The Road Ends In Rangoon

May 5, 2011

There are, according to one number I found on some site, twenty-five thousand Elvis impersonators walking the earth.

Elvis impersonator was the result I got when I searched online a couple weeks ago for the answer to Paloma’s query, “Whatever happened to…?”

The person in question was some kid we knew from a record store twenty years ago. And, technically, he wasn’t a stage performer but, according to my findings, merely impersonating Elvis on vocal tracks for impersonators to use in live performances.

And, thanks to the wonders of the internet I learned that our former co-worker had worked with some character touted to be the most beloved Elvis impersonator in Estonia…or maybe it was Luxemburg.

That intrigued me.

Then it turned out that this Estonian (or possibly Luxemburgian) Elvis had campaigned for some politician friend whose apparently extreme positions had caused people to “on numerous occasions” pour beer over his head.

As for this almost Elvis…the most bizarre thing I found was some article on an obscure news site from Southeast Asia. Estonian (or possibly Luxemburgian) Elvis had performed in some small, volatile country by invitation of a colonel from the ruling military junta.

Unfortunately, my brain took a man impersonating a singer known for garish fashion choices, Southeast Asia, and dodgy circumstances, chewed on it, and spat out “Gary Glitter.”

Dodgy, indeed.

That synaptic connection was made more unfortunate when the article mentioned Estonian (or possibly Luxemburgian) Elvis had caused a stir with his efforts to kiss the women in the audience, left the country quickly and had some trouble with the authorities.

It appears that our our former co-worker’s association with Estonian (or possibly Luxemburgian) Elvis had been a good decade ago, so perhaps he wasn’t on this road to Rangoon.

Yet, I couldn’t help but imagine him getting mixed up in some zany scenario.

(he had show business aspirations and didn’t strike me as being the most worldly of cats)

My mind conjured up plots with him as an unwitting patsy and, in the guise of paying homage to The King, running guns for a military junta in some far-flung Southeastern nation.

I couldn’t imagine things turning out well.

Because of my age, I know more of Elvis Costello’s catalog than that of Elvis Presley. I realize that I have most of his albums from the ’80s and a few other scattered tracks.

I enjoy a lot of Costello’s music, but I’ve never gotten to know it as well or enjoyed it with as as enthusiasm as I think I should. Maybe that’s because I’ve known a number of rabidly devoted Costello fans through the years.

Here are four songs by Elvis Costello that I do quite like…

Elvis Costello – Alison
from My Aim Is True

There’s a lot of speculation on the meaning of Allison and there’s speculation that Allison meets an untimely fate. I just dig the languid melody and Costello’s croon.

And, backing Costello pre-Attractions is a band from San Francisco, Clover, which included a News-less Huey Lewis (though he doesn’t appear on Allison)

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Everyday I Write the Book
from Punch The Clock

I don’t think I’d ever heard Elvis Costello until I came across Everyday I Write The Book on 97X in the early autumn of ’83. But, I did love this song from the outset and it’s still one of my favorites of his.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Shipbuilding
from Punch The Clock

Shipbuilding is simply gorgeous albeit resigned and world weary, and a sad reminder that armed conflict is generally a profitable endeavor.

(particularly if you’re Halliburton)

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – The Only Flame In Town
from Goodbye Cruel World

A year after Everyday I Write The Book became one of Elvis Costello’s few mainstream hits, he nearly managed to make the Top 40 again with the shuffling, shiny The Only Flame In Town.

(and he’s joined on the song by Daryl Hall)

The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2010

December 30, 2010

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Two years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2010 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986
The Blizzard Of ’78

“Wikipedia is one site that, if I’m not careful, can suck me in for lengthy periods…”

9. The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s
Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

“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…”

8. The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled
Once The Future Of American Music…

“In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning…”

7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
from Long After Dark
The Colonel

“Growing up in a basketball-mad state and half an hour away from the school that inspired the movie Hoosiers, this time of year meant the culmination of the hoops season with the state-wide tournament…”

6. Jason & The Scorchers – Take Me Home, Country Roads
from A Blazing Grace
Cover Me

“These are the times that try men’s souls and cause them to sweat in places I wouldn’t have thought possible…”

5. The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night
Little. Yellow. Different.

“Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air…”

4. Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack
“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks…”

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

“Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown…”

2. Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat
Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

“Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful….”

1. Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw
Bye Bye, 97X?

“I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83…”

“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

March 20, 2010

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks.

I’m not sure if I could name one favorite – could any sane person do so? – but the soundtrack to a little-seen movie called Until The End Of The World would definitely receive consideration.

I’m not sure when I became intrigued with the movie or even really what about it that had caught my attention. It was several months before it had a release date and I’m certain that much of the interest stemmed from the fact that Wim Wenders was the director.

Wenders had done a couple films – Paris, Texas and Wings Of Desire – that were popular with the staff of the record store where I was working in late 1991. The latter might be more familiar to most folks as the dreadful (and somewhat creepy) American remake City Of Angels.

