All I Know Is That Thailand’s Royal Family Owes Me A Pair Of Sunglasses

May 18, 2010

Thailand doesn’t pop up on the radar much here in the States.

But Thailand is without a doubt one of the more fascinating places I’ve ever visited. From the commercialized seediness of Patpong and the filth, congestion and poverty of much of the city to the gleam of modern skyscrapers, bustling street markets, and the lush beauty of the countryside, Thailand is a scene.

Six months after returning from the country, I was spawled on the couch in my college apartment watching CNN. There was Bangkok.

Specifically, there was the lobby of one of the hotels I had been in six months earlier being used as a makeshift triage ward following some civil unrest. Where I had sat eating duck and rice, victims of the skirmishes were sprawled, writhing on the floor.

When the massive tsunami hit several years ago, much of the visuals focused on Phuket, a small island off the coast of Thailand.

I watched the shaky camera footage of destruction and thought of the many evening I’d sat with friends at the Babylon Cafe on a street near those same beaches, devouring the finest pizza we had encountered on our journey.

In recent weeks (days and hours), there has been an escalation in the country’s latest civil unrest, a state of emergency that has existed for some time and that I’ve only followed casually.

The plot, so much as I’ve followed it, is hardly original – a clash between the working class and poor seeking justice from a government which they believe to be corrupt and indifferent.

And some have looked to Thailand’s king to quell the situation as he has done in the past.

I think of the Thai king and I think of sunglasses.

No one sets out to intentionally lose a pair of sunglasses, but, rather, it is simply an immutable law of the universe that each day from the time you purchase new shades is merely one day closer to the day when you will reach for them and they will not be there.

At least in the case of a pair of round, mirrored sunglasses I once had, I managed to lose them in a locale far more exotic than usual – a movie theater in Bangkok.

Two friends and I had opted to escape the unremitting heat and the suffocating combination of humidity and diesel fumes of Bangkok in July. We found a theater near our hotel that was showing Lethal Weapon II in English.

We sat in the darkness with a half dozen or so locals, sheltering ourselves from the blistering mid-afternoon sun and the remnants of the previous night’s hangovers. The movie could have been Karate Kid III and we would have been grateful.

(so starved were we for movies that summer, the three of us had checked out that flick weeks earlier and I had proclaimed Ralph Macchio’s performance to be Oscar-worthy)

There might have been commercials before Lethal Weapon II rolled. That innovation hadn’t really hit the states, yet, but we had exerienced it in Singapore.

There was a new twist, though.

Resting comfortably in the cool, awaiting Gibson and Glover, we watched the pre-movie fare play out when black and white news scenes suddenly flickered on the screen and the locals rose as though pulled by images.

Some stirring music began to blare from the speakers and we did as the small crowd and stood. I heard my sunglasses hit the tile floor with a clink, falling out of the loose pockets of my cargo shorts as I’d risen.

The screen filled with footage of the monarchy.

There’s something almost more oppressive about late-afternoon sun than that of mid-afternoon. As we stepped out of the theater and the racket of the Bangkok street, the sun sat at an angle that was unavoidable through the haze.

I shielded my eyes, reached into my pocket, and remembered that I had not been able to find my sunglasses before the movie had started and forgotten to look after it had ended.

The king owes me a pair of sunglasses, but I suspect that he has far more serious matters to ponder.

(and, given the precarious state of his country, he’d probably agree that it might be good to be king, but it has to be better to be Tom Petty)

Here is a quartet of songs that I associate with that trek through Thailand…

The Cure – Disintegration
from Disintegration

The Cure had been gaining momentum in the States for several years and their previous few albums by the time Disintegration arrived in early summer of ’89. Fascination Street had been a smash before I’d headed to Asia and Lovesong was even bigger during my time over there.

Queen – I Want It All
from The Miracle

Unlike The Cure, Queen had been steadily losing momentum in the States during the ’80s despite retaining a massive audience in the rest of the world. The Miracle would hardly rank among their finest efforts. I was disappointed when I snagged a copy of it from a street vendor in Bangkok.

I was disappointed because I had heard I Want It All before I’d left the States and it was an intriguing teaser for the album, full of bravado and showcasing Brian May’s guitar heroics along with a simple, anthemic chorus that immediately lodged in the brain.

Aside from I Want It All, though, The Miracle wasn’t very memorable.

Big Audio Dynamite – Contact
from Megatop Phoenix

Big Audio Dynamite was also a band losing steam by the time Megatop Phoenix arrived. Maybe I was over the initial charm of Mick Jones’ post-Clash outfit or maybe I simply didn’t find the songs quite as worthwhile.

But Contact has always been one of my favorite BAD tracks. There’s just something about the positivity of the song that makes me feel better about everything when I hear it.

Transvision Vamp – Baby I Don’t Care
from Velveteen

And then there was Transvision Vamp, fronted by lead singer Wendy James who was seemingly on the cover of every music magazine from the UK during the summer of ’89. Velveteen was the group’s second album which made little impact in the US but had a string of hits elsewhere.

