Thirty Years Out From The Future

October 1, 2012

It was during 1982 that I first began purchasing music on an ongoing basis. I was hindered by the nearest actual record stores being fifty miles away and me and my buddies being thirteen-, fourteen-year old kids with little money and no driver’s licenses.

Those circumstances had conspired to keep my music collection to two-dozen or so cassettes as the first chilly mornings of autumn arrived that year.

(a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club)

I doubt that I was aware of the arrival of the first CD player hitting stores in Japan.

It’s quite likely that I first heard of compact disc technology from my buddy Beej who, even then, had a subscription to Stereo Review and was citing Julian Hirsch “of Hirsch-Houck Laboratories.”

I was listening to music through the most basic of means.

I couldn’t get to Cincinnati to buy Hall & Oates H2O and probably didn’t have the eight dollars and change to do so. The price tag of Sony’s CDP-101 – around $750 – and the item being available in Japan made it something for the jet set.

By the time I reached college, the price of the players had finally reached levels affordable to mere mortals, but I was still hesitant to take the digital plunge with a collection of hundreds of albums on cassette.

As the school year was closing in on spring break in March of ’87, it was a paper for a business writing class that proved to be the tipping point. I opted to write about the burgeoning digital revolution and, after several weeks of research and writing, I had convinced myself.

As other classmates headed for tropical climes, I made the two-hour trip to my hometown for a week of reconnecting with several high school buddies.

During that week, we made a trip into Cincinnati – a trek we had made a year before as often as we could acquire transportation – and I joined the jet set, purchasing a floor model of a Technics CD player for, as I recall, $165.

I would have thought you to be addled had you told me that rainy March day that, over the next fifteen years, I would own upwards of 8000 CDs.

Here are songs from the first four discs that I ever played on that first CD player…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere (1986)

After purchasing the CD player, I summarily purchased two CDs with one being the solo debut by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and I’m not sure why. I’d bought the cassette of Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere when it was released toward the end of ’86 and was underwhelmed.

However I had just read Geldof’s autobiography, Is That It?, so that might have been the catalyst. With Eurythmic Dave Stewart co-producing I expected more, but the songs just weren’t there.

This Is The World Calling was one of the few exceptions. The anthemic plea featured the trio of Maria McKee, Annie Lennox, and Alison Moyet on backing vocals.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows (1985)

Power Windows was the other CD I snagged for my new player and, like the Geldof disc, is a bit puzzling in retrospect not least in the respect that it had been released eighteen months earlier.

However, I had gotten into Rush heavily during my last couple years of high school and I did quite like Power Windows (and had seen the band on that tour). Territories was one of several tracks from the album that got played heavily on the rock stations that I was listening to and I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

The Alan Parsons Project – Old And Wise
from The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project (1983)

In addition to the two CDs I initially bought, my buddy Streuss temporarily gifted me a pair of discs that he owned despite not having a CD player.

Several of us were fans of The Alan Parsons Project who had been a radio fixture during the first half of the ’80s with songs like Games People Play, Eye In The Sky, and Don’t Answer Me. At the time I bought my player, the duo of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had just released Gaudi which would prove to be their final release under The Alan Parsons Project banner.

Of those first discs from which I had to choose as I got to know the crisp sound of the medium, The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project sounded the most impressive, but, then again, Parsons, as an Abbey Road engineer, did earn credits for his work on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Old And Wise is a track from Eye In The Sky which I used to hear a lot on one of the soft rock stations and is most certainly a whisper of a song. With lead vocals provided by ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone, Old And Wise is reminiscent of the earlier Project hit Time.

The Moody Blues – The Voice
from Voices In The Sky: The Best Of The Moody Blues (1984)

The other disc Streuss passed to me was a Moody Blues compilation.

I knew Nights In White Satin and the band had hits while I was in high school like Gemini Dream, Sitting At The Wheel, and Your Wildest Dreams, but I was fairly ambivalent.

But, I had four CDs from which to choose and a new toy, so I gave the disc a lot of plays. I remained fairly ambivalent, but the breezy The Voice seemed less fussy than most of the other songs.

And, if I hear The Voice, I first think of seeing the Solid Gold dancers dance to the song during the summer of ’81.

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Dennis Hopper

June 1, 2010

Scrolling through the filmography of Dennis Hopper, I realized that I’ve only seen about half a dozen of his films and that several that would be considered essential aren’t on that list.

I’ve seen Straight To Hell, but I haven’t seen Giant.

I’ve seen Waterworld, but I haven’t seen Blue Velvet.

I’ve seen portions of Easy Rider and, honestly, I can’t say that it moved me.

(maybe, like Woodstock, it helped to have been there)

But, I have been a fan of Apocalypse Now since high school when my buddy Streuss used to cue it up often when we’d all end up hanging out in his den at the end of a Friday night.

Even today, one of my friends and I make attempts to rattle off some of Hopper’s manic verbiage from the flick…

…”One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics.”

That’s insane, man.

And, of course, there’s Hoosiers.

I grew up in Indiana and one of the schools in our conference was the tiny high school that provided the inspiration for Hoosiers.

In college, I attended Indiana University at a time when the basketball team was a perennial contender for the national title (actually winning it at the end of my freshman year).

So, I had a frame of reference when Hoosiers arrived in theaters at Thanksgiving in 1986. It was during the first semester of that freshman year and it was my first time home since starting school.

A handful of high school friends, also home from college, and I headed to Cincinnati one morning like we had done so many times only a year before. And, after roaming the malls and browsing for music, we caught an afternoon showing of Hoosiers.

