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.

Pirates! Militant Islamists! Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!

November 24, 2008

A long time ago, Paloma and I would often declare ourselves to be pirates. I’m not sure why we would do so, but this nautical impulse would often kick in during a night on the town (though I don’t recall either of us drinking rum).

We never donned eye patches let alone left land, but Paloma could make a brilliantly entertaining ‘aargh” face. Actually, it more resembled an expression which Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) might make – highly amusing; not exactly threatening.

(if the ability to unleash amazingly comical expressions was considered to be threatening, Paloma would be deemed to be a supervillianess)

Anyhow, piracy on the high seas is a growth industry these days. Somali pirates have literally created boom towns in their homeland which is, from what I’ve read, a postcard for poverty and lawlessness.

Now, I’ve read that militant Islamists – being a prickly bunch in the best of times – are ticked. The pirates are totally stealing their thunder. And, seriously, if you were recruiting discontented, angry, poor youths, isn’t the promise of a life of wine, bawdy women, and song here, now a better hook than virgins in the afterlife once you’ve blown yourself to bits?

So, the Islamists are offering to take the pirates down. Does this match up cause a light bulb to flicker for anyone else?

Secure the rights, make it a reality show, put it on pay-per-view cable, do merchandising tie-ins with Burger King – mmmm, Burger King – have Vegas set a line…. Do something. Do anything.

There’s a treasure chest of loot to be made here and no need to risk life, limb, or ingest Dramamine.

Thomas Dolby – Europa And The Pirate Twins

Bow Wow Wow – Sun, Sea And Piracy

The Beautiful South- The Lure Of The Sea

Echo & The Bunnymen – Seven Seas

Nothing Says Easter Like Ravenous, Rampaging Rabbits

March 22, 2008

Forget the hunt for eggs or the ceremonial carving of the spiral-cut, honeybaked ham. No, Paloma and I opted for a more unique way to celebrate Easter this year – snagging a carryout pizza and watching Night Of The Lepus.

For those of you unfamiliar with this cinematic opus (and I’d guess that would be virtually anyone who stumbles across this post), Night Of The Lepus was born out of the nascent groundswell of environmental consciousness of the early ’70s, a movement that influenced many science fiction films.

I recall having seen it as a youngster when it was shown on CBS’ late night movie, a cornucopia of B-movies shown after the local news in the ’70s which often featured nature run amok.

And amok it runs in Night Of The Lepus in the form of rabbits the size of Volkswagens who have developed a taste for humans. Actually, they seem disinclined to consume the terrified townsfolk, instead gnawing on them as though they were large, pale carrots.

Paloma and I had tentatively planned to make a tradition of an Easter viewing of Night Of The Lepus, but, alas, next year it might be pizza and Bugs Bunny as one viewing of the film seems to have been enough for her.

And now, for some Easter-inspired music…

Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
It’s impossible for me to hear this song now and not think of the scene in Platoon where Charlie Sheen’s character is introduced to “The Heads.” I also keep thinking that it would make an inspired choice for Bjork to cover.

T. Rex – Rabbit Fighter
When the inevitible CGI-powered remake of Night Of The Lepus arrives (and you know it will), perhaps they will opt for a little Marc Bolan from his classic set The Slider. And please, let them cast William Shatner (especially as the late DeForest Kelly was featured in the original). Who else would you rather see battling brawny bunnies?

Echo & The Bunnymen – Lips Like Sugar
When I asked Paloma, a big fan of Ian McCullough and the boys from the beginning, what track I should post, she surprised me by noting this one as her favorite (I would have guessed something perhaps a bit darker like The Killing Moon).

Patti Smith Group – Easter
Sure Horses has the cachet and was a groundbreaking release, but as I was a tyke and unaware of its impact at the time, I’ve always leaned toward Easter as my personal favorite of one of my favorite artist’s early (pre-1988) output.

Bill Hicks – Easter
The late, great comedian shares his thoughts on how Easter is celebrated and who can argue that a goldfish pushing a lincoln log across the floor wouldn’t be pretty miraculous?