Cover Me

June 19, 2010

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

It’s freakin’ hot and I swear that sweat was beading inside my ears the other day.

Our treehouse sanctuary – most of the second floor of an old house – is a delightful place in the spring and autumn with the many windows open and gentle breezes wafting through the dwelling.

Summer can be a survival test.

(especially a summer as oppressive as this one – technically not even here, yet – has been)

Now, as we live in modern times, we do have refrigerated air, but, having glimpsed a peak at the air-conditioning unit several years ago when it was being repaired, the technology behind it is of the same vintage as the rest of the building.

It was certainly constructed out of surplus bi-plane parts.

The unit does work given its technological limitations, but, once the temperature reaches a threshold of ninety degrees or so (as it has been for the past week), it’s a losing battle and impossible to keep the indoors temperature inside below eighty.

(we hit eighty-three the other day)

It’s sleeping that separates the men from the insomniacs.

And despite the sweltering heat and stifling humidity – it’s a moist heat – I have come to the realization that I cannot sleep without covers.

Perhaps it’s something that goes back to childhood and the need to pull the blankets up to my nose to keep the dangers of the dark at bay.

There’s no doubt that a layer of cloth and/or down provides ample body armor against any kind of mysterious, ravenous creature lurking in the darkness under the bed or in the closet.

The roots of this personal quirk are irrelevant. It’s ingrained.

And I’ve got no shot at sleep unless – no matter how hot it might be – I have some covers.

To celebrate this obsession with covers, it seems appropriate to offer up some cover songs. Scrolling through the iPod, there is no shortage of such tracks, so here are four of them…

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

I quite liked John Denver as a tyke (and this was pre-Muppets). The songs were pleasant and his television specials – him traipsing around mountain settings wearing his floppy hat while communing with nature – appealed to my five-year old self.

Truth be told, I still quite like some of his stuff, including the wistful Take Me Home, Country Roads.

Taking that song 180 degrees in the other direction is the hyper-charged take by the beloved cowpunk quartet Jason & The Scorchers. From the opening, it’s quite clear that they’re making the song their own.

Fetchin Bones – Super Freak
from Galaxy 500

Mixing punk, blues, and country into a distinctive sound, North Carolina’s Fetchin Bones were never quite able to break to a wider audience beyond the college rock crowd. It’s two bad because their trio of albums, produced by the noted Don Dixon, are well worth the price of admission and lead singer Hope Nicholls is a force of nature.

Their version of Rick James’ signature song surprised me when it popped up on shuffle on day. I had totally forgotten about it and probably hadn’t heard it in the twenty years or so since I had first purchased Galaxy 500.

Bruce Springsteen – Trapped
from USA For Africa

There was quite a hulaballoo about USA For Africa in 1985. The American entry into the African famine relief effort by musicians spawned the inescapable charity single We Are The World and the full album gathered tracks by some of the biggest acts around at the time.

And, at the time, few acts were experiencing success on the scale of Bruce Springsteen whose Born In The USA was still reeling off radio hits a year after its release. With the public clamoring for anything Springsteen, the Boss’ cover of reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s Trapped got a lot of airplay and the song would likely make the cut for any Springsteen compilation I’d put together.

The Sugarcubes – Motorcycle Mama
from Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary

In 1989, Elektra Records celebrated their 40th anniversary by gathering an array of then-current acts to cover songs from throughout the label’s illustrious history.

(and likely planting the seeds for the spate of tribute compilations that arrived on a weekly basis during the ’90s – thank you for that, Elektra)

Amongst the tracks on the double album was one by The Sugarcubes who were currently darlings of the college rock scene. The song which they opted to contribute was by the early ’70s duo Sailcat who had notched their lone hit with Motorcycle Mama.

It’s a very cool cover which makes me smile as Bjork belts out the lyrics about hitting the open road with gusto. Oddly enough, Paloma grabbed a copy of Sailcat only album on vinyl one day and it’s not a bad record.

97X, Again

July 30, 2009

A few weeks ago, a television commercial spurred me to reminisce about the discovery of 97X during my musical formative years. It prompted me to do a bit of research.

I’ve been well aware over the years how fortunate I was to grow up having 97X in a radio landscape that was mostly Journey, Foreigner, and Styx.

(not that I’m necessarily anti-Journey, Foreigner, and/or Styx)

I did not know that 97X was one of the earliest stations in the country to adopt a modern rock format.

The view from my bedroom as a kid might have been a vista of cornfields, but, beginning in the autumn of ’83, 97X made it possible for me to discover Talking Heads, U2, Peter Gabriel, and other future staples I wasn’t hearing on other stations.

I’d forgotten that the station broadcasted from studios at an unused golf course.

(I always pictured Caddyshack when this was mentioned)

Reception was dodgy. It wasn’t a station that my friends and I listened to when we were in possession of a car. 97X was a station I’d listen to mostly alone on winter nights while not doing homework.

(meanwhile, several friends were doing the same)

Like most radio stations these days, 97X has a website from which you can stream their broadcast.

