The Heston

February 17, 2013

hestonAs a kid watching television in the ’70s, it was understood that the future might involve dealing with intelligent apes, urban overcrowding and pollution, or a noctunal clan of mutant cultists.

It was also understood from the regular airings of Planet Of The Apes, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man after school or on late-night television that the one man with the skills to survive in these various dystopian futures – at least until the final reel – was Charlton Heston.

Heston was teaching us about survival well before Gloria Gaynor, Bear Grylls, or Survivorman‘s Les Stroud and, like Stroud, Heston wasn’t bashful about going au naturale.

(watching Planet Of The Apes on an AMC marathon of the movie series, I have already been blindsided twice by Heston’s bare ass in HD)

Over the latter part of his life, Heston was best known for his interest in guns, but, as he had spent so much time battling intelligent apes and mutant cultists as well as trying to avoid becoming finger food for the masses, his desire to be a well-maintained militia of one is understandable.

And no matter how dire the situation around him, Chuck was able to make time for the ladies and, in the case of The Omega Man, he – like the titular character in The Big Lebowski and to paraphrase The Dude – was racially pretty cool.

But, as a kid, it was Heston’s adventures as misanthropic astronaut George Taylor that were most fascinating to me and, fortunately, it was not uncommon to tune into CBS’ Friday Night Movie and find that Planet Of The Apes or, even more so it seemed, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was the featured flick.

Thirty-eight years ago, I was one bummed out seven-year old as the short-lived (and Heston-less) television series based on The Planet Of The Apes had been cancelled. I might have found solace in music, but that wouldn’t be of interest to me for another four or five years.

However, had I turned on the radio, here are four songs I might have heard as they were on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart at the time…

America – Lonely People
from History: America’s Greatest Hits (1975)

Though I hadn’t yet developed an interest in music in 1975, I was well aware of the songs of America from the light rock stations my parents seemed to favor on the car radio.

The trio received a lot of comparisons to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and, of the songs I know by America, the lovely, resilient Lonely People captures that vibe to me more than any other.

John Lennon – #9 Dream
from Lennon Legend (1997)

I certainly knew the music of The Beatles, but I wasn’t familiar with John Lennon’s solo stuff or #9 Dream at the time. I would have to catch up years later.

Of course, no one would be hearing new music from John Lennon after 1975, at least not until he ended his self-imposed exile to be a stay-at-home dad five years later with Double Fantasy. I eventually got a cassette of The John Lennon Collection in 1982 or so and was introduced to the (suitably) dreamy #9 Dream.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra (1995)

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which was the group’s first major single in the States.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils – Jackie Blue
from Billboard Top Hits: 1975 (1991)

The title character in Jackie Blue sounds like one confused girl, but I can’t help but think of pizza when I hear the song. It seems like every trip we made to Pizza Inn during the time that the song was a hit guaranteed one of the patrons putting down their money for Jackie Blue on the jukebox.

I dug the song as a kid. It was catchy and mysterious, though, at the time, I mistook drummer Larry Lee’s falsetto for a female vocalist.

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It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.


Holding Auditions In My Head For A Potential Imaginary Friend*

August 24, 2011

As I often remind Paloma, my childhood was spent in the hinterlands of the Midwest, right past where the flat Earth ends, amidst a lot of corn. Its charm is far more apparent given time and distance.

Paloma has heard me recount tales of my years in the wild. There was no MTV because there was no cable. And new music was not easily attainable. Life was often accentuated by imagination out of necessity and, yet, I never had an imaginary friend.

The last item came to my attention the other night when I happened across my copy of The Essential Calvin And Hobbes. The comic strip, which ran for a decade or so beginning in the mid ‘80s was drawn by Bill Watterson, whose been quite reclusive and rarely (never?) has licensed the use of the characters.

Calvin was a hyperactive and imaginative six-year old tyke; his constant partner-in-crime was a stuffed tiger, Hobbes who was as real to Calvin as anyone else. I can’t do them justice in writing, suffice to say it’s good stuff.

Reacquainting myself with the duo, I wondered if I had missed an important childhood trinket, so I held an audition in my head for such a sidekick.

The name Captain Erving popped into my head. I’m thinking it must be some subconscious homage to the great Dr. J, so I kind of like it. And, for some reason (perhaps some subliminal, nautical influence due to repeated viewings of Jaws), I envision Captain Erving, my potential imaginary friend, as a lobster.

It does seem like a lot of responsibility, though, this imaginary friend business. And, I’d much rather have a dog.

I have nothing in my head right now, so here are four songs about the contents of other people’s heads…

The 6ths (featuring Georgia Hubley) – Movies in My Head
from Wasps’ Nests

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which became the group’s first major single in the States.

The Cars – Got A Lot On My Head
from Candy-O

I think that I could pick random track after random track from the catalog of The Cars and I’d hit something that would make happy most of the time.

There’s a lot of classic stuff there and the rest is, at the very least, usually a lot of fun like Got A Lot On My Head.

Shonen Knife – Tomato Head
from Rock Animals

From the country that gave us Godzilla, the all-female trio Shonen Knife were darlings of the alternative rock world in the ’80s. I heard songs here and there and was charmed by their zany brand of garage band pop, but never enough to own anything

I did snag a promo of 1993’s Rock Animals which featured the blissfully enigmatic (and slightly menacing) Tomato Head.

There was also a nifty little 3D reproduction of the album cover enclosed in some of the CDs like a Crackerjack prize.