Random Brushes With Greatness

January 19, 2012

For a decade plus following college, I participated in an extended childhood, existing on the periphery of the music industry, close enough to see behind the curtain, yet not so involved to reap financial rewards that would have sullied the experience.

The time afforded me opportunities to do things and meet people that I would have thought unthinkable as a kid growing up in Sticksville, listening to music and devouring liner notes.

Sometimes I will escape the office and the mind-numbing engagement in capitalistic endeavors to enjoy tobacco.

I’ll set the iPod to shuffle and a song will pop up that will remind me of some cool experience that I’d almost forgotten.

A song by Richard Thompson shuffled up the other day and I suddenly recalled having lunch with the legendary guitarist. Afterwards, he took the small stage at the club and generously performed a handful of songs – including 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – for a dozen or so of us.

How does such a wonderous experience get lost in the shuffle and shoved into some corner of the mental attic?

It might not even have been the most memorable time that I’d spent in that club. Several years earlier, I’d had a chance to see Jeff Buckley perform there and, afterwards, share a drink with us, months before his acclaimed debut was released.

Sometimes I stop when a song reminds me of a chance I’ve had to interact with that artist and tried to imagine what I’d have thought as a fifteen- or sixteen-year old music junkie had I known of what was waiting for me.

We couldn’t even get cable.

So, here are four songs that shuffled up on the iPod for which I was able to draw on some personal experience with the artist…

John Prine – Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody
from Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings (1995)

I hang my head as I confess that I am not as familiar with the catalog of John Prine as I – or as friends who are devotees of the acclaimed singer/songwriter – feel I should be.

I doubt that I knew more than a handful of songs by Prine when, because of my position as a buyer for a large record store, I was invited to his manager’s office to hear the then-forthcoming Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings.

And, joining the half dozen or so of us for the listening session was John Prine.

(among our group was our receiving clerk, a surly malcontent who had been a road manager for several punk bands in the ‘80s, hated everything, and, yet, often told us that there were Prine songs that reduced him to tears)

I still haven’t explored much more of Prine’s catalog than I knew at the time, a situation that for the past fifteen years I have, despite good intentions, failed to rectify.

A Flock of Seagulls – Nightmares
from Listen (1983)

Long ago I recounted the night that I played pinball with the singer of the first band that I claimed as my own.

And, Nightmares is a nifty number by a band that most folks likely only know for I Ran.

Cheap Trick – A Place In France
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

I love Cheap Trick and met them once. For a few brief seconds I thought that it might conclude with me getting my ass kicked by guitarist Rick Neilsen following a discussion of cigarettes and songwriter Diane Warren.

(it ended quite amicably)

As for A Place In France, the song appeared as a previously unreleased track on Cheap Trick’s box set, and though it won’t change your world, it’s a groovy, little rocker and not a bad way to spend four minutes.

The Beatles – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
from Anthology 3 (1996)

OK. I don’t have a story actually involving meeting any of The Beatles, but I’ve had near secondhand encounters.

One involved an English co-worker at a record store who may or may not have been tight with the Fabs – as well as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and The Stones – during the ’60s.

But years before, while in college, my dog’s vet was a friend of Paul McCartney.

(and how a vet in a small, Midwestern town becomes chums with a Beatle is another tale)

During the summer of ’89, McCartney was touring America for the first time in a decade plus following the release of Flowers In The Dirt. Meanwhile, I was studying abroad, ten-thousand miles from home.

And Doc had invited my girlfriend to accompany him to see Paul.

She had recently graduated and intended to decline the offer as she had just started a new job with a high-powered accounting firm.

“You have to go,” I told her from the other side of the world. “You can always get a new job, but this is the chance to meet a Beatle.”

She didn’t go.

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Nick’s Your Buddy And Jon Might Be, Too

November 5, 2011

The debut album for the band Bon Jovi was released in the autumn of ’83 when I was listening to the alternative rock of 97X as much as the spotty reception would allow.

Most of the time, the radio was tuned to one of a half dozen or so album rock stations or, still on occasion, Top 40.

