Going Postal: How I Intend To Thrive In A Post-Apocalyptic World*

April 7, 2011

The drumbeat that we, as a species, are reaching the closing credits keeps getting louder and whether we are or not is anyone’s guess.

I am now able to face such a dire proposition with a new-found sense of contentment and a plan for success in a brave new world.

I have seen The Postman.

I had seen a bit of Kevin Costner’s magnum opus years ago and had no intention of ever seeing more, but it was late and the pickings were slim.

“I know that Tom Petty’s in it,” I said to Paloma, shrugging, trying to feign a semblance of optimism.

(it was some of the best acting of the evening)

I have now seen it, though, and I am richer for the experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it’s set sometime in the near future and there has been some disaster that has left civilization in ruins with pockets of refugees and a quasi-military strongman who is trying to consolidate power.

I’m not sure what the disaster was as Paloma and I were going full-freakin’ Mystery Science Theater on the flick. There was some comment about drought, but everything seemed pretty lush and well-watered to me.

Enter Costner, a drifter with a penchant for reciting Shakespeare, who takes refuge in a mail truck during a thunderstorm and dons the dead carrier’s garb. With nothing more than a bag of mail, a USPS jacket, and a rather snazzy cap, he becomes The Man.

Actually, he becomes The Postman.

Coming upon an enclave of survivors, Costner is met with the same fanfare which The Beatles received when they arrived in America.

He gets soup.

He gets a bath.

They throw some party which gives reason to believe that bad jam bands will indeed survive the apocalypse.

He gets hooked up with a fetching, young village lass.

The Postman is livin’ la vida loca and there doesn’t appear to be a dog in sight, but it’s not all seashells and balloons.

There is that strongman to contend with who doesn’t like the fact that The Postman is giving the punters hope that the United States is being reformed.

There’s also the sheriff of the village who is suspicious of The Postman’s credentials. Of course, said sheriff is actually Mr. Kruger from Kruger Industrial Smoothing, so George Costanza and the legacy of The Human Fund has obviously made him cynical toward do-gooders.

(that will make sense to Seinfeld fans)

The Postman must also contend with cavernous plot holes, inane dialogue, and acting that would mar a good sock-puppet production.

So, yes, he does have his hands full, but he also has soup, a hot soak, and a nubile companion.

He also gets to hang with Tom Petty, who is the major of Bridge City.

As Paloma reminded me, Petty also had a recurring role on King Of The Hill and, like that part, in The Postman he essentially seems to be playing Tom Petty. However, he gives a tour de force performance because, no matter how gifted an actor – DeNiro, Pacino, or whomever you might fancy – no one plays Tom Petty like Tom Petty.

Forget stockpiling bottled water or canned hams. I intend to thrive after armageddon using the lessons I’ve learned from Kevin Costner, I’m off to find a mail carrier’s jacket or a patch of the US Postal Service which I might affix to my Belgian army coat.

Here are four songs from the mail route…

Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters
from High Land, Hard Rain

In late ’83, I was discovering alternative music with 97X and Aztec Camera’s Oblivious was a staple on the station. I was fifteen and Aztec Camera’s mastermind, Roddy Frame, was a mere four years older than me.

Frame was a prodigy and his songwriting skills were earning him comparisons to Elvis Costello. I owned all of Aztec Camera’s albums up through 1995’s Frestonia which, as it turns out, was the last release by the band-in-mostly-name-only.

We Could Send Letters, from that same debut as Oblivious, is melancholic but it alternates jangling passages with glorious vocals that evoke the best sunshine pop of the ’60s and ’70s.

Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals – Maria Elena (Letter From L.A.)
from Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals

Concrete Blonde was one of my personal favorites during the late ’80s and early ’90s. So, it was with sadness that I read reports of the trio’s break-up in 1994.

But, Blonde’s guitarist James Mankey and bassist/vocalist Johnette Napolitano reunited three years later, collaborating with Chicano punk band Los Illegals. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise as Concrete Blonde had incorporated South of the border influences into their final (at that time) album Mexican Moon.

