Summer Cometh When The Iceman Goeth

June 23, 2012

As a kid, the NBA championship meant that summer had arrived.

School would have ended a couple weeks before the title series, so staying up until the wee hours watching tape-delayed broadcasts of playoff games on late-night CBS was a seasonal ritual in the early ’80s.

(as was sleeping in ’til mid-morning)

We had an NBA franchise within a short drive, but all of our media was from Cincinnati, across the border and as the city no longer had a team, pro basketball received scant coverage.

With no abiding loyalty to our local team because they were mediocre at best and boring with no superstar, my friends and I were fans of individual players and, by extension, their team.

Everyone loved Dr. J, so the Sixers were popular.

The Lakers had Magic and the Celtics had Larry Bird, our state’s greatest gift to the world, so both of those teams had their loyalists.

I dug, George Gervin, the rail thin, guard for the San Antonio Spurs who was the best pure scorer in the league.

No one was more chilled on the court than the Iceman and one thing he could do…was finger roll.

Unfortunately, Ice would end up on summer vacation before I would. There were a couple seasons during which he managed to get the Spurs to the brink of the finals but no dice.

I’ve been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs this spring and Oklahoma City’s superstar Kevin Durant – Gervin 2.0 – has made me think of watching the Iceman as a kid.

And, as I did as a kid, I’ve been watching this season’s final series.

It’s been compelling and, whether you’re a fan of his or not, if you know basketball at all, you know what an epic romp through the playoffs and championship LeBron James had.

I didn’t stay up late, though, shutting things down most nights during the third, maybe early fourth quarter.

I no longer sleep until mid-day.

And the end of the series is no longer a marker, a sign post noting that for the next ten weeks you were mostly unfettered.

The summer of 1983 began with the Spurs losing in the conference finals. It would be the last time during Gervin’s seasons with the team that they would get so close to a championship.

It would be the last summer that my friends and I would lack driver’s licenses, but it was also the last summer that most of us were unencumbered by jobs.

I have no idea how George Gervin spent that summer, but I spent it with a lot of music. Here are four songs that I was hearing as the summer began in 1983…

Hall & Oates – Family Man
from H2O (1982)

Hall & Oates were in the midst of a ridiculous run of hit singles as the summer began and Family Man hit radio. Dark and paranoid, the song was a bit of a departure for the duo with its edgy guitar and New Wave vibe.

Family Man was a cover of a song by Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame and, despite its darker feel, followed Maneater and One On OneH2O‘s previous hits – into the Top Ten.

The song seems to have been lost in the wake of all of those other hits from Hall & Oates during the early ’80s as I’ve rarely heard it on the radio in the past thirty years.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)
from Listen (1983)

1983 was also the year when I began to really build a music collection and few releases were as eagerly awaited by me as Listen, the follow-up to A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut from the year before as I had adopted them as my band. Heavier on its use of electronics than its predecessor, the album initially disappointed me.

I did love the first single, Wishing, which would become the last of the A Flock Of Seagulls’ three Top 40 singles in the US and possibly their finest effort.

The dense, swirling cascade of multi-layered synthesizers and guitar gave the song a wall of sound for the New Wave era feel not surprising given that the band’s best-known song, I Ran (So Far Away), had apparently caught the ear of legendary producer Phil Spector.

The Kinks – State Of Confusion
from State Of Confusion (1983)

Despite the bulk of their success coming before we were born, The Kinks were one of the most popular bands among my friends and our schoolmates. It wasn’t just the classic ’60s stuff, but the newer material from albums like Low Budget and Give The People What They Want.

So, it was a given that 1983′s State Of Confusion would have our attention. It turned out to be popular with a lot of listeners as Come Dancing was the band’s biggest hit in years.

My favorite song from State Of Confusion was the driving title track, a lovely mix of angst and optimism with a mesmerizing chorus.

Iron Maiden – The Trooper
from Piece Of Mind (1983)

I wasn’t a metalhead and never went through such a phase, but I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden at the time as my buddy Beej’s little brother was obsessed with the band. As we spent a lot of time at his house that summer, we heard a lot of Maiden blaring from Davy’s room.

A year or so later, once we had our driver’s licenses, another buddy, Streuss, would baffle us when he’d toss in a cassette he had made with Men Without Hats on one side and Iron Maiden on the other. I soon developed an appreciation for the band.

Though not as memorable to me as some of their songs, The Trooper is standard-issue Maiden, galloping along at a breakneck pace driven by their twin-lead guitars and Bruce Dickinson’s throaty wail.

It also might be the only song I know with the word musket in it.

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“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head”

March 15, 2012

Yes, though I might recently have questioned Morgan Freeman’s aquarium-related advice, I find the words of his iconic character Red from The Shawshank Redemption appropriate this morning.

In less than three hours, the true opening round of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament – as opposed to the cash grab “first four” – tips off.

For the first time in many years, I have arranged to be home to bask in ten hours or so of college hoops, the entire venture goosed by having upgraded to HD television.

