“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head”

March 15, 2012

Yes, though I might recently have questioned Morgan Freeman’s aquarium-related advice, I find the words of his iconic character Red from The Shawshank Redemption appropriate this morning.

In less than three hours, the true opening round of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament – as opposed to the cash grab “first four” – tips off.

For the first time in many years, I have arranged to be home to bask in ten hours or so of college hoops, the entire venture goosed by having upgraded to HD television.

I’ve noted in years past that the time period during which I was in college coincided with the rise of ESPN and the availability of all of the tournament’s games. The lax schedule of a college student allowed me to take advantage of the situation and my attendance of a university that was a hoops power in a basketball-mad state made doing so justifiable.

So, early this morning I took care of getting one of our animals to the vet and – aside from retrieving her later this afternoon – my agenda is juggling four channels’ worth of basketball with the added bonus of my alma mater’s return to prominence and two nearby universities also participating, one of them being a highly-touted upset pick.

I’m as giddy as Red headed to Zihuatanejo, so giddy that I’m considering having pizza for breakfast.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a college freshman and likely having pizza for breakfast as my school was beginning a run that would end up with them winning the championship three weeks later.

Here are four songs from cassettes that would have been in my Walkman at the time…

Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over
from Crowded House (1987)

Led by Neil Finn and including fellow ex-Split Enz member Paul Hester, Crowded House garnered more attention with their first single than Split Enz ever had in the States. It was certainly deserved as the wistful and haunting Don’t Dream It’s Over is as classy as pop music gets.

Of course, I can no longer hear the song without thinking of its evocative use in the mini-series of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic book The Stand. The song gave added poignancy as it played over scenes of a barren, empty world, lingering on a shot of a teddy bear bobbing in the surf on a beach.

Paul Simon – The Boy In The Bubble
from Graceland (1986)

Though Graceland had been released at the beginning of the school year, it took months for mainstream attention to catch up to the critical kudos the album received upon its release. I was well exposed to the album from its arrival by a music major on my dorm floor who quickly embraced Paul Simon’s collaboration with some of South Africa’s most respected musicians.

The song that stood out to me – aside from the rustic postcard that was the title track – was the loping The Boy In The Bubble and its surreal juxtaposition of imagery.

‘Til Tuesday – Coming Up Close
from Welcome Home (1986)

Like most guys watching MTV in 1985, my friends and I were left slack-jawed and smitten with Aimee Mann in ‘Til Tuesday’s video for Voices Carry.

Image aside, ‘Til Tuesday made three very good records, shedding members over the course of those albums. By the time the band reached its end after Everything’s Different Now, Aimee Mann had guided their sound from chilly New Wave to a more organic, guitar-jangling alternative rock.

That sound had been hinted at on the group’s second album, especially on the stellar – and surprisingly twangy – Coming Up Close.

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name
from The Joshua Tree (1987)

Released the week before the tournament began in 1987, The Joshua Tree was the first album I ever bought on CD on the day of release. I had already been a rabid fan since discovering War through a high school friend as, in the Midwest, the band was still a little-known, cult act.

That changed quickly with the release of the first single, With Or Without You, and I still vividly recall putting the CD into the player for the first time, hearing the bracing, windswept opening of Where The Streets Have No Name, the album’s opening track and realizing that my favorite band was now going to be a mainstream juggernaut.

At Least Cooper Huckabee Got To Keep His Pants On

July 22, 2008

I was channel surfing the other day and happened upon a station where the closing credits to the movie Urban Cowboy were rolling. Perhaps because I can be amused by something as simple as a piece of toast, I watched as the names scrolled across the screen. One caught my eye – Cooper Huckabee.

It was an unusual name and it was nowhere near the top of the cast, but it made me wonder about this fellow as I had never heard of him and Urban Cowboy was released in the early ’80s. Was this Mr. Huckabee’s fifteen minutes of fame?

I wondered what his life was like during the time the movie was filmed. Was he a struggling waiter/actor who had finally landed a role in a major motion picture? Did he make excited phone calls home (maybe some small town in the hinterlands of Iowa) telling family and friends that he had finally made it? Did his parents breathe a sigh of relief? Did their disappointment that young Cooper had abandoned a college scholarship or their plans for him to take over the family feed store to pursue an acting career turn to pride? Did his hometown newspaper do a feature story on him and the mayor give him the key to the city on “Cooper Huckabee Day” as most of the town’s 2,000 residents watched?

Did he believe that this would be the stepping stone to his becoming the next Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino? Does he regret abandoning the family business now that it is a quarter century later and his career hasn’t followed such a star-bound trajectory?

I also wonder about Don McManus. McManus has appeared in over 80 movies and television programs in mostly bit parts, including an episode of Seinfeld. He also had a role in The Shawshank Redemption, a movie that is one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of all time.

If you’ve seen the movie, he appears in one of the iconic scenes, one in which Tim Robbins’ character locks himself in the warden’s office and plays an opera recording over the prison loudspeaker. It’s a powerful scene and one in which McManus gets most of his screen time. Unfortunately, much of that screen time consists of him sitting on a toilet, reading a comic book as he, in his character’s words, “pinches a loaf.”

