Cap’n Crunch, His Dog, A Pig, And A Small Fire*

March 12, 2011

For most of my life, I rarely remembered my dreams. But over the past several years that has changed, so I get treated to nocturnal shows like last night.

The details are hazy, but it involved cereal icon Cap’n Crunch and a talking pig wearing a sweater. The two were in the mariner’s apartment discussing his missing dog when the place went up in flames.

I think everyone got out safely, but there was something suspicious about that pig and I wouldn’t rule out arson.

The dream also made me think of an album title by REO Speedwagon – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

Growing up in the Midwest, REO Speedwagon was a radio fixture and never more so than in late 1980 when they released the album Hi Infidelity. The songs from that record sounded great on radio (which is fortunate, as they were always playing) and the band was a favorite to most of us in my junior high school.

Ten years later, as I was nearing college graduation, the record store where I worked received a couple of copies of REO’s The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

I was immersed in band’s like R.E.M. not REO, whom I hadn’t listened to for years. The album title, though, made an impression (even if I don’t think I ever heard the music).

Several years later, I was working in another, much larger record store. For most acts, we carried at least a token copy of each title in their catalog. On slow mornings, the Drunken Frenchman and I would browse through the bins, discussing various artists and albums.

One morning, there it was – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken. The Frenchman was no fan of the band, but it became a recurring subject for us.

“It’s one of the most truthful album titles ever.”

“That man, though a bit portly, is, indeed, small.”

“There’s the Earth.”

“There is a dog and, here, a chicken.”

“Man that dog looks miserable.”

R.E.M. might well have been playing over the speakers in the store (it would have been around the time of New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

“Why would they put Sebastian Cabot on the cover, though?”

Thirty years ago, REO Speedwagon had one of the biggest albums in the country with Hi Infidelity and one of the most popular songs with Keep On Loving You.

Here are four other songs that I was hearing on the radio – often on Q102’s Top Ten at 10 – in March, 1981 as I indulged my fairly new interest in music…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one of the first bands that I truly took to as I began to discover radio and, at the age of twelve or thirteen, the winsome Debbie Harry added an undeniable visual element to the appeal.

Following up on the massive success of the breezy, faux-reggae of The Tide Is High, Blondie offered up something quite different on their subsequent single. The chiming, hypnotic groove, metallic guitars, and Harry’s breathy vocals – my friend Will was convinced that the lyric “finger popping” was actually something more PG13 – made for an irresistible mix.

But the song also blew our young minds. It was our first exposure to hip-hop and as much as we were entranced by the rhymes regarding aliens dining on bars, Subarus, and human noggins, we were also baffled.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…and sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually notorious ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and hearing this song blaring from their Camaros.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

I heard a lot of Donnie Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides). At home, not so much.

Ah! Leah! did make it to radio in the Midwest, though. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done With The Night
from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

Before he was John Mellencamp, saving American farms, and incessantly reminding television viewers that “this is our country,” he was simply John Cougar (or, as my friend Bosco dubbed him, Johnny Hoosier).

He’s arguably done better music since those early years, but Ain’t Even Done With The Night captures the restlessness and possibilities of late summer nights and is one song of his which I still never tire of hearing.

*it seemed appropriate – given the recent hullabaloo surrounding the good Cap’n – to repost this entry from March 9, 2009

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The Uncle I Wish I’d Known Better

July 21, 2009

I don’t recall our family as being committed to a specific network for the evening news. In fact, I more clearly remember the local newscasters than the national ones.

These days, I’m a borderline news junkie, but my preference is reading various news sites online.

(and, yes, if I’m ever on a presidential ticket and Katie Couric has the unmitigated gall to ask, I’m ready to name which outlets I peruse)

However, growing up I mostly remember watching the local news, usually the 11 o’clock edition, and – since this was pre-ESPN – it was essentially for the sports report.

So, the death of Walter Cronkite stirs, really, no memories for me. As such, it has been fascinating to watch old clips and interviews with him, though.

The man read the news. He didn’t raise his voice or weep. He had no snazzy graphics and no magic boards. He didn’t wander a set like some deranged game show host.

It seemed to be little more than facts and information and there seemed to be no effort whatsoever to entertain.

It is astounding that anyone knew what the hell was going on.

(no wonder that people believed the world to be flat)

To be serious, I think I would have enjoyed tuning in each evening to Walter Cronkite. Watching the footage of him, his appeal was obvious and it was understandable why he was held in such high regard.

The calm, matter-of-fact delivery was soothing. His unassuming manner reminded me of my favorite college professors, the ones who made me feel as though they wanted me to take the puzzle pieces and put them together for myself.

It’s a wonder that integrity hasn’t filed a suit against the talking heads roaming the television newscape these days on Walter Cronkite’s behalf.

(of course, I suppose integrity wouldn’t be litigious)

I was smack dab in the midst of junior high when Walter Cronkite retired in March, 1981. Some of the songs I was hearing at the time…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

While some of my early favorites hold little appeal to me now aside from nostalgia, Blondie’s stature has only grown as my tastes have matured. Musical chameleons fronted by Debbie Harry, whose non-musical charms had us equally as captivated, Rapture was the introduction to hip-hop for many kids of my generation.

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 act’s work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy. The song is every bit as grim as Trent Reznor’s stuff and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

Phil Seymour – Precious To Me
from Phil Seymour

Paloma and I snagged one of Phil Seymour’s two solo albums on vinyl a while back and I keep meaning to check it out (and forgetting). If it’s half as good as his lone hit, it will be well worth the money.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually noted ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and blaring the song from their Camaros.