Finding Coelacanthe

February 9, 2013

coelacanthePaloma has, on more than one occasion, wandered into the living room of our treehouse to find me watching an episode of Finding Bigfoot. Her usual response is to shake her head.

She doesn’t share my fascination at the possibility of an unknown species of giant hominids living in the most remote forests on the planet.

(but I still think she’s swell)

I have no expectations that, if the sasquatch does exist, the intrepid quartet of Finding Bigfoot will actually do so during the course of the hour.

No, much of the appeal is the various settings of the show. I’ve not been to the bottom lands of Arkansas or the heights of the Canadian Rockies, but I am able to appreciate the breathtaking, natural beauty of these places where McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart have yet to leave a corporate footprint in HD glory.

And, there is the possibility of an unknown species of giant hominids living in these isolated locales.

When Paloma expresses her doubt, I say one word.

Coelacanthe.

For the ichthyologically uninclined, the coelacanthe is a gigantic fish believed to have gone extinct during the Cretaceous period some sixty million years ago. Then, in the late 1930s, fisherman began pulling living coelacanthes out of the waters off the coast of Africa, proving the existence of an animal that had existed as nothing more than local folklore.

In college, one of my buddies knew of a door to the biology building that often remained unlocked. Late one night as we were downing one last round, he suggested a trek across campus to take advantage of this access.

We wandered the dimly-lit hallways of the massive building which I had rarely had reason or need to visit. And there, imprisoned in a glass tube in a display case was a fully preserved coelacanthe, five-foot long and covered in scales resembling armor.

We stood there for a moment staring at a creature who had not changed since a time when its ancestors swam the seas while dinosaurs roamed the land.

Here are four random songs that shuffled up on the iPod from bands that might be considered extinct…

The La’s – There She Goes
from The La’s (1990)

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 little more than 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.

Eurythmics – Missionary Man
from Revenge (1986)

Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox’ decade-long run as Eurythmics seemed to come to a close following 1989’s We Too Are One. Since then, the duo have reunited periodically but their only new release has been Peace in 1999 and, according to an interview with Stewart last year, there are no plans for future collaborations.

Eurythmics were coming off of the highly-successful Be Yourself Tonight – which had included Would I Lie To You? – when they issued Revenge in the summer of 1986. Missionary Man was one of the pair’s most mainstream rock efforts and provided the two with their last significant hit singles in the States.

Concrete Blonde – Caroline
from Bloodletting (1990)

Concrete Blonde was one of my favorite discoveries while in college and I quickly snagged each and every album the trio released, though most of their records were uneven.

Bloodletting was their momentary breakthrough with Joey becoming a hit and the title track getting some airplay on modern rock stations, too. For me, the wistful Caroline was one the band’s finest songs and featured some riveting, serpentine guitar courtesy of James Mankey.

The group wasn’t able to sustain the momentum and split in 1997 before reuniting for a couple albums in the early 2000s. And, like the coelacanthe, Concrete Blonde might not be entirely extinct as the band’s website lists some live dates from December of last year.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits (1994)

INXS was introduced to us in the States with 1983’s Shabooh Shoobah. Several friends were impressed, but aside from the brilliant Don’t Change, I was mostly indifferent. However, one of those friends was compelled to purchase INXS’ two previous albums as pricey, Australian imports and, thanks to his incessant playing of the band’s music, I became a fan.

Within five years, INXS was one of the biggest acts in the world with 1987’s Kick selling millions and spawning hits like Need You Tonight, Devil Inside, and Never Tear Us Apart. Kick‘s successor, X, arrived in 1990 and managed to be moderately successful, but the band’s commercial fortunes continued to decline in the ’90s.

INXS seemed to be done with the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence in 1997, but reality television intervened and the group had a brief reunion almost a decade later.

(of course, as anyone familiar with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary knows, sometimes dead is better)

The Stairs initially appeared on X and, though not a hit, other than Don’t Change, it might be the best thing that INXS ever did.

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If You Don’t Read This Post, The Terrorists Win

February 5, 2013

dropI’m not going to gild the lily here, partly because I’m a straight shooter, but mostly because I am neither a metallurgist nor a botanist.

For the past year or so, we’ve been receiving an increasing amount of traffic here with each month attracting more hits than ever before. It seemed as though the good times would never end.

However, something has happened in the last week. Traffic here has plummeted to less than half of what it had been over the last six months.

In the corporate world, this situation would be conveyed by a sixty-three minute conference call with the center of attention being a slide with a line moving steadily at a forty-five degree angle in a northeasterly direction. Then, boom, the line drops straight south.

It’s quite odd.

The easy thing to do would be to blame al-Qaeda, but I’m not here to name names or point fingers.

Instead, we choose to earn your traffic. And, if you’ve got nothing else, sex sells.

Here are four sex songs…

Berlin – Sex (I’m A…)
from Pleasure Victim (1982)

Berlin was a band that I knew in early ’83 by reputation only as the L.A. band had caused a stir with the lyrics for their song Sex (I’m A…) and a lot of stations across the country wouldn’t play it.

I heard the song later that summer. My buddy Beej returned from a couple weeks in Arizona with albums by bands that he’d discovered on a Phoenix alternative radio station and Pleasure Victim was one of them. I dug it, but I was a little underwhelmed considering the hoopla.

Years later, I’d interview lead singer Terri Nunn who was an absolute sweetheart.

Soul Asylum – Sexual Healing
from No Alternative (1993)

Not long after Soul Asylum released their breakthrough Grave Dancers Union in late 1992, the Minneapolis band came through town. A good dozen or so of us from the record store where I was working attended the show.

To the surprise of those of us that had worked a shift together earlier that day, the opening act Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ set featured a guest appearance by a shoplifter we had busted who rushed the stage, sang a few lines with the lead singer, and exited with a poorly received stage dive.