(actually, 97X is no longer a terrestrial station)

More intriguing to me than their current playlist is the fact that the site also offers a vintage channel. It’s heavy on acts like The Clash, The Smiths, The Pixies, and such, but it seems to lack some of the lesser-known acts that they played at the time.

The Suburbs come to mind as 97X used to play their song Love Is The Law religiously. I haven’t heard the song in twenty-five years and, though I heard it daily for months on end, I can’t even remember the chorus.

It’s kind of like Dee Dee Deuser, a girl who sat next to me in kindergarten. I can’t recall for the life of me what she looked like, but three plus decades later, I remember the name.

(of course, you don’t forget a name like Dee Dee Deuser)

Each Memorial Day, 97X would count down the Top 500 modern rock songs of all time. Finding the list for the countdown from 1989 online allowed me to build a playlist that surprised me in its breadth and depth.

Here are a few songs that popped up randomly…

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It
from The Colour Of Spring

In 1984, I saw the video for Talk Talk’s It’s My Life more than I heard it on radio (even though it was a hit). The hypnotic Life’s What You Make It was from their next album and the only place I heard it was 97X.

After The Colour Of Spring, Talk Talk got progressively more…umm…progressive. Their music on the successive albums – Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock – was a melange of classical, jazz, and ambient improvisation, and, though I own them and they have been critically lauded, those records require a serious commitment.

Fetchin’ Bones – Stray
from Galaxy 500 Plus

Sometimes funky, sometimes with a bit of twang, Fetchin’ Bones rocked harder than Athens contemporaries like R.E.M., Pylon or B-52s (all staples on 97X). Singer Hope Nicholls is formidable like Niagara Falls is wet.

Stray is a corker, but I’m still partial to their song Love Crushing – “Be my flesh blanket and lay upon me” – from Monster.

The Jam – That’s Entertainment!
from Sound Effects

On those archived lists of 97X’ Top 500, there was no shortage of songs by The Jam and, still, I don’t recall them from my years listening to the station. It’s likely they were simply too British for me to take notice.

Nonetheless, I do remember when I first did take notice of them and it was sitting in Paloma’s apartment years ago and her playing Sound Affects over and over. It’s impossible now for me to hear That’s Entertainment! and not hear her singing along (and adding her own exclamation point).

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Could You Be Loved
from Uprising

There’s no doubt in my mind that 97X was the first place I ever heard reggae. Surprisingly, the radio stations that I had to choose from in 1983 in Southeastern Indiana didn’t find a place for Marley, Jimmy Cliff, or Peter Tosh alongside REO Speedwagon and John Cougar.

Fortunately for me, 97X offered me a healthy dose of all three reggae greats.

If You Eat At Pappy’s Shack, You Have To Get The Onion Ring Fried Chicken

May 28, 2008

In the days prior to the Memorial Day three-day weekend, I repeatedly answered queries regarding my plans simply – “couch,” “eat something,” “sleep,” “scratch an itch”. I desired little more.

Whether it was my recent post mentioning chicken or the fact that I’d freebase fried chicken if I could, I decided to treat Paloma to one of my patented food-related road trips – a journey that would take us forty-five miles into the hinterlands, through Pasquo, Tidwell, and Brushy Creek to the Beacon Light and their much-celebrated fried chicken (at least according to blurbs found on the internet).

Of course, the price for Paloma’s participation was a quick shopping side-trip to a mall on the way. Now, I haven’t frequented malls since I was skipping school in tenth grade, but I harbor no conceit against them. They are, quite simply, the American version of street markets in other parts of the world (albeit more superficial).

While waiting, I noticed numerous pairs of people, clearly there together, and both of them speaking on cell phones.

Why? If the people on the other end of the call were so important, why weren’t these people there with them rather than each other? Two men stood there, chattering into their phones outside of Pottery Barn Kids. Maybe they were calling their wives.

“Yeah, honey, it’s me. I’m at the mall. Yeah, with Bob. Anyhow, we’re headed to get a big pretzel and we’re outside Pottery Barn Kids and I thought I’d call and see if you wanted me to pick up any pottery for the kids.”

I digress. We eventually arrived at The Beacon Light, a small roadside establishment crowded with numerous folksy items for sale – small, stone bird baths, wood carvings, and homemade fudge. The fried chicken was divine.

The following morning, while at the grocery store, I noticed onion ring batter and thought to myself that fried chicken coated in onion ring might be a feast indeed. I’m not sure if such a thing exists or the responsibility for bringing this culinary delight to life rests with me.

Deep down, I suspect that I long to be a fried chicken mogul like Col. Sanders, Mrs. Winner, or Popeye. Perhaps the hungry masses will know me as Pappy and come far and wide on the simple recommendation of a stranger on the internet.

I, obviously, would.

Fetchin’ Bones – Chicken Truck

Stereo MC’s – Chicken Shake

Beastie Boys – Finger Lickin’ Good