The Chicken Baron Of Devil’s Tower

November 13, 2010

As Paloma will attest, I will drive into the hinterlands for fried chicken.

And though I saw them on what seemed like every corner of Kuching while traveling in Borneo, visiting our nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken is a trip into the urban hinterlands – a twenty-minute drive to a dodgy part of town.

About two or three times a year the lure will be too strong and I’ll make the trek.

It’s also seared into my memory to hear The Drunken Frenchman quite drunkenly hoist a glass to toast, “Colonel Sanders – a great American!”

That inexplicable, wholly random declaration – completely unrelated to any conversation at our table of friends that night – has baffled me for nearly twenty years.

Perhaps it was a message from the cosmos that I must unravel to achieve enlightenment.

Perhaps the Frenchman was merely very, very drunk.

So when I happened across a bio about the chicken mogul, I watched.

I don’t think that I would have wanted to have a drink with The Colonel.

He seemed like a bit of a douche.

But, that aside, there’s no debate that the man made a pretty strong bird.

The universe, through The Drunken Frenchman, might have been telling me that the path to enlightenment is to become a fried chicken mogul.

Perhaps I was just craving fried chicken.

I’m going to put aside the need for perfecting a strong bird of my own for the moment. Obviously a culinarily masterful, palatte-pleasing recipe will be integral to achieving moguldom, but I turned my attention to another important element.

Location.

Col. Sanders first restaurant was located strategically on a highway in a rural part of Kentucky. That left forty-nine states and howevermany territories and protecterates from which to choose.

A few nights later, I finally popped in the DVD of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that I’d purchased several weeks before. As I watched the breathtaking classic film, the universe nudged me again.

The volcanic outcropping known as Devil’s Tower – where the climax of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind takes place – is located in a national state park in the northeastern corner of Wyoming and nearly half a million tourists visit each year.

There would be no shortage of travellers wanting nothing more than to finger lick chicken from their phalanges.

And, if the aliens do show up at Devil’s Tower as they do in the movie…well, I’d have to think that fried chicken favored by our interstellar overlords trumps eleven herbs and spices proffered by a Colonel who wasn’t even a colonel.

Perhaps somewhere on US 90, leading to Devil’s Tower, is my Kentucky and my shot at fried chicken moguldom.

One more sign from the universe and Paloma and I will be packing up the animals and heading for Hulett.

Perhaps I should get started concocting a recipe.

In December, it will be thirty years since The Colonel hung up his mortal apron and headed for some kitchen in the afterlife. Here are four songs from albums that had recently been released and might have been added to his collection…

The Police – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
from Zenyattà Mondatta

Three albums in and the British trio broke through with Zenyattà Mondatta which took them to the Top Ten on the album chart as well as the singles chart with the deceptively insightful and ridiculously catchy De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

I know that, at the time, I was unfamiliar with earlier hits that The Police had notched with Roxanne and Message In A Bottle, but I took to De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da the first time I heard the song. It wouldn’t be long before I was a devoted fan and knew their catalog inside and out.

(I’d like to imagine The Colonel singing along as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da blared from a transistor radio in the kitchen)

Harry Chapin – Sequel
from Sequel

I knew little of singer/songwriter Harry Chapin’s music aside from a few songs (one being, obviously, his enduring hit Cat’s In The Cradle, a song whose bad rap I never quite understood).

However, the late singer is a favorite over at The Revue Review, though, and over the course of a number of posts there, I’ve become far more familiar with Chapin and increasingly fascinated by both the man and his underappreciated music.

I don’t recall hearing Sequel when it became Chapin’s final hit in 1980 – a year before his tragic death – but the song is a poignant and satisfying follow-up to the tale Chapin had recounted almost a decade earlier with his hit Taxi.

Suzi Quatro – Lipstick
from Rock Hard

Leather-clad rocker Suzi Quatro, who had portrayed leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, is another act that has existed mostly under my radar. I knew the name, but I had heard nothing by the singer aside from Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman from 1978.

In Lipstick, I hear an engaging fusion of Blondie, Joan Jett, and Them’s classic Gloria . I also hear a scorned woman whose affections I’d be hesitant to trifle with.

