Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

September 9, 2010

The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo, beginning in London, hitting both coasts and and so many castles – courtesy of TJ’s itinerary – that Donna and I began to refer to the trip as The Castle Hostage Tour.

TJ kept us plied with cigarettes and candy, resulting in a trek during which tensions flared only once or twice and those periods defused rather quickly.

For some reason, I seem to recall that one of those times when, if we had to spend another ten minutes in that Daewoo together, lives might be taken, occurred as we made our way to Liverpool.

Perhaps someone was out of smokes.

Perhaps someone had had one two many pints when we had stopped for lunch.

Perhaps it is merely the physics that disctate that, no matter how good of friends you might be – and the three of us remain friends fifteen years later – there is only so much time three humans can spend in a Daewoo together.

I remember the three of us reaching Liverpool as the sun was setting on the port city. We were muttering to each other under our breath as we settled into a booth in some dingily lit pub. The place was empty aside from a few grizzled, old characters at the bar who had the look of regulars.

I slumped in the booth, half-heartedly leafing through an abandoned newsheet. A headline caught my eye and the article had me laughing before I finished the first paragraph.

It was coverage of some local event that involved rolling wheels of cheese down a steep hill and participants scrambling after them. Apparently shenanigans and gravity ensued and there had been – as there were each year – a number of injuries.

Soon, the strife had passed and the three of us were laughing, pondering this insane sport over pints.

I thought of that evening when I read of the recent death of cellist Mike Edwards, a founding member of ELO. An immense bale of hay rolled down a hill and onto a road into the musician’s van.

Meeting your demise in such a fashion is out of your hands, but, should you concuss yourself while chasing a wheel of cheese down a steep hill, that one’s on you.

There’s been no shortage of bands from Liverpool to make an impact on the outside world (including that one mop-topped combo from the ’60s). Here are four songs from acts comprised of Liverpudlians…

Echo & The Bunnymen – Bring On The Dancing Horses
from More Songs To Learn And Sing

Echo & The Bunnymen was a band that I think I’d come across in print before I ever heard their music and, though the quartet were critical darlings, the name inspired no confidence in me.

But, when I finally heard their music I understood the hullabaloo regarding the Bunnymen. Their music was chiming, sweeping, cinematic, and grand and, though achieving commercial success commensurate to their critical acclaim in their homeland, Echo & The Bunnymen failed to escape the ghetto of cult act in the States.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Windows
from Telecommunications

I’ve expressed my affection for A Flock Of Seagulls in the past and recounted playing pinball with lead singer Mike Score.

This go ’round, I thought I’d offer up a more obscure track from the band, one which didn’t appear on any of the three studio albums by the original foursome. The twitchy, neurotic Windows must have been a song that didn’t make A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut as, musically and lyrically, it’s very much in the vein of that album.

The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s

The La’s long ago secured their place as one of the more bizarre tales in the history of rock music. One album, despised by lead singer/songwriter Lee Mavers who bad-mouthed the critically-acclaimed album in interviews, minimal sales and scant attention.

Then, nothing. For twenty years there has been nothing but rumors of new music and strange stories about Mavers’ perfectionist ways scuttling the arrival of new music.

Now, The La’s are kind of a cool secret.

Most people are likely familiar with The La’s music from Sixpence None The Richer’s cover of There She Goes, but that version pales in comparison to the chiming goodness of the original. The La’s echoed the classic pop of the ’60s with the ringing guitars and effortless choruses and that lone album is now, like its influences, timeless.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Enola Gay
from In The Dark: The Best Of OMD

Paloma turned me on to OMD. I mean, I knew their hits like So In Love and If You Leave, but there was an entire body of work with which I was unfamiliar.

Anyhow, Enola Gay is a sprightly little number about the bombing of Hiroshima.

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Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test

July 8, 2008

Some, to paraphrase Kramer, serve their dark master, the cocoa bean, but it is the salty snacks that I crave, particularly in the form of a cracker. 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’m a replicant.

When I first saw Blade Runner, it was as on VHS a couple years after its theatrical release. I’m certain it didn’t get screened at our smalltown theater and I’m surprised my friends and I found it at our local video rental joint.

It bored me.

I certainly found it to be breathtakingly grim and it’s still visually stunning twenty-five years later, but I didn’t truly ponder the ramifications of the concepts at the time. When I did, the questions the film raised about consciousness and humanity were mind-bending.

[Did they have crackers in Blade Runner? I know that there were noodles (which are another wondrous foodstuff).]

Now, throughout the film, Gaff leaves origami animals for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard and these items – combined with the unicorn footage added for the director’s cut – strengthens the argument that Deckard himself is a replicant. The unicorn memory is one programmed into all replicants who are unaware that they are synthetic creatures.

My earliest memory of eating cheese and crackers was when I was four or five and it’s 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.

Unfortunately, when I reconsider the event, I fear it couldn’t have happened. The movie had to have been The Aristocats (is there another “cartoon cats in Paris” flick?), but this was years before VCRs and cable television. Would they have shown such a movie on network television following the late news?

More suspicious is the conflict between my memory and my uncle’s life rhythm. It was remarkably consistent as I recall – 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.

And so, I have to wonder at the possibility that this memory is my “unicorn sequence.” Maybe lots of people have such a memory.

Maybe Edward James Olmos is someday going to leave a foil, origami Triscuit at my doorstep. Or maybe a Ritz.

Vangelis – Blade Runner (End Title)
Vangelis really captured the vibe of the movie with his score. My friend Chris, who had prompted our friends and me to rent Blade Runner, played the album into the ground.

White Zombie – More Human Than Human
The motto of the Tyrell Corporation set to music. I met Rob Zombie at a record store where I worked and he seemed like a good guy – very polite, very soft spoken.

Cracker – This Is Cracker Soul
I loved Cracker’s debut which included This Is Cracker Soul, but David Lowery was rude to Paloma once and it’s dulled my enthusiasm for Cracker’s music ever since.

Kenickie – Robot Song
I remember Kenickie being “the next big thing” for about ten minutes in the mid-90s. Coming across this track to post, I’m thinking I might have to go back and check out the rest of their debut, At The Club.