(though it had only been over the previous year that I’d begun to loosen the tether to Top 40 stations)

So I remember well hearing Runaway and She Don’t Know Me, their first hits, on the radio. I thought that the songs were catchy and even took a chance on a copy of Bon Jovi’s eponymous debut on cassette.

(I actually exchanged a cassette of Spandau Ballet’s True that I’d found in the high school parking lot for it, so I was gambling with house money)

I think that I ended up exchanging the Bon Jovi cassette for something else. I dug the singles, but the rest was as dull as dishwater to me.

(especially compared to the quirky stuff like Talking Heads and XTC that I was being introduced to on 97X)

The music of Bon Jovi fit well, though, as part of the soundtrack to our small-town, Midwestern landscape of Camaros and cornfields, where Billy Squier and Journey blared from car stereos. I heard Bon Jovi on the radio, but I was neither a fan nor a detractor.

I was in college when the band became superstars with Slippery When Wet and the songs were inescapable if you watched as much MTV as the average college kid did at the time.

You knew the songs regardless of your taste in music. I preferred 120 Minutes and MTV’s late-night, more-obscure fare, but, though I was mostly indifferent to the music of Bon Jovi, I didn’t loathe it as the hipper critics I was reading did.

(though I did crack up when I read the opening dig from this Rolling Stone review)

The band was a radio juggernaut and, though there’d be a song here and there that I’d particular like, mostly I remained indifferently aware of Bon Jovi.

Though I was ambivilant about the music, it seemed that Jon Bon Jovi was a rather genuine cat.

In the 1985 movie The Sure Thing, Jon Cusack’s character opined on names, concluding that “Nick’s a real name. Nick’s your buddy. Nick’s the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn’t mind if you puke in his car.”

Bon Jovi seemed like a Nick.

During the early ’90s, he happened into the record store where I worked.

It wasn’t an unusual occurance for the famous and semi-famous to shop at the store and often they would do so unnoticed by the other shoppers. We’d hang out at one of the counters and observe people walking through the aisles and showing no signs that they’d recognize even some of the biggest stars.

(sometimes you’d see an expression of surprise or someone whisper to a friend and point)

I did have a short conversation with Bon Jovi regarding a song written by a friend that he’d recently produced for Hall & Oates.

Perhaps each morning a fresh litter of puppies arrived in his hotel suite for him to kick.

Maybe his the jacuzzi was filled with the tears of clubbed baby seals.

But he definitely had the vibe of a Nick.

I don’t have a lot of music by Bon Jovi, but here are four songs…

Bon Jovi – Runaway
Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi (1983)

With its seizure-inducing opening keyboard riff (courtesy of the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan), Runaway introduced Bon Jovi to radio listeners and it did pop from the radio at the time.

I much preferred Runaway‘s follow-up She Don’t Know Me, a bit of crunchy arena rock written by Mark Avsec of Donnie Iris’ band, The Cruisers. Not that the reception to either song hinted at how popular Bon Jovi would be in a few years with the former barely reaching and the latter just missing the Top 40 in early 1984.

Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer
from Slippery When Wet (1986)

Generally credited as one of the albums that helped make hair metal appealing to the mainstream, Bon Jovi’s third release was one of the biggest selling albums of 1986.

I was in a decidedly more college rock headspace at the time and found songs like You Give Love A Bad Name and Wanted Dead Or Alive to be inoffensive yet unremarkable despite their heavy exposure.

(the latter did provide fodder for a rather odd experience)

I thought that Livin’ On A Prayer – with its Springsteen-lite tale of the down and out and anthemic chorus – to be the most compelling of the lot and too catchy to ignore.

Bon Jovi – Born To Be My Baby
from New Jersey (1988)

With New Jersey, Bon Jovi had reached World Premiere video status on MTV which was reserved for the biggest acts at the time. Like its predecessor, the songs didn’t really resonate with me aside from the punchy Born To Be My Baby which, like Livin’ On A Prayer, was an anthemic ode to blue-coller devotion.

