The Night Stalker

October 30, 2010

As much as I love old horror and sci-fi flicks, Halloween is a holiday to which I’ve been surprisingly indifferent.

It might be because I’ve always gotten a bit wigged by attention – good or bad – and few things demand a reaction like dressing up for Halloween. The entire object is attention.

And candy.

Candy is something to which I’m also surprisingly indifferent.

As kids, candy was not as forbidden to us as it was to Tim Burton’s Willie Wonka, but it wasn’t the building blocks of the food pyramid as it was for some of my friends growing up.

Candy procured on Halloween was doled out by our mom like rations to POWs. After a few weeks things either went stale or we lost interest, distracted by the impending Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

If I’d truly been edgy and hip, in 1974 I would have gone out for Halloween as Carl Kolchak, but I didn’t since, well, I was six and decidedly not edgy and unhip.

If you were a kid and watching television in the mid-’70s, you likely knew Kolchak, as portrayed by the great Darren McGavin, to be the rumpled Chicago reporter investigating the paramormal on Friday nights in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Kolchak was always wandering dark alleys or dimly-lit tunnels, pursuing that week’s vampire, voodoo legend or clan of reanimated prehistoric primates.

Compelling stuff to a kid.

(one of those kids being Chris Carter who amassed a small fortune with The X-Files two decades later)

By the following spring The Night Stalker had ended its lone season on the air. It would be the early ’80s before I’d come across Cark Kolchak again and, then, it was for a period of time that one of the networks showed reruns well after midnight.

In the years since, I’ve only seen the rare episode here and there. Though the effects – just good enough to help me suspend imagination at six – now seem rather shoddy, The Night Stalker definitely had a vibe that still works.

And Darren McGavin was perfect as Kolchak.

Of course, the late actor would become a holiday institution as The Old Man in A Christmas Story.

But, it’s Halloween. So, here are four songs, chosen randomly, that might make the cut if it was possible for me to send a mixtape back through time for Kolchak…

The Replacements – Rock ‘n’ Roll Ghost
from Don’t Tell A Soul

The Replacements got a lot of flack when Don’t Tell A Soul was released in ’89, with more than a few fans/critics/hipsters accusing the band of selling out. Maybe I have a soft spot for the album – it was the first album I’d owned by the group – but, though it is more polished than past releases, I dug it.

Though The Replacements earned much attention for drunken antics and raucous rackets of songs, there was a quieter, melancholic side of them that was equally as impressive.

Poe – Haunted
from Haunted

Paloma and I spent a lot of time listening to Poe’s 1995 debut Hello. I don’t think that she was nearly as fond of it as I was.

The music was a supple fusion of alternative rock and folk elements with atmospheric and hypnotic electronics. I thought that Poe was going to be a superstar.

She didn’t reach such heights and, though Hello got some notice, I thought that the album got lost in the glut of female artists at the time.

The dense, swirling Haunted is the title track of her second and, thus far, last album which came out a decade ago. It was a worthy successor to Hello, but it caused barely a ripple.

Apparently Poe spent ten years feuding with her record label, attempting to extricate herself from them, which is unfortunate.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Voice Of The Beehive – Monsters And Angels
from Honey Lingers

I’m not sure if I could picture Kolchak racing through the streets of Chicago in his convertible with Monsters And Angels blaring from the stereo, but it’s a delightful song.

Formed in London by two sisters from California who were the daughters of Four Preps singer Bruce Belland, Voice Of The Beehive was a college rock favorite with their ’86 debut Let It Bee.

I was out of college when the follow-up, Honey Lingers, was released and working at a record label where my boss – who was usually quite prescient in such matters – predicted that Monsters And Angels would be their mainstream breakthrough.

(it wasn’t)

Though it does suffer from some of the glossy production of the time, the song is candy. The song shimmers and has a towering chorus with a girl group vibe for a modern age.

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It Wasn’t A Nakamichi Dragon, But It Was Mine

March 13, 2010

I’m not sure when Spring Break became an event, but it was beginning to take on a life of its own by the time I reached high school in the early ’80s.

It was an underwhelming stretch on the calender for most of us in southern Indiana. Sure, it was time off school which was a wonderful thing, but there were no junkets to Ft. Lauderdale or Cancun for most of us.

There were a handful of kids from more affluent families (or families feigning affluence) who trekked off to more sunny locales, but, for the majority of my classmates, Spring Break was something people in teen movies – or, a few years later, MTV – experienced.

Instead, I remember a lot of rain. It seemed to always rain during that week in mid-March, but, coming out of winter in the Midwest, rain meant that it was too warm to snow and that was enough to put most folks in a hopeful mood (even when it was a cold, stinging rain).

Despite the uncooperative meteorological conditions, there were a couple Spring Breaks which were memorable to me, maybe none more than 1984.

When I had first become interested in music three or four years earlier, I staked claim to an old, boxy tabletop radio with big dials and a front panel whose grill was becoming detached. I’d dug it up in our basement where it had likely languished since the early ’70s.

Sometime over the next year or two, I’d gotten a tape recorder and begun to purchase albums on cassette. However, mostly I was taping songs I liked off the radio, placing the built-in mic as close to the radio’s single speaker as possible for maximum fidelity and minimal background noise.

(and, as Any Major Dude will agree, you opted for pause instead of stop)

The next step in audio evolution was a “component.” Though it was almost the size of an actual stereo component, it was essentially a glorified clock radio with a tape deck.

I loved it and my crude radio compilations of Journey, The Police, and Duran Duran had never sounded better.

But, several of my friends were burgeoning audiophiles and were putting together actual rack systems and so, as Spring Break arrived in March of ’84, I was ready to take the first step in entering into this audio arms race.

So, on the first morning of the first day of that break, I headed into Cincinnati with a couple friends and $150 I had saved from a part-time job with the intent to purchase an actual tape deck.

It was, of course, raining.

By that evening, I had contributed to Pioneer’s first quarter profits, purchasing a sleek, silver CT-20 model (with Dolby). It would be toward the end of the summer before I would scrounge up enough cash to add an actual tuner and speakers to the electronic menagerie, so I hooked up the tape deck to the glorified clock radio.

And there was no place on earth that I’d rather have been that Spring Break than sprawled out on my bedroom floor, setting recording levels, dubbing cassettes, and taping songs from the radio.

Here are four songs I distinctly remember taping from various stations as I got to know the tape deck which would be a fixture in my life for the next five or six years…

Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi

Though I’ve never really been a fan aside from a couple songs, I’ve always kind of rooted for Bon Jovi. He seems like a pretty good guy.

She Don’t Know Me got played a lot on 96Rock that Spring (along with Runaway) and it was a catchy reflection on unrequited love at the time. Marc Avsec of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers had written it and it’s not hard to imagine that band doing the song.

(maybe they did a version, but, if they did, I haven’t heard it)

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard the hits from Side Kicks (it had a different title in the UK). I thought Love On Your Side and Lies pleasant at first but soon they were annoyingly hyperactive and grating.

(you know, the kind of song you start to really fall for and then wonder what the hell you heard in it in the first place)

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid and lush. It totally drew me in.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
from Lament

I had never heard Ultravox before late winter of 1984, but I had seen their name in my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, Lament was released and I heard Dancing With Tears In My Eyes on the radio (though not very often).

I actually borrowed Lament from a friend. It was the first cassette I ever dubbed – a most momentous personal milestone.

I was a fan. At least for that album. I never really have gotten around to explore the rest of their catalog aside from knowing the songs Vienna and Reap The Wild Wind.