.

Suddenly my musical universe expanded to include acts like Talking Heads, XTC, and Aztec Camera. These less than mainstream bands and artists wandered into the room and sat down next to Journey, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran like strangers entering some cantina in a dusty border town.

Everyone held their breath, expecting trouble.

It seem only a matter of time ’til someone looked at someone else the wrong way, a bottle was broken and wielded as a shiv, and the entire affair ended in a saloon-trashing melee.

I quickly realized that I could listen to Hall & Oates and Siouxsie & The Banshees and it was good. 97X introduced me to numerous acts that would become staples of my listening habit over the ensuing decades.

Reception for 97X was often dodgy and, once I left for college, I was forced to leave the station behind. I wouldn’t really reacquaint myself with the WOXY until a decade later when I would do so via the station’s internet broadcast.

Though highly regarded as it was one of the first modern rock stations in the US, 97X struggled to remain on the air throughout the years, recently relocating from Ohio to Austin, Texas.

During the past year or so, I had made more time to check in and, though my intention was to seek out newer music, invariably, I would stream the station’s vintage broadcast, beaming myself back to the mid- to late-’80s when it was all new to me.

But, it appears that 97X is no more. The plugged was pulled on the station earlier this past week.

(if we had the funds, Paloma and I could purchase the station and headquarter it in Samoa)

97X has cheated the hangman on several occasions over the past quarter century. Maybe it will again. But, if it doesn’t, here are four random songs that I know I heard back before the station and I parted company and I headed off to college…

Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
from The Hurting

In the summer of ’83, my friend Beej and I would get apprised on up-and-coming bands from his uncle, who possessed an unfathomable collection of New Wave acts on vinyl, many of them imports that had yet to reach our shores. Tears For Fears was an act thay came highly recommended.

It would be two more years before the duo would break in the States – I still recall hearing Everybody Wants To Rule The World for the first time on the radio show Rock Over London – but 97X was playing several songs from their debut that autumn.

One of them was the shimmering Pale Shelter.

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Like Tears For Fears, Scotland’s Simple Minds found mainstream success in the US in the spring of ’85 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) etched itself into the collective consciosness of a generation. The group had begun shedding some its more art-rock tendencies a year earlier with Sparkle In The Rain, which included Waterfront.

I heard Waterfront often on 97X and it certainly appealed to me as a U2 fan. The throbbing, hypnotic track would appear post-Don’t You on Simple Minds’ live release in ’87.

The Replacements – Bastards Of Young
from Tim

When I arrived at college in 1986, The Replacements seemed to be the poster children for modern rock at our school. Maybe it was because like us (and unlike other strong contenders like R.E.M. and The Pixies), the disheveled quartet was comprised of Midwesterners.

(maybe it was because they drank a lot)

Thanks to 97X, I was familiar with the band and songs like Kiss Me On The Bus, Waitress In The Sky, and the anthemic Bastards Of Young which suited our youthful, directionless enthusiasm in a brave, new world free from parental dominion.

Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw

Despite all the acclaim it received upon its release, I had never listened to Marshall Crenshaw’s debut until Paloma and I snagged a copy on vinyl. Of course, I knew his hit Someday, Someway and I knew Cynical Girl from 97X, but the classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Cynical Girl is a favorite of Paloma’s and it’s fabulously jangly.

(of course, there’s really not a bad track on the entire album)