The grinding guitars of Maria Elena (Letter From L.A.) are hypnotic and the bi-lingual lyric offers a cautionary tale of life for an immigrant in East Los Angeles, warning those left back home to not make the trek.

PJ Harvey – The Letter
from Uh Huh Her

When a track from Miss Polly Jean shuffles up on the iPod, I invariably ask why I don’t know her work more intimately.

Oh, I’m familiar with a good portion of her ouvre and I own a handful of her albums, but there’s been no period since she arrived with the opening salvo of Dry and Rid Of Me in ’92/’93 that I’ve spent with her music in non-stop rotation.

The thing is, I’ve loved most of the music that I’ve heard from Harvey. Much like Neil Young, she constantly surprises while still sounding like no one else, occupying her own astral plane. She has a voice that she can take from sensual whisper to banshee howl in a split second and her lyrics have an often feral beauty.

Planet P Project – Send It In A Letter
from Planet P Project

One-time Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey got a lot of airplay on the stations in our part of the Midwest and notched some minor hits with songs like I Won’t Be Home Tonight, A Fine, Fine Day, and First Day Of Summer.

Concurrent to his solo career in the early ’80s, Carey was also releasing a pair of albums under the moniker of Planet P Project which is likely best remembered for the song Why Me?

Planet P Project’s output had a decidedly futuristic sound and lyrical bent – synthesizers and science fiction. Send It In A Letter is sparse and spacey with a pulsing melody that offered a glimpse into a future where electronica would become a mainstream genre.

*remixed and remastered from a post which appeared on April 21, 2008.

It’s Just Like The Battle Of Stirling Bridge…Yet Completely Different

April 8, 2010

Before joining the ranks of corporate America several years ago, the end of the month merely meant that the rent would soon be due.

That was then.

Some of you might also labor in offices and cubicles, hunkered in some flourescently-lit bunker performing some task that, when you truly stop to ponder what it is that you do, is not only rather pointless but bordering on ridiculous.

(perhaps it’s all beamed somewhere as a reality show for aliens)

The end of the month means that there are goals and such that simply must be met lest it become a new month…

And to lead this crusade, the powers that be – paunchy, white men younger than they appear to be – tap into repeated viewings of Braveheart, channel Sir William Wallace (as portrayed by Mel Gibson) and roust the troops with militaristic speech.

It’s a strange ritual and difficult to take seriously.

But it’s a gig, right?

It’s been more than a week and my brain is still a bit addled. As I wait for normal brainwave activity to resume, here are four songs about the art of work…

Huey Lewis & The News – Workin’ For A Living
from Picture This

There was a period of about five years during which it was damn near impossible to surf the dial and not come across a song by Huey Lewis & The News. Some folks had an almost deranged reaction to this saturation of the airwaves.

I quite liked some of their songs and the others I ignored.

The infectious Workin’ For A Living is one of the former.

Dramarama – Work For Food
from Hi-Fi Sci-Fi

Dramarama was from New Jersey, but their sound always made me think of Minneapolis bands like The Replacements and Soul Asylum. I snagged one of the band’s CDs from a box of promos at a record store where I worked.

I was quite pleased and Work For Food was a massive hit in some parallel universe. It’s too insanely catchy not to have been.

Devo – Working In The Coal Mine
from Heavy Metal soundtrack

My high school friend Streuss was insane for Devo. The rest of us mostly knew a few songs and not much more.

One song which we all did know was the quirky gem Working In The Coal Mine. It was on the radio a bit and we all had seen Heavy Metal.

And I seem to recall Devo performing the song on the television show Fridays.

Aztec Camera – Working In A Goldmine
from Love

I first learned of Roddy Frame when I heard the effervescent Oblivious on 97X out of Oxford, Ohio in high school. I think that I heard Working In A Goldmine on the syndicated show Rock Over London and immediately was smitten with the dreamy song – “glitter, glitter everywere.”

Doot Doot (The Future Must Be Now)

July 14, 2009

The movie Rain Man had a personal connection. It had nothing to do with autism, though I did have an ex-girlfriend who once accused me of being slightly autistic.