I dug Baby I Don’t Care. It was lightweight but frothy, a New Wave-tinged bit of dance-rock that I hadn’t listened to in years but is now stuck in my head after one play.

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The Road To Rose-Hulman

May 1, 2010

At the risk of tempting the weather gods, this spring has actually been a relatively orderly, pleasant shuffle into the summer months instead of the luge ride into the sun – winter to summer – we often get.

The past few days have been perfect and it was a perfect Friday when I set out for Terre Haute with my friends Streuss and Smart. I’ve mentioned Streuss, a high school friend who turned me onto music like Robyn Hitchcock, The Cocteau Twins, and The Cure, numerous times.

Smart, like Streuss, was a twin. His identical twin brother was Dumb.

Actually, both of them were quite intelligent, but Smart was the twin that was a bit more responsible and slightly less carefree, so…

(of course, it was Smart who, on occasion, could be found sleeping in the bushes outside their house after a night of drinking)

Smart hadn’t decided on a college, yet, and was considering Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, near the Indiana/Illinois border.

Streuss and I had known for months where we were headed.

It was our senior year, we were about a month from graduation, and we had already checked out. So, when Smart asked us if we wanted to go on a college visit one Friday morning, there was no hesitation.

Seniors were allowed so many absences for college visits, but they had to be with a parent, so, I’m not sure how we worked around that requirement – we likely didn’t care.

Dumb had missed something like thirty or forty days of school. Smart and the rest of us weren’t so accomplished, but we had spent a lot of time that school year everywhere but school.

So, the three of us set out in the late ’60s, light blue Ford Fairlaine which the twins shared and drove as though they were in pursuit of Mad Max in the Australian outback.

(oddly enough, one of our friends, Curt The Pyro, had been gifted the same car – same year and color – by his older brother Jailbait)

Terre Haute was two hours or so from our hometown. It was more than enough time on that beautiful spring morning – seventy-two degrees, blue skies with a few clouds for contrast – for Streuss and myself to convince Smart that he had to be deranged to even think of attending Rose-Hulman.

Now, Smart’s intention was to major in engineering and Rose-Hulman was regarded as on of the best engineering schools on the planet, but there were extenuating circumstances prompting Streuss and I to offer such contrary council.

Rose-Hulman was an all-male university.

We cruised down the highway at ridiculously high speeds and sorted out Smart’s future. As the song from a year or so later would declare – the future was so bright, we had to wear shades.

Actually, the future was the last thing on our minds that day. It was a beautiful day and we were hanging out while the rest of our friends – including Dumb and Curt The Pyro – were stuck in class.

And we had music.

There were new albums that spring from some of the staples of rock radio in our corner of the world. Bob Seger’s Like A Rock album was out and none of us could have known how sick NFL fans would be of the title song twenty-five years later.

The Stones’ version of Harlem Shuffle was on the radio and its parent album, Dirty Work, would prove to be fairly uninspired.

Van Halen’s first song with Sammy Hagar was on every station. David Lee Roth’s swagger, brains, humor, and sleaze was the soul of Van Halen, but I liked some of the Hagar-era stuff and Why Can’t This Be Love sounded great on the radio.

And Journey.

Journey would release Raised On Radio that spring. Sure, I bought a copy, but things had changed since Escape had been a soundtrack for the passage from junior high to high school.

But Raised On Radio didn’t resonate four years later.

(that’s twenty-eight years for any dogs that might be reading)

We also had a tape deck and we knew how to use it.

Here are four songs from some of the tapes I’m sure we played that day…

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door

Streuss had discovered The Cure with The Head On The Door, most likely via the memorable video for the perky – at least musically – Close To Me. He was soon catching up on their earlier albums especially Pornography, which was my favorite.

Big Audio Dynamite – Medicine Show
from This Is Big Audio Dynamite

Though thought of, first and foremost, as a punk band, The Clash incorporated reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, dance and rockabilly into their sound. When Mick Jones was sacked following Combat Rock, he put together Big Audio Dynamite and continued to draw from diverse musical styles adding samples to the equation.

We immediately took to BAD’s intoxicating brew which took the experimental bent of The Clash to a new level. Though commonplace now, the band’s musical stew was strkingly original at the time and, acknowledged or not, served as a template for many of the modern rock acts that found success in the early ’90s.

The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary
from Love

The recorded output of The Cult is a bit uneven to me and, despite its success, I thought the Rick Rubin-produced Electric was an unredeemable disaster aside from the wonderful Love Removal Machine.

However, Love, Electric‘s predecessor, is a classic from the period.

The sleek, supersonic She Sells Sanctuary was perhaps the high point of Love, a near perfect fusion of Billy Duffy’s pyrotechnic guitar work and lead singer Ian Astbury’s otherworldly howl.

The Outfield – Your Love
from Play Deep

Both Smart and Dumb were mental for The Outfield who, at the time, were breaking in the States with the irresistible single Your Love. Urgent and catchy, the song was all over radio that spring.

The British trio would manage to produce a handful of engaging singles over the remainder of the ’80s, but Your Love remains pinned to that spring, that trip, and the twins for me.