Cap’n Crunch, His Dog, A Pig, And A Small Fire*

March 12, 2011

For most of my life, I rarely remembered my dreams. But over the past several years that has changed, so I get treated to nocturnal shows like last night.

The details are hazy, but it involved cereal icon Cap’n Crunch and a talking pig wearing a sweater. The two were in the mariner’s apartment discussing his missing dog when the place went up in flames.

I think everyone got out safely, but there was something suspicious about that pig and I wouldn’t rule out arson.

The dream also made me think of an album title by REO Speedwagon – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

Growing up in the Midwest, REO Speedwagon was a radio fixture and never more so than in late 1980 when they released the album Hi Infidelity. The songs from that record sounded great on radio (which is fortunate, as they were always playing) and the band was a favorite to most of us in my junior high school.

Ten years later, as I was nearing college graduation, the record store where I worked received a couple of copies of REO’s The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken.

I was immersed in band’s like R.E.M. not REO, whom I hadn’t listened to for years. The album title, though, made an impression (even if I don’t think I ever heard the music).

Several years later, I was working in another, much larger record store. For most acts, we carried at least a token copy of each title in their catalog. On slow mornings, the Drunken Frenchman and I would browse through the bins, discussing various artists and albums.

One morning, there it was – The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog And A Chicken. The Frenchman was no fan of the band, but it became a recurring subject for us.

“It’s one of the most truthful album titles ever.”

“That man, though a bit portly, is, indeed, small.”

“There’s the Earth.”

“There is a dog and, here, a chicken.”

“Man that dog looks miserable.”

R.E.M. might well have been playing over the speakers in the store (it would have been around the time of New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

“Why would they put Sebastian Cabot on the cover, though?”

Thirty years ago, REO Speedwagon had one of the biggest albums in the country with Hi Infidelity and one of the most popular songs with Keep On Loving You.

Here are four other songs that I was hearing on the radio – often on Q102’s Top Ten at 10 – in March, 1981 as I indulged my fairly new interest in music…

Blondie – Rapture
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one of the first bands that I truly took to as I began to discover radio and, at the age of twelve or thirteen, the winsome Debbie Harry added an undeniable visual element to the appeal.

Following up on the massive success of the breezy, faux-reggae of The Tide Is High, Blondie offered up something quite different on their subsequent single. The chiming, hypnotic groove, metallic guitars, and Harry’s breathy vocals – my friend Will was convinced that the lyric “finger popping” was actually something more PG13 – made for an irresistible mix.

But the song also blew our young minds. It was our first exposure to hip-hop and as much as we were entranced by the rhymes regarding aliens dining on bars, Subarus, and human noggins, we were also baffled.

April Wine – Just Between You And Me
from The Nature Of The Beast

Rush, Triumph, Loverboy…and sometimes April Wine…the American Midwest loved Canadian rock bands in the early ’80s (at least this was the case in my part of the Midwest).

From the opening riff, Just Between You And Me makes me think of certain older kids in my hometown, usually notorious ne’er-do-wells, smoking cigarettes and hearing this song blaring from their Camaros.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

I heard a lot of Donnie Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides). At home, not so much.

Ah! Leah! did make it to radio in the Midwest, though. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done With The Night
from Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did

Before he was John Mellencamp, saving American farms, and incessantly reminding television viewers that “this is our country,” he was simply John Cougar (or, as my friend Bosco dubbed him, Johnny Hoosier).

He’s arguably done better music since those early years, but Ain’t Even Done With The Night captures the restlessness and possibilities of late summer nights and is one song of his which I still never tire of hearing.

*it seemed appropriate – given the recent hullabaloo surrounding the good Cap’n – to repost this entry from March 9, 2009

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Familiar Strangers In My Head

March 31, 2010

For a good thirty years, I didn’t dream.

Well, that’s not actually true because we all dream, but, for thirty years, I rarely remembered my dreams.

I dreamed plenty up until I was five or six, so I was familiar with the concept, but I wasn’t aware of my participation.

One friend expressed concern that this quirk in my nocturnal wiring might indicate that I was a sociopath.

I thought it was the insomnia.

These days, I sleep better and, on occasion, I will have a dream that lives on past its use date. This morning, I woke from a dream in which I was wandering a ridiculously crowded shopping mall with Pizza, one of our cats, perched on my shoulders.

Paloma was shopping for a sweater and I was navigating the crowd, searching for a soft pretzel place.

I would rather not be in a mall and – knowing Pizza as I do – I suspect she wouldn’t be very happy, either.

On the other hand, both of us would enjoy a soft pretzel, so, you know, that part was a keeper.

But, as I wandered through that mall, skittish pet on my shoulders, there were faces that looked familiar but not as people I know (as far as I know) from this side of sleep.

There was a woman who almost ran us down outside the Orange Julius. She had a fur coat, large sunglasses, and channeled Anne Bancroft.

I think that she appeared in a dream months ago as a Waffle House waitress.

There was a nervous fellow standing outside a drug store. He was dressed like he worked in Mission Control Center for NASA in the early ’70s and sported a moustache that would have made Rollie Fingers weep.

I think he might have been a fellow patron in the Waffle House dream.

I now suspect that my subconscious has a stable of character actors and is using them as extras in my dreams.

Here is a quartet of stranger songs (mostly because nothing else seemed to fit)…

Heather Nova – Talking To Strangers
from Live From The Milky Way

I first stumbled across Heather Nova in the ’93 with her live EP Blow and was captivated by the ethereal vocals of the singer which soar and swoop.

If you’d asked me at the time, I would have predicted big things for the singer who spent a good deal of her childhood living on a sailboat in the Carribean with her family. It didn’t happen -maybe she just got lost in the Lilith Fair shuffle – but Talking To Strangers is a wonderful introduction to Nova.

The Kinks – Strangers
from Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One

When searching for songs for this post, this track by The Kinks popped up and I couldn’t place it. Listening to it, it sounded so familiar but not. I think it must have lodged into my head from the numerous times a friend played Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One years ago.

But, I’m certainly glad that I reaquainted myself with Strangers. It’s a lovely song, written and sung by Dave Davies, and apparently about Davies’ feelings about the state of the band and his relationship with brother Ray.

Rick Springfield – Don’t Talk To Strangers
from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet

I had no problem placing Rick Springfield’s Don’t Talk To Strangers. Radio became an integrel part of my life right around the time that the television heartthrob from Australia was everywhere with Jessie’s Girl and I’ve Done Everything For You.

The paranoid and poppy Don’t Talk To Strangers continued Springfield’s success and it was inescapable during the summer of ’82. Sure it was almost Pavlovian to dismiss the songs as lightweight and I’ve never been more than a casual, occasional fan, but I rarely skip Springfield’s songs when they pop up on shuffle.

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

On the other hand, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were immediately and obviously cool on arrival.

Sweet Dreams might have been bigger, but I’ve always liked the chilly Love Is A Stranger more (partly, I’d guess, because it didn’t get played into the ground at the time).


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