I don’t know how accurately The Godfather movies portrays the Mafia or if Platoon is more than one man’s take on Vietnam, but I do know that Hoosiers nailed high school hoops in our part of the state.

Hooper scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayel of the town drunk Shooter, attempting to get sober, whose son is on the team.

We too had our town drunk (actually several), Duck. He was a gangly, goofy fellow who moved furtively like Don Knotts. I used to see him around town, particularly at the bowling alley and he’d affably offer a greeting.

Shooter finds redemption as an assistant coach, helping the team win a game when he has them run “the picket fence.”

(I think Duck once bowled a 300)

That Thanksgiving break, when we saw Hoosiers, was one of the last times I think so many of us were together. Over the next few years, our clan got distracted, scattered, and – for the most part – lost touch.

Duck dropped dead in his beloved bowling alley several years later.

And, now, Shooter has staggered off the court for the last time.

I have no doubt that some music was purchased on that Thanksgiving trip, but I have no specific recollection of what albums I might have snagged. Here is a quintet of songs from albums that I did acquire late that autumn…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere

Prior to his turn in The Wall, I was wholly unfamiliar with Bob Geldof and/or The Boomtown Rats. The band’s one, brief brush with US success, I Don’t Like Mondays, hit our shores a few years before music was of much interest to me (not that it likely got any airplay in our region).

By 1986 – post-Band Aid, post-Live Aid – I was well familiar with Geldof and the Rats and had collected most of the band’s catalog.

So, I was eagerly anticipating Geldof’s solo debut, Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere, and subsequently disappointed with most of it. However, I loved the moody plea This Is The World Calling which features Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet, and Lone Justice’s Maria McKee on backing vocals.

Billy Idol – To Be A Lover
from Whiplash Smile

Several of my friends had worn out Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell when it came out our sophomore year of high school. Little did we know that we wouldn’t hear from Idol again ’til we were in college.

That Thanksgiving break, he returned with a rollicking single, To Be A Lover, a cover of a late ’60s hit by soul singer William Bell.

The Pretenders – Don’t Get Me Wrong
from Get Close

Like Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders had been on a relately lengthy layoff since 1984’s Learning To Crawl, another record that had been quite popular with us during our sophomore year.

Though it wasn’t quite as strong as Learning To Crawl, Get Close was the last album by The Pretenders that I truly gave a lot of attention. And, leading things off was the energetic, giddy Don’t Get Me Wrong with its video homage to the classic British television series The Avengers.

Lone Justice – Shelter
from Shelter

Lone Justice’s self-titled debut album garnered a ton of rave reviews, but I didn’t hear it when it was released in early 1985. However, with their name still in mind, I snagged a copy of the Little Steven-produced follow-up, Shelter.

Though the title track got a lot of airplay, the album was a disappointment to those that had championed their earlier effort, criticized for being slick and over-produced. True, there is a late ’80s sheen to Shelter and less rockabilly influence, but lead singer Maria McKee possessed one of the finer set of pipes of the period and, though it isn’t as raw and immediate, the song (and album) are still worth checking out.


And To Think I Overheard It On Mulberry Street

March 29, 2009

It wasn’t Mulberry Street, but that thoroughfare as described by Dr. Seuss was a favorite of mine as a child. Marco’s imagination runs wild with zebras and sultans and such on an ordinary walk home from school.

Marco had Mulberry Street. I had The Iguana, a local bar with a quasi-cantina vibe to it and a reliable place to find grist for my imagination, be it the patrons or merely the setting.

The Drunken Frenchman once told me that “if you’re good with your barkeep, you’re good.” Earl was our barkeep and, with him, we couldn’t have been better.

From one night’s worth of notes…

Dave sits nearby, a sodden sort who I’ve noticed has followed my lead and now scribbles into a small notebook. Very well – it keeps him occupied and insures that he will not ask me, yet again, the meaning of the tattoo on my wrist. He’s not good with his barkeep and is nursing a watered-down drink like he intends to still be drinking it when The Rapture arrives.

Elizabeth Shue is sitting alone, sipping a Bud Light. It’s not really Elizabeth Shue but, rather, a reasonable facsimile.

Would Elizabeth Shue drink Bud Light?

There are snatches of conversation everywhere.

“I keep a place in the city, but I’m building a townhouse.”

“I think I’m a nympho.”

“Five grand and they’re all mine.”

Gina Zinnia is several seats down, perched at the corner of the bar; devouring a burrito as though she is performing origami with knives. I know her name because she has announced it in a shrill voice that has surely awakened the dead for George Romero’s next movie.

She has been babbling without pause for forty-five minutes about her opera singer father, a bad flight to Seattle, the time she was lost as a girl scout (I suspect she was abandoned), and numerous other traumas both small and smaller.

Her date sits slack-jawed and inert, certainly wishing for death or another round.

“To make a long story short,” says Gina.

I now know better. Gina Zinnia has never made a long story short. She has, however, made short stories into excruciatingly painful, long epics.

A blonde nearby, a model she claims, is lamenting the fact that she’s not in New York and nothing compares to New York and she should know because she just got back from Paris.

I want to write a blues song and call it This Imperfect World Doesn’t Suit My Perfect Ass.

A smartly dressed young fellow is reeking of cologne. He waves to someone he obviously knows across the bar.

“I’ll be right back,” he says to his companion, as she makes no effort to hold back a yawn.

“No,” she says, “take your time.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”

He asks the question flirtatiously, but, in perhaps the only moment of honesty that will take place, here, tonight, she replies, “Yeah.”

Yello – Oh Yeah

Roxy Music – Oh Yeah

Bob Geldof – Yeah, Definitely

Cheap Trick – Yeah Yeah

The Pogues – Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah