The Man Doesn’t Want You To Dance And The Man Doesn’t Want You To Know How To Fight For Your Right To Dance, Either*

June 10, 2012

Paloma claims to have never seen the movie Footloose. It surprised me to learn of this fact because we are nearly the same age and, as far as I know, everyone our age saw Footloose in 1984.

I knew little of the crushing, oppressive nature of totalitarian regimes before Footloose. Sure, we were at the height of Cold War tensions in 1984, but the Soviets merely wanted to nuke us like microwave bacon; they didn’t want to stop us from dancing.

Then, I saw Footloose – as a double bill with Flashdance at our local drive-in no less – and saw the peril to personal freedom that could result from unchecked power and a failure to separate church and state.

(especially when John Lithgow is involved).

And, thanks to Kevin Bacon, I learned that petulance, Bible passages, encouragement from the owner of the local grain mill, and Kenny Loggins was all that was necessary for one man to fight tyranny.

So, you can imagine my delight when I saw that Footloose was showing this evening on one of the cable stations. In these days of wire taps, the Patriot Act, and all-expenses-paid trips to Guantanamo, the lessons of Footloose are more important than ever.

But no, it was not to be.

Of late, some of our cable channels will simply freeze as though the interns at the station have gotten stoned and paused the DVD – “Dude, it’s like we have the power to stop time.”

Paloma and I settled in and turned to the appropriate channel but instead of Kevin Bacon, there was Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, motionless and inert. I could only wonder if it was the result of stoned interns or something more sinister.

Perhaps from some undisclosed bunker, Dick Cheney doesn’t want the subversive lessons of Footloose to be viewed by the American people.

We ended up watching The Family Stone which, coincidentally, starred Sarah Jessica Parker who also appeared in Footloose. In one scene, she got liquored to the gills, dancing drunkenly to a song on the bar jukebox.

I turned to Paloma. “She has Kevin Bacon to thank for that dance.”

Here are four songs about The Man…

Rage Against The Machine – The Ghost Of Tom Joad
from Live & Rare (1998)

I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought some of their lyrics and politics to be half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2, made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of their music. The Ghost Of Tom Joad has become one of my favorite Springsteen songs and their version is a stellar.

The Clash – Rock The Casbah
from Combat Rock (1982)

John Lithgow didn’t approve of dancing and the Sharif didn’t like “that boogie sound.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a farm kid in the hinterlands of America or a Bedouin in the deserts of the Middle East, The Man will try to keep you down if you let him.

Bruce Cockburn – If I Had A Rocket Launcher
from Stealing Fire (1984)

Fortunately for John Lithgow, it didn’t come to armed conflict in Footloose, but I have no doubt that Kevin Bacon was keeping all of his options on the table.

Unfortunately, If I Had A Rocket Launcher is all that most people know of Bruce Cockburn, one of the more underrated artists out there. I met him once, following a show, and he was as cordial, gracious, and unassuming as any musician I’ve encountered.

Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’ – Fly Me Courageous
from Fly Me Courageous (1991)

I remember seeing the video for Fly Me Courageous in the middle of the night while I was in college and being blown away by its monstrous groove. It still never fails to make me stop whatever I’m doing when I hear it.

The song arrived as the US was prepping to drive Iraq from Kuwait and interpreted by many listeners as a pro-war anthem. It sounds more like a cautionary tale to me.

*remixed from June 2008

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Oh Canada

July 1, 2011

It’s Canada Day today.

The older I get, the more often I consider Canada and think, yeah, now that seems like a country that has its act together. There’s football and rock bands and rivers and streams of pure maple syrup.

Paloma and I were watching episodes of The Kids In The Hall last week when she suggested we move to the land that gave us Bruce McCulloch.

“I don’t think that they want us.”

Not that we’re trouble. We’re quiet, well-behaved and have both seen Rush live.

Hell, I’m watching the Lions and Alouettes in the opening CFL game at this moment…seriously.

(no billionaires fighting with millionaires for the last dollar there)

But Canada doesn’t want us.

(and this is a country that put out the welcome mat for the Quaids!)

But it’s cool, Canada. Paloma and I still think you’re swell and we thank you for all of the groovy stuff you’ve exported to us.

Here are four fairly random songs by Canadian acts…

Rush – Subdivisions
from Signals

I quickly realized upon entering high school that Rush was the only band that mattered for the stoners in band. At the time, I might have known the Canadian trio’s Tom Sawyer but likely little more.

But the group had a hit from Signals New World Man – that was getting played on all the stations and, upon hearing the album, I became a devotee of the band, eventually owning most of their catalog, and catching them a couple of times live.

The pulsating Subdivisions, which chronicled the pressures to “be cool or be cast out,” seemed awfully deep at the time and, if it might sound considerably obvious now, it’s still pretty stellar.

Gordon Lightfoot – If You Could Read My Mind
from Greatest Hits

I’ve read that If You Could Read My Mind is about the break-up of Gordon Lightfoot’s first marriage and it certainly is a somber affair. Of course, it also might be a good example of the smooth-talking ways of Lightfoot, as I imagine he was fairly suave when it came to the ladies.

Leonard Cohen – Democracy
from Leonard Cohen

Management at the office where I slave has a penchant for using the term “rock star” as praise.

There are no rock stars where I work.

Acerbic, witty, literate, and with a delightful hint of menace in his lyrics and vocals, Leonard Cohen has had his songs covered by everyone from Elton John and Billy Joel to The Pixies and R.E.M. He spent the early ’90s linked to actress Rebecca DeMornay (who was half his age) and the latter part of the same decade living in a Buddhist monastery.

That is a rock star.

Bruce Cockburn – A Dream Like Mine
from Nothing But A Burning Light

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains mostly unknown south of his homeland’s border, though one with a devoted cult following.

The ghostly-sounding A Dream Like Mine found Cockburn well matched with producer T-Bone Burnett with the latter’s wife – the wonderful Sam Phillips – adding background vocals. The song just keeps trucking along with the same resilient spirit that runs through a lot of Cockburn’s prolific catalog.


Heading For The Dirty City

October 20, 2010

When I first started listening to music during the first couple years of the ’80s, this new interest meant something to do during the fall and winter when the elements made for longer stretches housebound.

Instead of jockeying with my brother for control of the television or Atari 2600 console, I could now opt for self-imposed exile to my bedroom and listen to music rather than read.

More music was listened to during the months of less daylight. This might have meant an increased likelihood of burnout and a need to shop for more music.

Of course, the selection of music in our Midwestern town was no more than a few hundred cassettes in wire wall racks and eight or so bins of albums and singles in a small variety store.

I reached a point at which I was becoming interested in music not stocked in this store (or stocked well past the date it had been available in the outside world). It needn’t be too exotic – Missing Person’s Spring Session M comes to mind – that an hour’s drive to the nearest record stores in Cincinnati had to be made.

This conundrum was made a stickier wicket as I wasn’t yet old enough to drive.

The first option was to provide explicit instructions with mom as to what to titles to procure. Complicating matters was release dates weren’t always available or accurate, so it was necessary to – with limited funds – prioritize a list of albums that might not even be out, yet.

(and, then, hope that mom could actually make sense of the request)

The other option was to blow most of the day accompanying mom on the trip and endure hours at outlet malls – kind of like a Midwestern version of running with the bulls at Pamplona – to spend forty-five minutes browsing through a record store or two and pick up a few cassettes.

However, this riddle was resolved by time and, by the autumn of 1984, me and all of my friends had our driver’s licenses.

None of us had cars, but that was merely a detail. Some of us had older siblings with cars and all of us had parents with cars.

Actually, transportation was usually provided by my buddy Beej. He’d tell his mom that he was taking the car to one of our houses and, thirty minutes later, four to six of us were headed for the glamour of the dirty city.

We weren’t old enough to do much than roam the malls and gorge ourselves on fried mozarella sticks at The Ground Round, but there were a half-dozen record stores to hit, so there was much to do.

It was our first taste of freedom and the open road, though, and we always returned with plenty of music. It’s probably why, even now, the cool weather triggers something in me that makes me want to buy music.

Here are four songs from albums that I’m sure I purchased on one of those roadtrips during the autumn of ’84…

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth

Isn’t Cherry Bomb about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be? Proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Zebra – Bears
from No Tellin’ Lies

When Zebra released their debut in 1983, a lot of music fans embraced their Zeppelin-like sound and a lot of critics slagged them for their Zeppelin-like sound.

Personally, I wore that first album out and though I didn’t spend as much time with the follow-up, it’s not a bad record. The odd and engaging Bears always reminded me of Rush (who I was also quite into at the time)

Bruce Cockburn – Lovers In A Dangerous Time
from Stealing Fire

Though Bruce Cockburn has achieved iconic status in his native Canada, the literate folk rocker remains an underappreciated artist south of his homeland’s border, though his cult following in the States is devoted.

I discovered his music when the righteously indignant If I Had A Rocket Launcher, from Stealing Fire, popped up on some of the rock stations I was listening to at the time. I bought the cassette for that song, but the wiry Lovers In A Dangerous Time, which kicked off Stealing Fire, is pretty stellar, too, and features some wicked guitar work.