Which Way To Cool?

April 28, 2011

Having no older siblings, I had no older siblings to influence my musical tastes or to bequeath me their albums.

My parents would play albums by Roy Orbison, Ray Price, and The Statler Brothers on the wood-grained, late ’60s cabinet console stereo in the living room.

The radio in the kitchen would be tuned to the station in our small town which was ’70s light rock (and, by the ’80s, country), but it was mostly for news and weather.

The earliest memories I have of music is from hearing it on the car radio and the acts that come to mind are ones like The Carpenters, America, Jim Croce, and The Fifth Dimension.

(apparently by the time my folks hit thirty, they had already settled in with light rock)

We had music class in school, but it was a kind of random class that popped up when least expected and never seemed to progress beyond an explanation of quarter notes and measures.

There were scattered moments during those years that music made it into the classroom.

A third-grade teacher was obsessive about Alice Cooper. Though I don’t think she ever played the stuff in class, she sure as hell blathered on and on about him.

(undoubtedly the source of my abstinence from Cooper’s music for many, many years)

A teacher in fifth-grade would play Jethro Tull on occasion.

(I still can vividly picture the album cover to Heavy Horses)

In seventh-grade, we spent several days in one class – religion, if I recall – listening to sides from Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants and I remember being fascinated.

By that time, I knew who Stevie Wonder was and could likely name a song or two. I was starting to listen to the radio and the station of choice for this new world was a Top 40 station out of Cincinnati that was popular with my classmates.

The friends with the older siblings quickly moved on to the cooler album rock stations.

Without such direct influence I made some dubious missteps – believing Asia to be one of the greatest bands in the history of humankind in ’82 – but I also didn’t have someone so close scribbling on my blank slate.

And, along the way, there’s been a lot of music – good and not so good – and a lot still resides on the iPod. So, here are four mostly random songs from shuffle…

Los Lobos – Peace
from Kiko

Los Lobos has a rich catalog of genre-defying music far beyond their smash cover of Richie Valens’ La Bamba. With 1992’s Kiko, the group, collaborating with producer Mitchell Froom, issued what might be their finest album.

Kiko is truly an album best enjoyed as a whole and I didn’t immediately recall the shuffling Peace, but I’ve come to realize that I never listen to a song by Los Lobos and feel it’s been time misspent.

Fossil – Josephine Baker
from Fossil

Paloma gets credit for discovering Fossil, pulling their lone, 1995 release from the stacks of promo CDs I had in my apartment at the time. It’s quite possible that we listened to that self-titled album more than anything else for months on end.

There’s little info out there on the quartet, though the band was apparently signed to a management deal by Hilly Kristal after two gigs at CBGBs. Not that Fossil sounds like any of the bands that come to mind when I think of that famed New York City venue.

Instead, Fossil had an otherworldly, alternative rock vibe, melodic yet quirkly. On the lilting Josephine Baker the lead singer pines for the famous dancer, imagining the pair as the toast of 1920s Paris.

Blondie – One Way Or Another
from The Platinum Collection

Now, Blondie is more what I think of when I think of CBGBs. I wasn’t listening to much music in 1978, but I did know and love Blondie’s shimmering Heart Of Glass and though One Way Or Another was the follow-up single and a Top 40 hit, I don’t really remember hearing it at the time.

I don’t think I heard the frantic song until a copy of Blondie’s The Best Of Blondie arrived in the mail. It was one of my initial dozen selections from the Columbia Record & Tape Club and it quickly became a favorite.

Styx – Half-Penny, Two-Penny
from Paradise Theater

Paradise Theater was one if the first cassettes I owned and one that I definitely wore out back in 1981. I knew it backward and forward.

(but mostly forward because, you know, it sounded more legible that way)

And near the end of side two was the muscular Half-Penny, Two Penny. The song just sounded so wicked with the guitar heroics, anthemic chorus, and James Young’s gruff vocals.

Where Do All The Freaks Work Now?

December 6, 2008

It’s not breaking news that a confluence of numerous forces has altered the music industry, changing the game for music fans forever. One result of these changes, though, is the demise of the brick-and-mortar record stores that were so prevalent for forty years.

These stores were often the refuge for freaks and social misfits and, with the vanishing record stores, these folks are not unlike animals driven from an ideal habitat by the clearing of a forest or prairie. Where will they go?

For a moment, I thought coffee shops, but I don’t know if a barista could get away with the antics that we did in the store at which I worked for several years (at least not at such high volume).