Dire Straits – Skateaway
from Making Movies

Other than Sultans Of Swing, this was the second song I think I ever knew by Dire Straits. I’m not sure where – as we didn’t have MTV in our town at the time – but I saw the video. Probably on Night Flights which we got a year or two before MTV.

Anyhow, Skateaway has always been one of my favorites by them.

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Scared Straight

July 24, 2010

In the late ’70s, there was a documentary called Scared Straight in which young delinquents/aspiring felons visited hardcore criminals doing time in Rahway State Prison. The theory was that being exposed to the harsh realities of prison life might alter the kids’ behavior.

The film caused a stir, won some awards, and used to pop up on PBS, which is where I think I saw a portion of it one night when there was nothing on the other four or five channels available.

Channel-surfing the other night, I stumbled across another movie that more profoundly altered the course of my life through its harrowing subject matter.

In December of 1987, I was mid-way through my sophmore year of college and I had snagged a coveted gig at a record store as Christmas help. I wouldn’t become jaded on working the holidays in retail until the following Christmas, so the only downside was being stuck in a town where half the population was students.

Aside from most of my friends heading home as soon as finishing their last final of the semester, I was still living in a dorm which would be closed.

Fortunately, my girlfriend’s brother, a cousin, and several other of their friends had a house off campus where I could crash for a week or so before I got to head home for Christmas break. I spent two nights trying to sleep on the brother’s unheated water bed before relocating to the couch downstairs.

Most days I worked and, most days, it was a closing shift. I’d trudge home in the snow and encamp on the couch, flicking through the cable channels ’til all hours. Two of the housemates were also hanging out until days before Christmas. One was there because he worked at a pizza place which meant we had food.

One afternoon, all three of us happened to be home and decided to head out to a movie.

Those two were a couple years older and would both earn business degrees the following summer. I was intending to enter business school with no intention of entering the business world.

We settled into the seats at the multiplex to catch a weekday matinee of Wall Street which had just been released, arriving less than two months after Black Monday had rocked the stock market.

I suspect it wasn’t director Oliver Stone’s intention, but the housemates didn’t view the character of Gordon Gekko as a villain. As portrayed by Michael Douglas, Gekko’s sophistication and swagger played well with them.

I wanted nothing to do with the stressed out beings scampering about the screen.

I felt no need to own a jet.

Instead, the idea of working in a record store as a career seemed much more zen and to my liking.

I finished school and during those years studying business, it was obvious the influence that Wall Street had had. Gordon Gecko was the patron saint of most of my classmates.

When I graduated, I received the expected queries as to what I intended to do. I gave everyone the same answer.

“I’m going to be a shepherd.”

I didn’t become a shepherd, but I did spend several years post-college working in record stores. Heeding the warning of Wall Street, I avoided the corporate world for longer than most and, when I did become enmeshed in it, I found myself surrounded by the children of Gekko (sans the style and savoir faire).

But, during that Christmas break of ’87, that was all in the future. In that present, there was mostly music. Here are four songs that I remember from that time…

Eurythmics – I Need A Man
from Savage

I’ve always considered the Eurythmics – despite their success – to be one of the underappreciated acts of the ’80s. The masses all aquiver over Lady Ga Ga should be forced to watch the videos of Annie Lennox to observe a performer that was truly groundbreaking.

By the time Savage arrived, the duo’s career was on the decline in the States, but I loved it just the same. The first time we played the album in the store where I worked – after Annie had tore through the aggressive I Need A Man – one of my friends seemed truly frightened.

“You do not want to mess with that chick,” he sagely noted.

Swing Out Sister – Breakout
from It’s Better To Travel

Top 40 was mostly off my radar by ’87, but one gem from that autumn was the irresistible Breakout by the British trio Swing Out Sister. The sophisticated pop song was breezy, sunny and the perfect anitidote to the chill in the air as winter approached.

(and singer Corinne Drewery, with her jet-black pixie haircut, was rather fetching, too)

The Screaming Blue Messiahs – I Wanna Be A Flintstone
from Bikini Red

My buddy Streuss was enamored with The Screaming Blue Messiahs at the time and, whenever I was hanging in his dorm room, it seemed that he was playing Bikini Red.

