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.

Was (Not Was)…Was

January 5, 2011

Paloma recently mentioned a musician – a portly, mustacheod fellow and one quarter of an iconic band of the late ’60s – and I reacted with the disdain akin to that Kramer and Newman had for baseball great Keith Hernandez.

I had to remind her that several of us had unpleasant encounters with this legend at the record store where we worked and met in the ’90s.

(in one memorable incident, our jazz buyer – a burly cat in a beret – followed this character to the bookstore next door and verbally smacked him for his rude treatment to one of our clerks)

This particular record store was very large – close to 20,000 square feet – and it wasn’t uncommon to see celebrities.

I vividly recall staring out at the sales floor, bleary-eyed, early one Saturday morning and asking a puzzled co-worker, “Is that Peter Jennings?”

Al Gore, Liza Minelli, and Lauren Bacall came through while I was there as well as a lengthy list of musicians, producers and session players. It was hardly surprising to see someone like Peter Frampton, Jon Bon Jovi, or Rob Zombie browsing through the racks.

The Drunken Frenchman would often point out less recognizible luminairies like Robert Fripp, Albert Lee or session saxophonist Jim Horn.

“He’s probably got George Harrison’s phone number in his back pocket,” he said to me as he gave Horn a respectful, knowing nod from behind the counter where we stood.

Both staff and patrons usually left the celebrities in our midst alone. Often, there would be little recognition unless it was courted.

One lead singer of a successful band opted to park his limo outside the entrance in a no parking zone and had two mountains serving as bodyguards keep the aisles adjacent to the one in which he was shopping cleared.

It drew attention, but the sad thing is that I overheard more than a few customers whispering to each other and obviously having no idea who was causing the commotion.

More often than not, though, the brushes with greatness I experienced were pleasant ones and more in line with one of my first such encounters.

I hadn’t been working at the store for more than a few weeks and, though I’d seen a couple famous folk, my mind was still inclined to think that I was seeing the doppelganger of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson rather than the genuine article.

It was near our midnight close and we had already doused most of the lights. I was working in the store’s cassette department, mostly just hanging out behind the counter, chatting with a manager when a guy in a denim jacket with a mop of bushy, unruly hair and dark glasses walked into the department.

“Is that Don Was?” I asked.

This manager usually worked in the video department, listened to essentially nothing but Frank Zappa, and had a justifiable hatred of mailmen.

“Go ask him,” he suggested.

So, I did something I rarely did during my years at that store and approached him as he was browsing through the country music section.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like Don Was?”

He stopped and stared at me for a moment – long enough for me to think that I’d made a poor decision. Then, with a sudden motion, he stuck out his hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

He was quite gracious and when I asked what he was working on, he told me that he’d just finished working on an album with Willie Nelson.

(the album would prove to be Nelson’s well-received Across The Borderline from ’93)

Then, in a memory that becomes more endearing as time passes, the musician/producer began to tell me how he was speaking with Brian Wilson about a project.

It was still Don Was behind the dark glasses and he was still naturally cool, but as he spoke about the legendary Beach Boy, it was obvious that he was stoked, as stoked as some goofy twenty-something kid working in a record store might be to meet Don Was.

Here are four songs that are merely a sampling of from the vast catalog of songs with involvement from Don Was…

Was (Not Was) – Spy In The House Of Love
from What Up, Dog?

The first time I ever heard Don Was was with his band, Was (Not Was), and their 1983 release Born To Laugh At Tornadoes. The eclectic album featured guest appearances from Ozzy Osbourne, Mitch Ryder, and Mel Tormé, and I used to hear the track Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like A Rubber Ball) often on 97X – the future of rock and roll.

Six years into that future, Was (Not Was) returned with What Up, Dog?, notched a Top Ten hit with Walk The Dinosaur and another Top Twenty hit with the sly, soulful dance pop of Spy In The House Of Love.

Iggy Pop – Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night
from Brick By Brick

Brick By Brick gave punk godfather Iggy Pop his greatest commercial success and even a hit single with Candy, his duet with The B-52s’ Kate Pierson, in 1990. I don’t recall, but I imagine that the record’s polish probably caused some angst for fans of the singer’s earlier work.

I dug it, though, and the album’s closer, Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night is wiry and resilient.

Johnny Clegg – In My African Dream
from In My African Dream

Johnny Clegg has a fascinating and inspiring story, certainly worthy of more than a few scant words here. The interracial make-up of his band Juluka and the politics of their songs put the members in jeopardy simply to perform in their native South Africa during the years of apartheid.