Our store was probably one of the fifty biggest in the States and we had a constantly rotating cast of 50-60 employees. I served for seven years and have been gone for more than a decade, but for years after I’d be approached by strangers who knew me from the store.

There was a core staff, though, which took on the structure of an incredibly dysfunctional family of the tattooed, pierced, and those with multi-colored hair (with more in-breeding than you’d find in Deliverance).

We had something for everyone – Goths, punks, skaters, stoners, metalheads, Rastas, and more, including some carbon-based lifeforms that were simply unidentifiable. The one thing that most of us had in common, aside from a desire to evade responsibility, was a love for music. It was the customers (or mufkin gumbies as we called them) for whom we had little use. Ironically, this disdain was actually viewed by many as part of our store’s charm.

We had a bomb threat. We had fights. We had adventures with shoplifters who, in addition to having to deal with the cops, would be subject to the staff’s scrutiny of their items. Our jazz expert, a burly kid with hair to his waist and a beret, would rifle through the CDs from the foiled heist, labeling each one “weak ass shit.” Once, he stopped mid-inspection, looked up at the thief in custody and shook his head. “Man,” he sighed, approving of the choice – a Barry White disc – if not the method of acquisition, “you were stealing the Walrus Of Love.”

We had a security guy whom we dubbed Quest For Fire for his lack of evolutionary success. We had a Cheech, a Nappy, a Vegas, a Mustafa, a New Broad (she worked there a year and remained dubbed New Broad for her entire tenure), and The Frenchman. We had more rumors than Hollywood. We had two former employees that wrote Belinda Carlisle’s Mad About You. We had one couple that actually got married.

I met my Paloma, who was the store artist.

We spent innumerable hours at the restaurant next door where happy hour started at 11:00 and ran for the rest of the day. I spent a six-month stretch honoring one of my favorite cinematic characters by having cake and several glasses of wine for lunch. We had an esprit de corps fostered by better living through chemistry.

We were a fine example of the inmates running the asylum.

We had a lot of fun, did a bit of work, and had a home.

The sheer number of free music I got through those years, as anyone who has spent time in a similar environment will know, was staggering. Five thousand CDs? Eight thousand? Maybe ten thousand? Here’s a few surprising gems I chanced across…

Fossil – Josephine Baker
When I became the buyer for our record store, it was not uncommon for me to receive upwards of 150 promo CDs in a given week. They were filed in stacks around my apartment, two feet-, three feet high. It was often Paloma who would pull something out which I had missed or not even heard. I believe Fossil’s album was one of them.

There’s scant information out there on the band. They were from Jersey and they only released one full-length album, but, perusing the comments on Amazon, those who heard it fell in love with it as much as we did. It’s well worth the couple dollars for which you can certainly acquire it.

The Devlins – Someone To Talk To
The Devlins debut was one which I believe I turned Paloma on to – two Irish brothers by the name of, not surprisingly, Devlin (or, as Paloma – who has some mental block with their name – calls them, The Delvins).

One of the writers over at the most excellent Popdose did an interview with one (both?) of the Devlins recently and I actually had the chance to see them live, years ago, when they opened for Sarah McLachlan.

Kent – 747 (We Ran Out Of Time)
There is (was?) a cigarette brand called Kent and I also have a dear friend named Kent. This is neither. Instead, Kent is a Swedish band that arrived on US shores around the time that Radiohead was blowing up and their sound is comparable – epic and melancholic.

Like The Devlins, I had the chance to see Kent live. It was at a three-day festival and, as fate would have it, I was the only one among my friends who had heard (or heard of) Kent. And, as fate would have it, the band performed at the same time that Isaac Hayes was performing on another stage. My friends opted for Isaac; I went with Kent (and, quite honestly, feel no regret over the decision).

Satchel – Suffering
Satchel really deserves an entire blog entry to themselves. A friend at Sony turned me on to their debut, EDC, and the band was an off-shoot of the Pearl Jam off-shoot Brad (which had featured Pearl Jam guitarist stone Gossard).

EDC was, quite simply, a masterpiece – moody and ethereal with lead singer Regan Smith’s amazing vocals at the forefront. Predictably, the album stiffed. In fact, I’ve been told that EDC was the worst-selling album in the history of Sony which is bafflingly inexplicable given the quality of the record (as well as the equally poor-selling – and equally brilliant – follow-up The Family) and the Pearl Jam connection.