Everyone Wants To Beat Daniel-san’s Ass

March 10, 2013

kkEverytime I channel surf the past few weeks, there’s Ralph Macchio sulking, being oblivious or – most often – getting his ass kicked by every living soul whose path he crosses in one of the three Karate Kid flicks.

I was roughly the age of high school student and social pariah Daniel-san, the character Macchio was playing, when The Karate Kid opened in theaters in the summer of 1984.

(Macchio was, at the time, already in his forties)

The movie was, as I recall, an unexpected hit.

I saw it, as did most of my friends, at the old theater in our hometown. It was slight but entertaining and, of course, we all dug Mr. Miyagi who came from another world and possessed wisdom dispensed in riddles.

But Daniel-san…

It’s tough to be the new kid in town, but, having had three decades to reflect on the situation, I have to wonder if Mrs. LaRusso moved him three-thousand miles from New Jersey to Southern California to escape the shame of having an offspring whose mere presence instilled instant hostility and hatred in those around him.

(it couldn’t have been simply the lure of a secretarial job)

And then, she comes to find that there is no East Coast bias when it came to wanting to open a can of whoop-ass on the fruit of her loins.

Yes, you could have put Daniel LaRusso in a room with Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Ghandi, and the peace-loving threesome would have reduced Daniel-san to a pulpy heap identifiable only by dental records.

In truth, not only were Daniel-san and I roughly the same age in 1984, his attire led me to believe that he had been raiding my closet. I should have identified with the kid I was seeing on the screen.

I didn’t.

No one did.

The only people that seemed to dig Daniel-san were Elisabeth Shue and my girlfriend at the time.

(and though the girlfriend was googly moogly for Macchio, her five-year old brother – who loved The Karate Kid – also wanted to kick his ass)

And what about Elisabeth Shue’s interest in this human piñata?

She had money, she was a cheerleader, she was a fetching blonde whose student body was seemingly popular with the entire student body…

…and she would later graduate from Harvard and win an Academy Award nomination.

And she was smitten with Daniel-san.

It was inexplicable.

But, when I come across The Karate Kid on cable, I pause. I watch for the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi, but I also watch because there’s something about watching Daniel-san receive a beating that restores order to the universe.

The Karate Kid also served as an introduction for most of America to Bananarama, whose Cruel Summer appeared briefly in the movie and became a hit with its inclusion on the soundtrack.

Here are four songs from Bananarama…

Bananarama – He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’

Bananarama – Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)
from Deep Sea Skiving (1983)

My buddy Beej brought a lot of new music to us via his uncle, a college professor who lived in the city. So, we knew of Tears For Fears, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and Echo & The Bunnymen well before we might have heard them on the radio.

Bananarama was another one. The trio’s Deep Sea Skiving might not have been more than a cult hit in the States, but I did hear He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ and Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) often when 97X went on the air in autumn of 1983.

The former was a cover of a minor hit by Motown girl group The Velvelettes and the breezy, tropical vibe of the song was augmented by a guest appearance by Fun Boy Three, a trio comprised of former members of UK ska group The Specials.

Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) was another cover but of a far better-known song which had reached #1 in 1969 as performed by the studio band Steam.

Bananarama – Cruel Summer

Bananarama – The Wild Life
from Bananrama (1984)

Bananarama’s self-titled second album actually arrived in the spring of 1984 and my buddy Beej was again tuned in, raving about Robert De Niro’s Waiting… which he had discovered via the song’s video being played on the fledgling Night Tracks on WTBS.

By the time we returned to school that autumn, the loping Cruel Summer had become Banarama’s US breakthrough hit, so the trio might have been the only people on the face that didn’t wish to do great violence to Ralph Macchio.

That autumn, Bananarama provided the title track for Cameron Crowe’s The Wild Life, a movie that I don’t even recall being in theaters. The song was belatedly added to the US version of Bananarama and, though stylistically in the vein of Cruel Summer, The Wild Life failed to replicate the group’s prior soundtrack success.

I totally dug those first two Bananarama records. Deep Sea Skiving was a lot of fun, the three girls were cute as buttons, and it’s still the only Bananarama I need to own.