The early portion of Rain Man – where Tom Cruise first meets Dustin Hoffman – takes place in Cincinnati, a city about forty-minutes from where I grew up and known to us as The City. So, I was familiar with some of the landmarks and places mentioned.

However, the real connection was when Cruise and Hoffman hit the road. Hoffman’s character tunes the radio to WOXY out of Oxford, Ohio. You might recall Hoffman incessantly repeating the station’s tagline – “97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”

97X just happened to be my station of choice for several years in high school. Oddly enough, according to the station’s page on Wikipedia, it began broadcasting as a modern rock station in September, 1983 and I had stumbled across it a month or so later.

It was the station where I heard Aztec Camera, Gang Of Four, The Suburbs, and other bands I wouldn’t hear elsewhere. It was the station to hear Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and U2.

It was even the station where I first heard Cyndi Lauper and Nena before they became mainstream pop sensations on Top 40 radio.

The thing that triggered me to think about 97X wasn’t coming across Rain Man on cable. Instead, it was a far more surprising event – a television commercial.

I’m not even sure what the commercial was pushing on me. It was the music that caught my attention. It was a song by a Welsh band called Freur called Doot Doot (not to be confused with Trio’s Da Da Da or The Police’ De Do Do Do De Da Da Da).

Freur was short-lived, but members of the band would go on to be Underworld and be global with their wonderful song Born Slippy from the movie Trainspotting. Apparently, Doot Doot was Freur’s lone hit in the UK and a small on – #59 – at that. I think it did little here in the States.

But I did hear it numerous times while listening to 97X in the winter of ‘83/84. I even had it recorded on a cassette. I haven’t heard it on the radio – or elsewhere – in twenty-five years.

I wouldn’t describe Doot Doot as rock and roll, but it certainly seems as though 97X knew something about the future.

Doot Doot and a few other songs I was hearing on 97X at the time…

Freur – Doot Doot
from Freur

Freur – Doot Doot (12″ mix)
from Freur

I was surprised to hear Modern English’s Melt With You in a commercial.

(the first time)

Of course, Melt With You was a fairly popular song in 1983 even if it wasn’t a massive mainstream radio hit. In seven years of working in record stores, I can remember seeing anything by Freur once, on an ‘80s compilation.

I hope the commercial makes it a hit twenty-six years later. It’s sparse and spacey with the earworm of a chorus being little more than the title.

Is there a more obscure song or artist to be used to sell humans products two decades after it was released?

(I’m guessing maybe Nick Drake would be in such a discussion)

Aztec Camera – Oblivious
from High Land, Hard Rain

During the winter of ’83/’84, few things could make the day less dreary than hearing the bouncy Oblivious. Whatever name you want to pin on it – New Wave, modern rock, alternative rock – there were some classic pop melodies in the ’80s.

Tom Tom Club- Pleasure Of Love
from Close To The Bone

Sure, everyone knows Genius Of Love (another ’80s song that’s made its way into a television commercial), but Talking Heads’ spin-off Tom Tom Club have released a handful of worthwhile albums.

Though not as groundbreaking as Genius Of Love, Pleasure Of Love, is, like most of Tom Tom Club’s songs and in the words of a friend, “music to eat pineapple to.”

It truly is.

ABC – That Was Then This Is Now
from Beauty Stab

ABC’s debut The Lexicon Of Love is widely regarded as a classic ’80s album. It wasn’t as wildly popular in the US as it was in the UK, but The Look Of Love and Poison Arrow got played on even the most pedestrian of Top 40 stations which I was listening to at the time.

That Was Then This Is Now, the first song from their follow-up, was something of a shock upon arrival. Yes, lead singer Martin Fry still croons (he can do nothing else), but the music is harder, more guitar-oriented, not the lush New Romantic/Roxy Music we had all come to know.

I liked it. The song wasn’t around long and I pretty much forgot about it ’til years later. It seems as though Beauty Stab is held in higher regard now than it was then.