As a long-time fan of The ‘stones, I immediately dug the manic, rockabilly-tinged I Wanna Be A Flintstone. It was a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly could relate.

Bourgeois Tagg – I Don’t Mind At All
from Yoyo

The lovely I Don’t Mind At All is a timeless pop song. Produced by the legendary Todd Rundgren, the melancholic ballad was every bit as engaging as Swing Out Sister’s Breakout that winter, but, unlike that song, suited the season perfectly.

Rundgren had produced the XTC classic Skylarking a year earlier and I Don’t Mind At All would have fit that album seamlessly.


Damn You, Christopher Cross And Your Siren Song Glamorizing An Outlaw Way Of Life And Stirring Up Feelings Of Wanderlust

June 5, 2008

As I made my way to work the other morning, one of the 20,000 songs on my iPod randomly popped up and, as it played, it prompted an epiphany. The revelation was spurred by the gentle strains of erstwhile yacht rocker and flamingo enthusiast Christopher Cross – it surprised the hell out of me.

He was declaring his intention to ride like the wind (with some help from Michael McDonald).

I was twelve when I first heard this musical mission statement and it was in my seventh grade homeroom class. Our teacher, Mrs. Wilson, was a willowy blonde with a megawatt smile (she could have stepped out of a Beach Boys’ song) who would let us play albums every Friday afternoon. Christopher Cross was her choice.

Outside, it was raining – a dreary backdrop to compliment the ennui of our small town in the rural Midwest. Inside, Christopher Cross was a renegade troubadour, boasting how he “always spoke [his] mind with a gun in [his] hand” as he fled for the border of Mexico.

Of course, some time later when I saw this portly desperado on Solid Gold it was obvious that he was more likely to speak his mind with a ham sandwich in his hand and – if he was fleeing anywhere – it would probably be to a buffet and a heaping plate of everything smothered in gravy.

It mattered not; his imagery had triggered something in me. I, too, wanted to ride like the wind, far beyond the bowling alley on the far outskirts of our town, beyond which was the rest of the world.

I’m not sure if Christopher Cross is completely responsible, but he certainly helped me to tap into the inner nomad I hadn’t known existed. And, after some consideration, for whatever part he played, perhaps I owe him a thank you. Without him and his desire to ride like the wind, there’s a lot of the world I might have never felt compelled to see.

Christopher Cross – Ride Like The Wind
Nearly twenty years after this song was a hit, several friends and I were playing pool at a bar where we were regulars. There was the consumption of alcohol and one friend opted to select Ride Like The Wind on the jukebox. As it played, a college kid came up to us, pointing back to a friend at the bar, he informed us that “this song is by my friend’s dad.” Yes, it was Cross’ son. Nice kid, but he couldn’t explain the flamingos that adored all of his dad’s album covers.

Christopher Cross – Sailing
The one-two punch of Ride Like The Wind and Sailing had me hooked and I, like some five million other people, had a copy of Cross’ debut album. So wispy it’s barely there, I still get “lost in the reverie” whenever I hear this song. The man obviously was looking to escape to somewhere, but, as opposed to the former song, on Sailing, Cross was in no hurry to get there.

Christopher Cross – All Right
Cross took three years between his debut and follow-up album – a ridiculously long period at the time. Not only did the rest of the world move on, but I made the quantum leap from twelve to fifteen which is twenty-one years in dog years and during that time I, like the rest of world, came to he startling realization that flamingos and rock and roll don’t mix. Twenty-five years later, I find All Right to be pleasant enough.

Christopher Cross – No Time For Talk
To satisfy my OCDish need to post a quartet of songs, I needed one more. Despite the involvement of Burt Bacharach, I wasn’t feeling Arthur’s Theme and I fear someone would knock at my door and demand my testicles if I opted for the steaming pile of mawkishness that is Think Of Laura (at least I could tolerate the former). Like All Right, which also was on his follow-up, No Time For Talk is pleasant enough.