Two years later, Bananarama fell into the clutches of producers Stock Aitken Waterman, scored a mammoth hit with yet another cover, Venus, and I was out.

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The A-Team

January 29, 2013

AI got sucked into The A-Team on cable.

Three hours later, I had watched about an hour and a half more of the exploits of Hannibal Smith and friends in movie form than I had ever watched of the television series.

As I was a kid at the time The A-Team initially aired, I was well aware of it. It was enormously popular for awhile and I imagine I undoubtedly checked it out for ten or fifteen minutes on a Tuesday night.

(with five, six channels and no cable, the viewing options were limited)

I was fifteen when The A-Team arrived. I think I essentially shrugged it off as simplistic.

And Mr. T…I remember the first kid in our neighborhood that had made it into The City to catch the previous summer’s blockbuster Rocky III. The next morning, we gathered as usual for a pick-up baseball game.

It was June and the sun beat down on us. It was already hot.

The lot of us were sprawled out on the grass, sweltering, breakfast digesting as Alvin recounted to us the plot of Rocky III and we hung on every word.

He was a generally quiet kid but he verbally jitterbugged as he excitedly got the first few moments out.

And he stopped.

He seemed crazy from the heat, like some addled prospector wandered in from the desert telling tales, as he slowly told of the beast that was Rocky’s opponent, Clubber Lang as played by Mr. T.

Clubber had a Mohawk.

Clubber mostly growled.

Clubber was unstoppable.

His destruction of Rocky for the heavyweight title was done with a stunning savage efficiency.

When we all finally got to see Rocky III – it arrived in our small town’s theater pretty quickly – we might have been rooting for Rocky, but we were in awe of Clubber.

Clubber was soon overshadowed by Mr. T. It seemed he was everywhere – talk shows, magazines, commercials.

Clubber had been a frightening creation. Mr. T soon began to grate on my nerves.

I was also spending more time listening to music during the years that The A-Team originally aired and the show wouldn’t have had enough appeal to pull me from doing so.

As for the movie, it was a decent popcorn flick unburdened by preconceptions or childhood memory.

The A-Team debuted almost thirty years ago to the day. Here are four songs from albums that were also arriving that week in 1983…

Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger
from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)

By the time Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) was released, several singles had been issued and failed to gain traction. In the States, it took until summer, but the title track finally clicked and gave the Eurythmics a breakthrough hit that topped the charts.

Sweet Dreams might be better remembered, but I’ve always preferred the chilly Love Is A Stranger.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1983)

Todd Rundgren’s commercial peak had expired about five years before I was listening to music. However, my friends and I were exposed to the music of Runt – both past and present – through our buddy Bosco. He was a Rundgren fanatic and each new release from the man was an event.

According to the internet, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a contractual obligation album and considered a throwaway, but I’ve remained quite found of the set.

(though I need never, ever again to hear Bang The Drum All Day – ever)

And I do love the clanging call to action, Drive. It makes me want to go to work tomorrow, burn down my office building, load Paloma and the animals into The Jeepster, and do as the title suggests.

Journey – Send Her My Love
from Frontiers (1983)

Journey’s follow-up to the iconic Escape was the most eagerly anticipated album of my young life in January, 1983. Separate Ways arrived as Frontiers‘ first single and it quickly became a Top Ten hit.

And, a week or so before the full album arrived in stores, I stayed up to tape Frontiers when it was played on Frog’s Midnight Album, which aired nightly on WEBN.

I played that copy of Frontiers incessantly until I made it into Cincinnati and to a record store to purchase an actual cassette. Even as I listened to it repeatedly into the summer, I could hear it as a calculated attempt to replicate Escape.

However, the haunted Send Her My Love would have been a worthy addition to Frontiers’ predecessor.

Red Rider – Human Race
from Neruda (1983)

Canadian band Red Rider never got much love here in the States. They’d get a smattering of airplay on our album rock stations and the moody Lunatic Fringe was deservedly a staple (even if I doubt most listeners could have named the band performing it).

I seem to recall hearing the sparse, eerie Human Race occasionally that spring and it’s a compelling mix of straight-ahead rock with a slight New Wave vibe.


Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test*

February 12, 2012

Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me “Cracker Vacuum.”

(it was later translated into Chinese as the far more sonically palatable Bin Gone Kon).

Munchies-inspired nicknames aside, crackers are delightful and the addition of cheese was a great moment in humankind. My enjoyment of this combination has been tempered of late by my concern that – based on knowledge gleaned from numerous viewings of Blade Runner – I might be a replicant.

I didn’t see the sci-fi classic in the theater, but, rather, a few years after its 1982 release. Bladerunner was a favorite of my buddy Streuss and he introduced the movie to a half dozen of us.

It was late on a Friday night and we’d returned from a trek into Cincinnati to roam the malls and record stores. Streuss fired up the VCR as we lounged about on the furniture in his family’s den like lemurs in trees.

I had no expectations, knowing little about the movie aside from Harrison Ford playing the titular character.

Maybe it was the late hour, but I was non-plussed.

Oh, the visuals were stunning – even watching it now, Blade Runner looks like it could have been filmed tomorrow – but it was ponderous and leisurely paced.

Harrison Ford was Han Solo. He was Indiana Jones. He was a Man Of Action trapped in a movie where the action was sporadic and – despite having dispatched Imperial stormtroopers and Nazis – Ford was continually in danger of being rended limb from limb by replicants.

(years later and after repeated viewings, I recognized the utter brilliance of the movie and found the questions the film raised about consciousness and humanity were mind-bending)

Throughout the film, Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos, leaves origami animals for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard and these items – combined with the unicorn footage added for the director’s cut – strengthen the argument that Deckard is a replicant as the unicorn memory is one programmed into all replicants who are unaware that they are synthetic creatures.

(Paloma and I are in opposing camps on whether Deckard is a replicant)

This debate has caused me to question a memory that I have which, though forty years old, remains vivid. On a family vacation, I was allowed to stay up quite late with my uncle; we watched a movie about cartoon cats in Paris and ate cheese and crackers.

I fear this memory couldn’t have happened.

The movie had to have been The Aristocats – is there another cartoon about cats in Paris? – but this was years before VCRs and cable television. Would they have shown such a movie on network television following the late news?

Then there is the inconsistency of this memory with the daily routine of my uncle which was like clockwork – on the river fishing at dawn, an afternoon draining bottles of Iron City at the Moose Lodge, and asleep in his recliner shortly after dinner.

I don’t remember ever seeing the man awake after dark let alone eating cheese and crackers.

I’m left to wonder if the memory is my “unicorn sequence,” one that everyone possesses.

Perhaps Edward James Olmos is someday going to leave a foil, origami Triscuit at my doorstep.

Or maybe a Ritz.

It must have been early 1984 when Streuss introduced us to the gritty future awaiting us in Blade Runner. At the time, I was listening to the alternative rock of the newly minted 97X as much as possible.

Here are four songs I might have heard on 97X twenty-eight Februarys ago…

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for whom Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

The Cure – The Lovecats
from Japanese Whispers (1983)

The Lovecats is downright jaunty (particularly Robert Smith’s vocals which have an almost feline quality) – jaunty not being a description which I would have thought appropo to most of The Cure’s music.

That is until I mentally went back over their catalog and realized, to my surprise, that they have more moments of jaunt than you might think.

XTC – Love On A Farmboy’s Wages
from Mummer (1983)

I thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed their album English Settlement on the Rolling Stone charts.

A year or so later, I would become familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.

But I mostly knew XTC’s music through my buddy Streuss who became enthralled with their quirky style of alternative rock far earlier than most of the kids I knew in college who loved the band.

Howard Jones – New Song
from Human’s Lib (1984)

One of the things I dug most about 97X was hearing songs months and months before they’d break in the States. One of those such songs was Howard Jones’ New Song which had been a success in the UK in the autumn of ’83 as 97X had just taken to the airwaves and six months prior to it reaching the Top 40 in the US.

Jones would have a handful of hits during the next three or four years and they’d mostly be of the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic variety. Mostly I was meh toward them, but, at the time, I did find the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic New Song to be captivating.

*reprised, remixed, and reposted after I stumbled upon Blade Runner on cable the other night