Years later, I would become friends with a guitarist who had been in a band that opened for Bon Jovi on New Jersey‘s sell-out, global tour. Apparently on an off day during some UK dates, Jon loaned my buddy the use of a Jag so that he could woo a Swedish stewardess.

Nick would have most certainly approved.


The Arch-Nemesis

September 21, 2011

For a good decade or so, I have had an implacable foe, an entity which I have formally and officially declared to be my arch-nemesis.

Making this struggle more complex is that my arch-nemesis is the brother of a good friend.

In truth, I don’t know David very well. I’ve been buddies with his brothers for close to twenty years, but I’ve been around David no more than a handful of times.

Our rivalry has no origin other than a decision I made to declare him my arch-nemesis.

(it actually was encouraged by his brothers)

But David is a good guy, so this confrontation has gone no further than our mutual understanding of the conflict and our verbal acknowledgement of it on the rare occasions that we do meet.

Our relationship lacks the cold war sizzle that existed with my previous arch-nemesis –

The Dutch.

I had never had an arch-nemesis until a half dozen or so of us who were drinking buddies and worked at a record store together suddenly began hating the Dutch.

(it happened during an evening of drinks)

We took to the idea with enthusiasm, blaming the Dutch for all of the ills of the world several years before it was chic to blame Canada.

We would shuffle into the back room of the store, muttering expletives directed at the Netherlands under our breath after dealing with difficult customers.

If our usual barkeep at our favorite watering hole was not working and the music being played did not meet our approval, it was a plot originating in Holland.

But our distress over the Dutch was inexplicable.

I had assumed – for some reason – that it dated to the 1994 World Cup, which we had followed that summer.

One evening, during the 1998 World Cup, I asked one of my buddies why we hated the Dutch.

He proceeded to tell tale of another large record store where he had worked and a customer visiting from the Netherlands who threw a tantrum over some perceived grievance, bellowing to all who listen that his mistreatment was because he was Dutch.

“I figured that we must have some long-standing issues with the Dutch and I wanted to do the least that I could do,” my buddy said with a shrug. “It would have been unpatriotic to not hate the Dutch.”

Of course, we didn’t really hate the Dutch. We just enjoyed having an arch-nemesis.

Here are four enemy songs since arch-nemesis is a bit cumbersome to use in a lyric I suppose…

Swan Dive – Sweet Enemy
from Circle (1998)

Swan Dive’s music has been described as bossa nova pop.

Sweet Enemy is light, breezy, and sophisticated stuff, but its just a hint of the wonderous sounds made by the duo of Bill DeMain and Molly Felder.

The Waterboys – Be My Enemy
from This Is The Sea (1985)

This Is The Sea was my introduction to Scottish band The Waterboys. I’d been prompted to purchase the cassette after hearing the glorious The Whole Of The Moon before school one morning on a rock radio station out of Dayton.

(it might have been the only time I’ve ever heard the band on radio)

I was immediately smitten by their “big music” and the tape spent a lot of time in my Walkman that senior year. The rollicking Be My Enemy clatters alongs with a dizzying urgency that caught my attention and made me hit rewind a time or two.

(which, of course, drained the double-AA batteries rather quickly)

Roger Hodgson – Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)
from In The Eye Of The Storm (1984)

If you have followed my babbling on this site, you might be well aware of my affection for Supertramp (at least Breakfast In America). By 1984, founding member Roger Hogdson had left the band for a solo career that didn’t exactly pan out.

Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy) got some airplay on some of the stations to which I was listening at the time. In truth, it could have been on Breakfast In America and not sounded out of place.

Rage Against The Machine – Know Your Enemy
from Rage Against The Machine (1992)

I didn’t immediately gravitate to Rage Against The Machine. I thought their politics to be somewhat half-baked. However, seeing them live, opening for U2 – a band for whom the same accusation could be made regarding politics – made me a fan of the sheer sonic force of Rage’s music.

A few friends and I bumped into the band before that show at a vegetarian restaurant. The might have made some angry music, but the band members and crew were quite polite and friendly.