Cat D’État

January 29, 2011

Paloma and I killed most of a Saturday afternoon several years ago sucked into a Discovery channel marathon of the series Survivorman.

For the uninitiated, the show starred a fellow named Les Stroud who would place himself in precarious situations – stranded in remote, Canadian wilderness or adrift, alone, in the ocean – and videotape his efforts to not perish.

Then came Man Vs. Wild starring Bear Gryllis, with a similar premise.

Paloma immediately championed Bear mostly as he could be her brother’s doppelganger.

(the only difference between the two is, essentially, a British accent)

I preferred Les.

Bear was some British ex-Special Forces character. His country had invested considerable amounts of cash to train him to survive dangerous situations and perform feats of derring-do.

But Les…Les was everyman.

I couldn’t relate to Bear’s skills, panache or accent, but I could empathize with Les as he failed to trap a rabbit to eat or had a tantrum, bitching about his self-inflicted predicament.

(of course, Paloma and I were both puzzled by Les’ need to take his clothes of in almost every episode no matter how frigid the conditions)

There were moments when I’d watch Les and think that I wouldn’t be surprised if he failed to live up to his show’s ambitious title.

I’ve been thinking of Les the past couple days as, in essence, I am in the midst of a personal Survivorman situation.

Paloma has taken a trip to visit her mother and Bear Gryllis-doppelganger brother, leaving me to fend for myself. It’s the first time we’ve been apart in quite some time.

Now, I’ve often lived on my own, so there is little likelihood that I will have to snare a rabbit as there are a number of pizza places a mere seven digits away who will bring me sustenance.

I will have to make coffee and, I must confess, the coffee maker baffles me, but I should be able to manage.

No, the concern is our animals, four cats – Sam, Pizza, JuJu, and Ravi.

I am fond of this feline quartet and they are fond of me.

However, the four of them hang on each move Paloma makes. If, for some reason, she isn’t here when they expect her to be, chaos ensues.

(chaos consisting of much confused milling about)

Oh, it might seem like a peaceful protest, but these things have a tendency of late to mushroom and I have the proof as I watch the images being beamed from Cairo.

I have legitimate concerns that, when nightfall arrives and Paloma is absent, things could get ugly.

It is said, though, that music soothes the savage beast and Paloma has long insisted that Sam, the eldest in the menagerie, has a fondness for ’70s light rock (especially the trio America).

So, here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s easy listening chart for this week in 1978 that I hope will quell any uprising…

Player – Baby Come Back
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21

I had to check Player’s Wikipedia entry to see if I even knew another song by the group aside from the mammoth Baby Come Back. I did recognize their other Top Ten hit, This Time I’m In It For Love from later in ’78.

The breezy Baby Come Back is the one that everyone remembers, though, and the song has gained new life in recent years through its use in television commercials.

David Gates – The Goodbye Girl
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21

I didn’t see the movie The Goodbye Girl, though I did recognize Richard Dreyfuss in the television commercials as Roy Neary from Close Encounters Of A Third Kind.

Mostly, I remember seeing Quinn Cummings, a child actress who was my age, on some afternoon talk show – Mike Douglas or Dinah Shore – promoting the movie and being quite smitten.

Billy Joel – Just The Way You Are
from The Complete Hits Collection: 1973-1997

I’m strangely ambivalent about Billy Joel. If you asked me if I liked Billy Joel, I’d probably shrug and say something like, “He’s OK.”

But when I do hear one of his songs, I’m surprised at how often I pause, mentally list his songs in my head, and realize that the guy does have some truly fantastic tracks in his catalog. The smooth Just The Way You Are wouldn’t be on my list of favorites by Joel, but it’s pleasant enough.

Yvonne Elliman – If I Can’t Have You
from Disco Classics

Such a phenomenon was the movie Saturday Night Fever and its accompanying soundtrack that it was one of the few albums I owned at the time. I had little interest in music in ’78, but someone had given it to me as a Christmas gift.

Of course, even though I hadn’t became interested in music, yet, I was still quite familiar with the handful of Bee Gees’ hits from Saturday Night Fever. I was also familiar with the dramatic If I Can’t Have You which, though sung by Yvonne Elliman, was penned (and produced) by the brothers Gibb.


Little. Yellow. Different.

May 24, 2010

Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air.

Some of us had primitive home systems such as Pong, but our experience with video games was limited.

Space Invaders had been released in 1978, but none of us had played the game until the new decade had arrived. Sometime as the winter snows melted in early 1980, Space Invaders appeared, sitting there against the wall near the small music department in the rear of the Danners Five & Ten.

It quickly became the place to find most of the kids our age after school and on weekends, pouring quarters down the machine’s gullet.

Later, that summer, Asteroids appeared, nestled next to the pinball machines and near the pool tables at the bowling alley and getting a chance to play was about as likely as getting a table at the trendiest bistro in Hollywood.

On May 22, 1980, we were likely counting down the final days of the school year.

Some ten thousand miles away in Japan, twelve-year olds there were being introduced to a video game that would soon be separating us from our hard-earned allowances and change how we would waste our free time for the next several years, ushering in the video game era.

It was Pac-Man.

(actually, it was Puck-Man, but – upon export to the States – someone had the foresight to realize that young vandals such as we would likely alter the “P” to an “F” to the chagrin of more upright citizens)

The first time that I ever heard of Pac-Man was a year or so later when a new girl, Molly, arrived at our school. Sitting next to me in class one day, she began recounting some plot involving a jaundiced little fellow, babbling about a maze, ghosts, eating dots, and fruit.

