The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

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Dire Straits, Pick Withers And The Winter Break Of My Discontent

February 3, 2013

(rebroadcast from February, 2009)

Here, it is often said that if you don’t like the weather, wait twenty-four hours. Actually, I’ve been trying to inject new blood into that maxim by saying, if you don’t like the weather, move ten feet to the right.

It hasn’t caught on, yet.

The reason I’m even considering the weather is that after a couple days of warmth, tonight it’s cold again and I’m trying to remember the last place I lived that didn’t have a draft.

Psychologically, I wonder if I now associate a draft with the concept of “home.”

But having grown up in the lower Midwest, I was accustomed to cold from October through the end of March – none of this low 70s in January nonsense. There were no days off from the raw temperatures.

The shame that Paloma and I won’t have kids is that I could deliver that parental speech triangulating long distances, heavy snow, and walking to school backed by true experience.

(it would be an Oscar-worthy performance)

As I student at a large university, on an average day, between hiking to classes and work, I was probably trekking at least ten miles.

(thank God for the Walkman).

One winter, I was stuck working through Christmas Eve. The campus was empty and I was crashing at a house owned by my girlfriend’s uncle.

The girlfriend’s brother lived there as did two of her cousins and a couple of other friends. No one remained, though, except for the roommate who managed a Pizza Hut.

(think Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed & Confused, except, you know, managing a Pizza Hut).

I watched a lot of late-night cable, slept on the couch under a mountain of blankets, and worked myself into a state of catatonia due to the relentless boredom.

I was also going through some kind of Dire Straits phase which lasted for a good six months. On one of those nights during that holiday break, I stayed up ‘til dawn taping every song by Dire Straits, A to Z, from their debut up through Brothers In Arms. I think I even threw guitarist Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack work into the mix.

(has anyone gotten a large government grant, yet, to study OCD in music fans?)

Poor Dire Straits. Has any band that was the biggest in the world – as Knopfler and company arguably were with the album Brothers In Arms – been so lightly regarded?

Of course, since that winter and following spring, I’ve rarely listened to Dire Straits even though I own everything save for their final studio album. Their songs pop up randomly on the iPod, though, and it’s a reminder that they did have some fantastic stuff.

And they also had a drummer named Pick Withers.

It’s a name that I just like to say from time to time.

Here are five songs by Dire Straits…

Dire Straits – Water Of Love
from Dire Straits (1978)

I always thought that Water Of Love was the underrated gem from Dire Straits’ debut.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies (1980)

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, it’s always been one of my favorites by them.

Dire Straits – Tunnel Of Love
from Making Movies (1980)

Is there a consensus on the best Dire Straits’ album?

I’d have to go with Making Movies and Tunnel Of Love is that record’s stellar opener. Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band plays piano on it.

It has a way cool cover, too.

Dire Straits – Telegraph Road
from Love Over Gold (1982)

It seems that Dire Straits was never cool (at least from what I’ve read), but a high school buddy turned me onto the band several years before Brothers In Arms when they were being mostly ignored in the States.

I took to them and, despite its fourteen-minute length, the epic Telegraph Road was a favorite not only for the reflective lyrics but for the ferocity of Mark Knopfler’s guitar work at the song’s crescendo.

Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
from Brothers In Arms (1985)

Musically and lyrically, Brothers In Arms is moody and evocative.


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.