I’ve noted in years past that the time period during which I was in college coincided with the rise of ESPN and the availability of all of the tournament’s games. The lax schedule of a college student allowed me to take advantage of the situation and my attendance of a university that was a hoops power in a basketball-mad state made doing so justifiable.

So, early this morning I took care of getting one of our animals to the vet and – aside from retrieving her later this afternoon – my agenda is juggling four channels’ worth of basketball with the added bonus of my alma mater’s return to prominence and two nearby universities also participating, one of them being a highly-touted upset pick.

I’m as giddy as Red headed to Zihuatanejo, so giddy that I’m considering having pizza for breakfast.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a college freshman and likely having pizza for breakfast as my school was beginning a run that would end up with them winning the championship three weeks later.

Here are four songs from cassettes that would have been in my Walkman at the time…

Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over
from Crowded House (1987)

Led by Neil Finn and including fellow ex-Split Enz member Paul Hester, Crowded House garnered more attention with their first single than Split Enz ever had in the States. It was certainly deserved as the wistful and haunting Don’t Dream It’s Over is as classy as pop music gets.

Of course, I can no longer hear the song without thinking of its evocative use in the mini-series of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic book The Stand. The song gave added poignancy as it played over scenes of a barren, empty world, lingering on a shot of a teddy bear bobbing in the surf on a beach.

Paul Simon – The Boy In The Bubble
from Graceland (1986)

Though Graceland had been released at the beginning of the school year, it took months for mainstream attention to catch up to the critical kudos the album received upon its release. I was well exposed to the album from its arrival by a music major on my dorm floor who quickly embraced Paul Simon’s collaboration with some of South Africa’s most respected musicians.

The song that stood out to me – aside from the rustic postcard that was the title track – was the loping The Boy In The Bubble and its surreal juxtaposition of imagery.

‘Til Tuesday – Coming Up Close
from Welcome Home (1986)

Like most guys watching MTV in 1985, my friends and I were left slack-jawed and smitten with Aimee Mann in ‘Til Tuesday’s video for Voices Carry.

Image aside, ‘Til Tuesday made three very good records, shedding members over the course of those albums. By the time the band reached its end after Everything’s Different Now, Aimee Mann had guided their sound from chilly New Wave to a more organic, guitar-jangling alternative rock.

That sound had been hinted at on the group’s second album, especially on the stellar – and surprisingly twangy – Coming Up Close.

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name
from The Joshua Tree (1987)

Released the week before the tournament began in 1987, The Joshua Tree was the first album I ever bought on CD on the day of release. I had already been a rabid fan since discovering War through a high school friend as, in the Midwest, the band was still a little-known, cult act.

That changed quickly with the release of the first single, With Or Without You, and I still vividly recall putting the CD into the player for the first time, hearing the bracing, windswept opening of Where The Streets Have No Name, the album’s opening track and realizing that my favorite band was now going to be a mainstream juggernaut.


It’s Even Better Than Festivus

March 16, 2011

As someone who, as a kid, watched Bird and Magic in the ’79 NCAA basketball title game, March has long been, perhaps, the most wonderful month of the year.

Like December, March is a month-long trek full of anticipation and excitement, culminating in one massive blowout. But hoops in March trumps holidays in December.

The latter can be a slog, filled with stress and when you’ve reached the end, whether it’s been memorable or miserable, you’re staring at the deepest, darkest stretch of winter.

The former, even in less memorable years, is bound to have stellar games, performances and moments. By the time some team cuts down the nets, it’s spring.

The anticipation of the tournament beginning this week had me toggling between three games one night last week. I settled on Robert Morris/Long Island University – the most competitive matchup – playing in a gym that was no larger than the high school gym in my hometown.

In college, I’d watch more basketball games in a week than I’ve probably caught this entire season. It was required as I attended a school that was a hoops power in a state mad for the game, so, even if there wasn’t a game on ESPN, there was often a college game on one of the local channels.

And there was the serendipitous intersection of my years in college and the years during which ESPN aired games all day long. It was now possible to watch twelve, fifteen hours of basketball in one day.

Those first two rounds of the tournament probably resulted in my GPA being at least a tenth of a percent lower because the Thursday and Friday games caused a cessation of all educational matters.

The experience was made sweeter by the fact that March in Indiana can often be cold, grey, and rainy.

There was something life affirming about not trekking to class in the raw conditions but, instead, encamping on the couch in sweats and a heavy sweater, eating pizza and watching Pepperdine/Seton Hall at one in the afternoon.

I managed to retain some semblence of this annual tradition well into the ’90s, but, in the past decade, the times I’ve gotten to spend watching the Thursday or Friday day games have become fewer.

But I’m taking Friday off this week.

I’m older now, so it won’t be the epic, viewing marathon and showcase for one man’s will to remain inert, gorging on pizza and hoops that it was in college.

Not without a nap or two.

Here are four songs from Billboard‘s chart for this week in March, 1979, when hoops fans were formally introduced to the great Larry Bird…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose it would have still been on the radio a lot during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to check out. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52’s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.