Everyone Wants A Cookie

December 1, 2011

Some time ago a friend, who is now well on the way to owning his own island (or perhaps a gellato shop in Costa Rica), summed up his previous life as a slave to the corporate world with one single word.

“Demeaning.”

I suppose that, with so many people not having a gig since the grown-ups crashed the economy in a quest for each and every last dollar, it could be considered poor form to admit that I agreed with his assessment.

(of course, it is disconcerting to know that, if you do want to have the little niceties in life – food, rent money, basic cable – you likely will answer to blathering archetypes)

Maybe it’s due to reading so much in the news on the Occupy protests, but it’s become an increasing challenge to wanly receive marching orders from people who all but hand out gold stars for performance.

(seriously…stickers for our desks have been proffered as a reward in the past and it’s a short, slippery slide from stickers to stars)

As I do work in the corporate world, the Occupy folks have been viewed with great disdain by those who are, by little more than proximity, my peers.

As I listen to them yammer on about the subject, I keep thinking of something I read years ago about a teacher who wanted to illustrate to her students the division of the world’s wealth amongst its inhabitants.

Children were divided into groups representing the continents relative to that continent’s portion of global population.

The children were then given cookies representing the share of global wealth of their respective continent.

The result was that four children representing Africa had one cookie while two representing North America had twenty-eight.

We could debate and argue whether the wealthy of the world or the US are entitled to such riches and likely do little more than go ’round in circles.

But it is a universal truth that people do want cookies and when, rightly or wrongly, a few people have more cookies than they could consume in several lifetimes while others get only cookie crumbs, there’s going to be a problem.

So, as we enter the season of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men and such, here are four songs addressing the one thing – other than cookies – that most everyone wants…

Cyndi Lauper – Money Changes Everything
from She’s So Unusual (1983)

I first heard Cyndi Lauper on alternative rock outlet 97X in the autumn of ’83 when the station played the quirky songstress’ Girls Just Want To Have Fun incessantly. Months later, it started popping up on the mainstream pop stations.

A year later, She’s So Unusual had sold a billion copies or so, Lauper was an MTV-driven phenomenon, and her cover of The Brains’ Money Changes Everything was the fifth and final hit from the album.

Randy Newman – It’s Money That Matters
from Land Of Dreams (1988)

Randy Newman is on the lengthy list of artists whose catalog I’ve long intended to check out more closely.

(the list simply gets no shorter)

But I dig the stuff I do know by Mr. Newman and I was paying attention when I heard the wry It’s Money That Matters as the song features guitarist Mark Knopfler and, at the time, I was going through my celebrated Mark Knopfler period.

Rush – The Big Money
from Power Windows (1985)

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

Pet Shop Boys- Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)
from Please (1986)

Like Cyndi Lauper, I might have also first heard Pet Shop Boys on 97X. I do know that my buddy Streuss thought West End Girls was Al Stewart.

(Neil Tennant’s vocal does have a similar nasally quality)

West End Girls was a massive hit and it’s a nifty little song, but I prefered the follow-up and its cynical hook, “You’ve got the brawn, I’ve got the brains , let’s make lots of money.”

(its more amusing in a song than in the real world)

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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.


A Hole In The Middle Of Summer

July 17, 2010

Last summer, I noted that I’d watched Major League Baseball’s All-Star game for the first time in years.

This summer, I mostly ignored the game again.

I watched a bit of the home run derby competition (and what I watched was uneventful). I spent most of the time trying to figure out if David Ortiz had actually gotten busted for performance-enhancing drugs, if he had been investigated for such hijinks, or if there had merely been rumors.

(that grew wearying and I lost interest in the contest)

I actually tuned in for the game in time to witness some well-meaning, but disturbingly-executed pre-game ceremony honoring good-deed doers. It gave me flashbacks of Up With People performing at the Super Bowl in the ’70s.

I watched the player introductions, recognizing no more than one of every three names, and began channel-surfing before the first inning had ended.

From the mid-’70s on, into the first years of the ’80s, the All-Star game was must-see television for me, an event that was anticipated for weeks. With only a couple national games each week, it was the chance to see players that you mostly had read about or saw brief highlights of on This Week In Baseball.

(that show was also appointment viewing each Saturday afternoon)

But somewhere along the trip, baseball became less a source of fascination to me. There are a lot of reasons, but it occurred to me that I might well be collateral damage from the 1981 players strike.

The plugged got pulled on the season in mid-June. Cleveland’s Len Barker had pitched the first perfect game in thirteen years and Fernando Valenzuela had been a sensation pitching for the Dodgers.

There was no baseball for two months, essentially the entire summer.

And plotting the timeline, it was the summer of ’81 during which music was taking on an increasing importance in my world. The time that might have been devoted to reading boxscores in the sports pages or watching a game was spent listening to the radio and becoming acquainted with the hit songs of the day.

In August, as the beginning of a new school year was bearing down on us, the strike ended and the baseball season resumed with the All-Star game. I’m sure I watched and I would continue to watch, but things had changed.

Baseball was never quite as important to me and it only became less so by the time I headed off to college a half decade later. By the time another strike wiped out the World Series in ’94, the sport was on life support for me.

Even if baseball hadn’t abandoned me that summer, I imagine that music would have still eclipsed my interest in the sport. I was thirteen and music was part of the required trappings of being that age.

Here are four of the songs that were filling the space that baseball had left during this week in 1981…

Rick Springfield – Jessie’s Girl
from Working Class Dog

In 1981, I was unaware that actors weren’t supposed to sing (and, usually, with good reason). Of course, I doubt that I was aware that Rick Springfield was a soap opera star aside from a DJ mentioning it in passing.

But Springfield was a musician before finding success on television and there was no denying that Jessie’s Girl was insanely catchy (as were most of his hits during the decade). Though there would be friends in my future who had girlfriends that I thought were fetching, none of them drove me into a state like Jessie’s girl drove poor Rick.

Marty Balin – Hearts
from Balin

Would I have know of Jefferson Airplane and/or Starship when Marty Balin scored a solo hit Hearts? Perhaps I knew the band’s more recent hits like Jane or Find Your Way Back, but I doubt I knew classics like White Rabbit, Somebody To Love, and Miracles.

I certainly had no idea of Balin’s connection to the legendary band unless, again, that information was passed on to me by the DJs playing the song or, perhaps, Casey Kasem, whom I had discovered earlier that summer.

Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight
from Face Value

Despite the dozens of hits that Phil Collins has had both with and wthout Genesis, I’d have to think that In The Air Tonight, his first solo hit, is the one for which he will be remembered. Not only are there the various urban legends about the song, but the cavernous drum sound would become Collins’ signature.

Add in the song’s use in the movie Risky Business and the television show Miami Vice as that program was becoming a phenomenon – as well as numerous commercials in the ensuing thirty years – and you have one of the more iconic hits of the early ’80s.

Greg Kihn Band – The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em)
from Rockihnroll

The Greg Kihn Band had a handful of hit songs including the mammoth Jeopardy in 1983, but the power-pop act wasn’t really able to break out beyond fringe status.

However, they got a lot of radio airplay in my corner of the midwest with songs like Happy Man, Reunited, and Lucky. As my friends and I became more interested in music, several of them were especially devoted to the San Francisco band, snagging each new release as soon as it was issued.

Though Jeopardy might have been the bigger hit, that song has nothing on the lean, wiry and concise The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em). In under three minutes, Kihn had me hooked with the song’s singalong chrous and his stuttered vocal at the end of each verse.