I wonder if he has mixed emotions about being in such a pivotal scene of such an acclaimed movie with his trousers around his ankles. I wonder if his grandchildren will brag about his cinematic career, pointing to that scene as the highlight of his work.

Maybe my musings concerning these two fellows are rooted in wondering what it’s like to get so close to your wildest dreams only to fall just short of it being everything for which you might have hoped. Maybe I wonder if Mr. Huckabee and Mr. McManus consider it a blessing or a cosmic tease – the cruel fulfillment of a wish they once made where they said, “I want to be in the movies,” without being more specific or reading the fine print.

David Bowie – Fame

Crowded House – Fame Is

Mission Of Burma – Fame And Fortune

Fluffy – Too Famous

The Night Sheryl Crow Wouldn’t Stop Undressing Me With Her Eyes

May 18, 2008

The following events took place between August of 1993 and April of 1994. Had these events unfolded in a slightly different manner, it’s possible that few people outside the world of cycling enthusiasts might know the name Lance Armstrong. Conversely, more people outside of my living room might know mine.

During the late summer of 1993, I was fulfilling my duties as the buyer for a large record store, trolling through a new release catalog for Polygram when a then-unknown singer’s forthcoming album caught my eye. The album’s list of guest musicians was an impressive collection whose names I recognized even as the most noteworthy credit of the singer herself had been as a backup singer for Michael Jackson in the waning days of his pre-pariah period. Curious, I requested an advance copy from my label rep.

Days later, my request had been granted and, one morning before heading to work, I gave it a listen over a breakfast of Pop-Tarts and leftover pizza. It was pleasant enough, if unspectacular. I trudged to work.

Now, in this record store we did our best to avoid interaction with the customers. There was one exception which was when we found the customer to have aesthetic appeal to our individual sex, gender, and/or orientation. As it would happen, the same day I perused my advance copy of the unknown singer, I noticed a rather fetching lass approach the store counter, midriff bared and possessing the belly of a goddess.

As I rang up her purchases, I deftly made conversation in a most rico-suave fashion. She handed me a credit card and I noticed her name. With the cool of a cat burglar, I said, “You’re Sheryl Crow.” Inside, I nodded my head and thought “smooooooth” as I added, “I was listening to an advance copy of your album this morning.”

Sheryl and I chatted for a bit about the record and the musicians on it and she was gone. The record was released a month or so later and, initially, sold modestly. It should have been the end of the story, but, like a late-night commercial for Ginsu knives, there’s more.

Fast forward six months. Sheryl Crow is starting to get airplay for the song All I Wanna Do. Nothing major yet, but she’d snagged a gig as the opening act for Crowded House. My then-girlfriend and I had tickets. I generally don’t speak of ex-girlfriends, but, for perspective, the kindest nickname she had among my friends was Fire Bush. Most of her monikers were more in the line of a friend who simply referred to her as Evil (i.e. “So, are you still dating Evil?”).

So, the Fire Bush and I arrive in time to catch the end of Sheryl’s set. Waiting for Crowded House to take the stage, my rep from Sheryl’s label came up to us at the bar. He wanted me to do him a favor and come backstage to hang so that he has someone from one of his accounts. Backstage is usually not what it’s cracked up to be, but there is often free food and drink.

Standing backstage, munching on cocktail weenies and having a beverage, Fire Bush and I stayed out of the fray which is mostly a mixture of egomaniacs and sycophants. From across the room, I see Sheryl. She kept glancing over at me, much to the chagrin of Fire Bush. This continued for 10-15 minutes, ratcheting up the tension between Fire Bush and myself (and, as our relationship was already headed for cinders by this point, there’s no shortage of awkwardness).

Finally, Sheryl made her way over. “I’ve been trying to figure out where I know you from,” she said, taking my hand. I refreshed her memory while simultaneously trying to figure out if I concentrated hard enough whether I could make Fire Bush spontaneously combust. I dismissed the idea as too distracting and likely a buzz kill for everyone but me.

Sheryl smiled. “Yeah. I knew that I knew you,” she said. “Do you know that you are the first person ever to recognize me in public?”

I replied with my usual savoir faire and unmitigated charm, mumbling something like, “Yeah? Huh.”

My mind did mental calculations with the precision of the Casio calculator I’d had in third grade. The first person to recognize her in public? Surely I held a special place in her heart, one which no one else could ever supplant. Such a distinction could certainly be parlayed into a positive response to the query “Would you like to have a drink?” Experience had taught me that “a drink” could lead to several drinks and several drinks could lead to…well, most likely nothing more than a hangover and an opportunity to embarrass myself in front of Sheryl Crow. But, nothing ventured, nothing lost. All she wanted to do is have some fun. Right?

But, I was shackled to Fire Bush. And, furthermore, Fire Bush was enraged, having introduced herself as “his girlfriend.” The only thing going up in flames was me.

But, Crowded House was phenomenal, so here’s a quartet of personal favorites from them.

Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet

Crowded House – I Feel Possessed

Crowded House – Distant Sun

Crowded House – Not The Girl You Think You Are