In My African Dream alternates between the slinky, light funk of the verses and a bouyant, optimistic chorus.

Willie Nelson – Graceland
from Across The Borderline

There needs to be a Willie Nelson fantasy resort. Who wouldn’t pay good money to spend a week living like Willie?

Get up early, shower, dress semi-presentably, endure a death-defying commute, and spend nine hours being a drone or get up considerably later, put the hair in pigtails, let someone else pilot the biofuel bus, and inhale.

Not a difficult choice there.

Rocky, The Terminator, Dolph And A Wacky Little Guy Named Jong Il

August 14, 2010

So, from what I understand, the action flick The Expendables arrives in theaters this weekend. I know because I’ve been suckered into the commercial on numerous occasions the past few weeks at the first notes of Guns ‘N Roses’ Paradise City.

(I’ve often wondered if it is true that the titular city is a reference to Indianapolis, Indiana)

The first time I saw a commercial, I was surprised as it was made to appear that – aside from bringing together every action star dating back to Johnny Weismuller – the movie featured the testosterone-laden trio of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis.

Assuming that the movie industry is populated by the same jet-fuel geniuses that burned down the music industry, I couldn’t help but picture someone at the studio giddily punching all of the grosses from all of the films by the three into a calculator and, with great glee, declaring, “If we cast them all, we’ll make this much!”

Of course, each time I have seen the commercial since, the Schwarzeneggar/Stallone/Willis triumvirate seems to be less touted and, from what I’ve read, it’s Stallone’s flick with the other two making mere cameos.

I have no plans to see The Expendables, though. I will staunchly argue that the original Rocky was an amazingly inspired bit of filmmaking and numbers II and III retain a certain charm rooted in childhood, but I don’t think I’ve seen one of Stallone’s movies in the theater since Cobra.

(an, admittedly, regrettable decision)

But the release of The Expendables made me realize that the US is missing an opportunity to calm tensions with North Korea.

Reportedly, Kim Jong Il is movie buff and an action movie enthusiast.

And he craves attention.

We call on the aging action stars of the world for a diplomatic mission thus giving them something to do that will still keep them in the limelight.

We send Stallone, Lundgren, Van Damme, Seagal, and whoever else is willing to go to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il. Dear Leader would undoubtedly be willing to take a meeting with the stars of the movies he loves.

Essentially, we appeal to the egos of the action stars to appeal to the starstruck fandom of a daffy little dictator for a little time out on shenanigans.

A shot to hang with Rambo and Ivan Drago, knowing that the images and stories would be beamed around the world, would scratch Jong Il right where he itches.

He so wants to be a rock star.

He so wants to be cool.

Kim agrees to stop dabbling in nuclear rocket projects and get some sandwiches to his people and Schwarzeneggar and friends agree to spend some time being his buddy – taking him to movie premieres or for walks on the beach, going clubbing, or hitting the links.

We turn the whole thing into a reality show and the ratings go through the roof.

Everybody wins.

In the meantime, here are four songs with heroic implications…

David Bowie – Heroes
from The Singles Collection 1969-1993

It’s classic David Bowie. What more could there really be to say?

The Kinks – Celluloid Heroes
from Everybody’s In Show-Biz

Of course, there’s the downside to fame and notoriety which The Kinks capture wonderfully in the melancholic, wistful Ray Davies-penned Celluloid Heroes.

Foo Fighters – My Hero
from The Colour And The Shape

Sure, I understand the importance of Nirvana as agents of change in the musical landscape, but I’m considerably more likely to pull up something by Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters especially if it’s from 1997’s stellar The Colour And The Shape.

Kiss – A World Without Heroes
from Music From “The Elder”

Aside from a handful of songs, I’ve never been a Kiss fan, but I do find A World Without Heroes to be compelling.

(probably as it sounds so out of place compared to the band’s catalog)

In a bid to reverse declining album sales and gain some artistic credibility, Kiss reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, who was coming off of the massive success of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for a record that was intended to be a soundtrack to a movie that was never made.

Though it did garner some positive reviews, the album baffled long-time fans and bombed. The sparse, spacey A World Without Heroes is atmospheric, but it’s not surprising that it wasn’t embraced by the group’s fans.

I recall seeing Kiss perform the downbeat song along with a couple others from Music From “The Elder” on the late-night comedy show Fridays not long after the album’s release.