A year later, Soul Asylum appeared on the benefit compilation No Alternative with their run-through of the Marvin Gaye classic Sexual Healing.

Eurythmics – Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)
from 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) (1984)

Eurythmics were coming off Touch and several hits from that album – Here Comes The Rain Again, Who’s That Girl?, and Right By Your Side – when they were commissioned to provide the soundtrack for the remake of 1984.

Apparently, the selection of the duo was at odds with the film’s director, and much of the music was unused in the finished product. Meanwhile, American radio wouldn’t touch the single Sexcrime and, though it was a minor hit, I never heard the song on any station at the time.

Bow Wow Wow – Sex
from Girl Bites Dog (1993)

I have close to a hundred tracks by Bow Wow Wow, the result of the band’s catalog (and several compilations) being reissued at some point in the ’90s and the promotional copies which I was provided.

Now, despite having so much Bow Wow Wow at my fingertips, I can conjure up maybe half a dozen of their songs in my head.

As charming as I find the band and as adorable as Annabella Lwin might have been, there is a repetitiveness to Bow Wow Wow’s music that leaves much of their oeuvre indistinguishable to me.

(of course, it is the repetitiveness of those chanted choruses that made songs I Want Candy and Do You Wanna Hold Me? staples of ’80s New Wave compilations)

I couldn’t recall if I’d ever heard Sex or not when I queued it up. It’s certainly Bow Wow Wow.

It has the twangy surf guitar.

It has the manic, tribal drumming.

And it has Annabella yelping.

But the song is practically an instrumental and she could be yelping about sex…or sushi…or Scatman Crothers.

It is fun, though and kind of reminds me of Talking Heads’ I Zimbra.


The A-Team

January 29, 2013

AI got sucked into The A-Team on cable.

Three hours later, I had watched about an hour and a half more of the exploits of Hannibal Smith and friends in movie form than I had ever watched of the television series.

As I was a kid at the time The A-Team initially aired, I was well aware of it. It was enormously popular for awhile and I imagine I undoubtedly checked it out for ten or fifteen minutes on a Tuesday night.

(with five, six channels and no cable, the viewing options were limited)

I was fifteen when The A-Team arrived. I think I essentially shrugged it off as simplistic.

And Mr. T…I remember the first kid in our neighborhood that had made it into The City to catch the previous summer’s blockbuster Rocky III. The next morning, we gathered as usual for a pick-up baseball game.

It was June and the sun beat down on us. It was already hot.

The lot of us were sprawled out on the grass, sweltering, breakfast digesting as Alvin recounted to us the plot of Rocky III and we hung on every word.

He was a generally quiet kid but he verbally jitterbugged as he excitedly got the first few moments out.

And he stopped.

He seemed crazy from the heat, like some addled prospector wandered in from the desert telling tales, as he slowly told of the beast that was Rocky’s opponent, Clubber Lang as played by Mr. T.

Clubber had a Mohawk.

Clubber mostly growled.

Clubber was unstoppable.

His destruction of Rocky for the heavyweight title was done with a stunning savage efficiency.

When we all finally got to see Rocky III – it arrived in our small town’s theater pretty quickly – we might have been rooting for Rocky, but we were in awe of Clubber.

Clubber was soon overshadowed by Mr. T. It seemed he was everywhere – talk shows, magazines, commercials.

Clubber had been a frightening creation. Mr. T soon began to grate on my nerves.

I was also spending more time listening to music during the years that The A-Team originally aired and the show wouldn’t have had enough appeal to pull me from doing so.

As for the movie, it was a decent popcorn flick unburdened by preconceptions or childhood memory.

The A-Team debuted almost thirty years ago to the day. Here are four songs from albums that were also arriving that week in 1983…

Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger
from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)

By the time Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) was released, several singles had been issued and failed to gain traction. In the States, it took until summer, but the title track finally clicked and gave the Eurythmics a breakthrough hit that topped the charts.

Sweet Dreams might be better remembered, but I’ve always preferred the chilly Love Is A Stranger.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1983)

Todd Rundgren’s commercial peak had expired about five years before I was listening to music. However, my friends and I were exposed to the music of Runt – both past and present – through our buddy Bosco. He was a Rundgren fanatic and each new release from the man was an event.

According to the internet, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a contractual obligation album and considered a throwaway, but I’ve remained quite found of the set.

(though I need never, ever again to hear Bang The Drum All Day – ever)

And I do love the clanging call to action, Drive. It makes me want to go to work tomorrow, burn down my office building, load Paloma and the animals into The Jeepster, and do as the title suggests.

Journey – Send Her My Love
from Frontiers (1983)

Journey’s follow-up to the iconic Escape was the most eagerly anticipated album of my young life in January, 1983. Separate Ways arrived as Frontiers‘ first single and it quickly became a Top Ten hit.

And, a week or so before the full album arrived in stores, I stayed up to tape Frontiers when it was played on Frog’s Midnight Album, which aired nightly on WEBN.

I played that copy of Frontiers incessantly until I made it into Cincinnati and to a record store to purchase an actual cassette. Even as I listened to it repeatedly into the summer, I could hear it as a calculated attempt to replicate Escape.

However, the haunted Send Her My Love would have been a worthy addition to Frontiers’ predecessor.

Red Rider – Human Race
from Neruda (1983)

Canadian band Red Rider never got much love here in the States. They’d get a smattering of airplay on our album rock stations and the moody Lunatic Fringe was deservedly a staple (even if I doubt most listeners could have named the band performing it).

I seem to recall hearing the sparse, eerie Human Race occasionally that spring and it’s a compelling mix of straight-ahead rock with a slight New Wave vibe.