As video games were not a part of our consciousness despite Space Invaders and Asteroids, I thought that she was describing some movie she had seen.

“We should play some time,” she suggested.

I nodded, having no idea what the hell she was talking about.

Molly and I never did share a game of Pac-Man. The game soon arrived at the bowling alley, but she had been recruited into the group of A-list girls in our class and I was, on a good day, strictly a B-list kid.

However, my friends and I spent a lot of time trying to master the game and memorize the patterns and, with its phenomenal success, new video games began to sprout like weeds. Each would cause initial excitement – “You have to check out Defender” – before being supplanted by the next big thing until there were enough of them to be herded into an gaming menagerie.

Here, in a belated birthday nod to Pac-Man, are four songs from the charts during the week it was introduced to the world. I wasn’t listening to much music, yet, but I might have heard them playing on the juke box at the bowling alley as I played pinball, hoping for a chance to get a shot at the Asteroids machine…

The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night

Smooth and funky, The Brothers Johnson’s Stomp! has an irresistible, anthemic chorus. Disco might have been dead by the end of the ’70s, but it didn’t keep the song from being a mammoth hit during the spring of ’80.

Air Supply – Lost In Love
from Lost In Love

The Top 40 station that I listened to in the first few years of the ’80s was relatively unhindered by its format. They’d play Rush’s Tom Sawyer or something old by Van Halen. There was a lot of Journey and Styx.

But there was also the hits and hits in the early ’80s meant Air Supply.

Lost In Love is pleasant enough, a bit mawkish, but breezy and engaging. I think I thought was Starland Vocal Band when I first heard it.

(I hadn’t listened to much music up to that point)

Billy Joel – You May Be Right
from Glass Houses

Billy Joel seemed edgy to me in 1980.

Maybe it was because when I thought of him I thought of songs like Big Shot or Sometimes A Fantasy before I thought of She’s Always A Woman or Honesty.

And, at eleven or twelve the line about dirty jokes in You May Be Right seemed rather adult.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
from Christopher Cross

Early on, I noted the prominent place that Christopher Cross’ debut occupied in my childhood.

And I really have nothing more to add.


When An Ex Is Revealed To Be An Interstellar Overlord…

October 29, 2009

kirk_martaThere’ve been a number of commercials for a series called V. It’s a remake – I guess the kids call it a reimagining these days – of a series from the ‘80s.

I never watched the original, but a friend at the time was a devotee, so I knew that the premise of V involved visitors from space arriving on Earth and the hijinks which ensued.

And while the friend came to mind when I saw the commercial for the new version the other night, I was more struck by the apparent alien leader bearing a resemblance to an ex-girlfriend.

It made me think how odd it would be if, when the aliens take a wrong turn and finally land here, their form is not like bulbous-headed creatures from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but, instead, indistinguishable from humans.

And, consider the drag it would be if the alien ambassador looked like an ex, especially if the end of that relationship had been contentious. Humankind’s first encounter with alien life would receive continuous televised coverage. It would be a carpet bombing from all media.

Friends who you hadn’t spoken to in years would contact you – “Have you seen that alien chick that looks like [name of ex]?”

“No, no I’ve been in a coma and missed the whole alien thing, but it’s nice to be reminded of unpleasant times.”

Of course, then I thought it would be even more disconcerting if the extraterrestrial leader not only resembled but was, in fact, that ex.

It would be a rather jarring reveal and undeniably some kind of feather in one’s cap.

To be someone that had slept with some alien uber being –

You’d get a book deal.

You’d end up on Oprah.

You’d likely need a lot of therapy.

You’d have to consult the one man who could relate to the situation – William Shatner. I didn’t watch much Star Trek growing up, but I do know that in one episode he hooked up with some green chick.

I mean, you’ve bedded an alien, why not up the absurdity quotient and seek the wisdom of Capt. Kirk.

According to online sources, V aired the first week of May, 1983.
Here are some songs from that time…

Tony Carey – I Won’t Be Home Tonight
from I Won’t Be Home Tonight

Tony Carey might not have been a household name with most music fans, but, in our corner of the Midwest, he got plenty of attention from the radio stations with songs like A Fine, Fine Day, The First Day Of Summer, and – as Planet P Project – Why Me and What I See.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about I Won’t Be Home Tonight. It’s just a straight-ahead rock song, but it sounded good on the radio. Also, the cover for the album – Carey, standing outside a UFO with a backpack – fits the subject matter of this post well.

Billy Joel – Goodnight Saigon
from The Nylon Curtain

I’ve noted before that I’ve never considered myself to be a Billy Joel fan until I realize that I own a fair chunk of his catalog and I usually don’t skip his songs when they pop up randomly on the iPod.

Goodnight Saigon is one of his more serious efforts, a rather dire take on the Vietnam War, and I song that I’d rank as one of his most compelling.

Robert Ellis Orrall And Carlene Carter – I Couldn’t Say No
from Special Pain

I don’t remember hearing the breezy I Couldn’t Say No aside from a few times on American Top 40. It’s a pleasant little number, unassuming but endearing, and it always causes Paloma to perk up and ask “Who’s this again?” when it comes up on shuffle.

Wall Of Voodoo – Mexican Radio
from Call Of The West

It’s too bad that Wall Of Voodoo is only known to most listeners for Mexican Radio. The quirky song is an undeniable ’80s classic, but their first couple records are worth seeking out (and, to my delight, I happened across them on one of our last hauls of vinyl).

Also worth the search is the solo stuff from lead singer Stan Ridgway, who got a recent nod over at Any Major Dude With Half A Heart when his song Camouflage popped up on a recent Halloween post.