Working in a record store, one-sheets for the Until The End Of The World‘s soundtrack had caught my eye for its impressive array of acts including Talking Heads, Patti Smith, R.E.M. and U2. U2’s song Until The End Of The World was one of the few previously released songs (it had appeared on the, then, just issued Achtung Baby) and one of the few not written specifically, at the request of Wenders, for the film.

One co-worker in particular, who was a bit of a film buff, shared and helped stoke my anticipation for the movie. We knew that it was being touted as the ultimate road movie, taking place in fifteen different countries.

We also knew that a five-hour version had been enthusiatically received in several limited showings at film festivals. We also had read that the cut for American audiences had been whittled down to just shy of three hours.

Then, we learned that the movie would feature a new song from Peter Gabriel and the opportunity to hear new music from the slow-working Gabriel – it had been more than five years since So – made seeing the movie a must-see event.

And so, it finally arrived in our city – at one theater. With another co-worker, we took the first chance to see the movie, knowing that it wouldn’t likely play for very long (I think it ended up playing for a week).

The theater screening it was in a multi-plex in a down-trodden part of the city. The multi-plex was part of a larger complex of stores and restaurants that had opened only a few years earlier in an effort to revitalize the area.

It hadn’t.

So, the theater and the entire complex had taken on the vibe of a ghost town and the few signs of life were mostly members of rival gangs. Aside from my two friends and me, there were two other people in the theater at the midnight showing we attended.

It was a maddeningly disheveled flick – there were obvious points where the cuts were made – starring William Hurt, Sam Neill, Solveig Dommartin, Max von Sydow, and Jeanne Moreau. At the heart of the visually stunning film was a piece of technology that would allow the blind to see.

And all the while, we were waiting. Through Berlin and Paris, and Lisbon and Moscow, and Paris and San Francisco, we listened with each song that played for Peter Gabriel.

Finally, two-thirds of the way into the movie, In the deserts of Australia, with Hurt and Dommartin trekking through the vast emptiness after what they believe has been the end of the world, we heard, for the first time, Peter Gabriel singing Blood Of Eden.

The song, the soundtrack, and the movie have stuck with me for twenty years. I own a copy of the movie on VHS, though I haven’t watched it more than a couple times in those two decades.

It’s an interesting movie. It’s spectacularly ambitious and some of the visual effects are evocative.

And, it seems that the full-length original cut is a bit of a “Holy Grail” to some fans on the internet.

The soundtrack did create some buzz. Jane Siberry’s gorgeous duet with k.d. lang Calling All Angels and U2’s title song got a lot of airplay on alternative radio.

It was difficult to reduce the soundtrack to a mere four songs. There are the songs and artists that I’ve mentioned and previously unreleased music from Lou Reed, Julee Cruise, T-Bone Burnett, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Daniel Lanois…

So, here are four songs that happened to choose me today…

Peter Gabriel – Blood Of Eden (Special Mix for Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World)

Blood Of Eden wasn’t on the movie’s soundtrack. It didn’t pop up until it was on Gabriel’s Us a year later. And though it featured Sinead O’Connor, who I usually dig, it wasn’t the version I’d loved in the movie.

Some time later, the version from the film appeared on the single for Blood Of Eden. It’s wispier and starker, than the Us version. It also played in it’s entirety in the movie and – with a backdrop of the Australian desert at dusk – it suited the scene perfectly.

Talking Heads – Sax And Violins
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

The Wikipedia entry for Sax And Violins refers to the song as one of Talking Heads’ most popular ones.

I don’t remember it being particular popular at the time, but I think it’s a wonderful song, maybe one of their poppiest, yet still possessing the Heads sardonic take on things.

The song plays during the scene where Solveig Dommartin’s character Clair is introduced in a state of confusion. Dommartin had been the trapeze artist in Wenders’ classic Wings Of Desire.

Neneh Cherry – Move With Me
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

Neneh Cherry seemed, for a few months in 1989, to be headed for superstardom. The daughter of jazz legend Don Cherry, Neneh caused a stir with her Raw Like Sushi debut. The album’s blend of R&B, rap, pop, and dance music was enthusiastically received by critics and her song Buffalo Stance was a global smash.

Move With Me would appear on the singer’s follow-up album, Homebrew, but Cherry would only release one more solo album in the ensuing twenty years.

Move With Me, though, is slinky and hypnotic with more of a trip-hop vibe and – hearing it again after all these years – makes me think I should pull up my copy of Homebrew and reacquaint myself.

Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

They are slightly passionate about the music of Ray Davies and The Kinks over at The Song In My Head Today and why shouldn’t they be? For all of the success of Uncle Ray, I’d have to file him under underappreciated.

For the movie, Elvis Costello contributed his take on the gorgeous Davies’ masterpiece Days.