A Toast To Whiteray

September 4, 2009

Some time ago, I mentioned Roxy Music to a couple of co-workers, both older than me, one of them having spent ten years in the music industry.

That remark was met with a blank stare.

After spending ten minutes giving a rough history of the band, offering examples of their influence, and explaining their place in rock music, I realized my audience was unimpressed.

(with both Roxy Music and me)

There was a time when pretty much everyone in my orbit would have known of Roxy Music – whether they were fans or not. During my vagabond days working in record stores, the mention of Roxy Music would have prompted one friend to interject Brian Eno into the conversation.

The Drunken Frenchman would have regaled us with some tale – some more obscure than others – about Roxy Music, Brian Eno, or whatever artist that was the subject of debate and/or discussion.

(the experience of listening to rock and roll lore as told by The Frenchman was akin to what I imagine it to be like listening to an old mariner telling tales from the briny deep)

Sometimes passions flared, but it was a collective passion for music that was ever present.

Now, the deepest discussion I hear from co-workers about music revolves around some kid on American Idol performing Hallelujah with no knowledge of Leonard Cohen, who wrote the song, or Jeff Buckley, who put his indelible stamp on it.

It’s made the numerous blogs focused on music – and a wide variety of music – such a wonderful surrogate for a time when hour upon hour would be dedicated to similar banter among friends.

Which is why it’s disappointing to read that Whiteray, author of the wonderful Echoes In The Wind, is on, what I hope, will be a brief hiatus.

Like JB over at The Hits Just Keep Comin’ (as well as the other destinations to which I’ve provided links on your right), Whiteray has a knack for chronicling the music that has meant so much to him, doing so in a manner that is engaging, amusing, and informative.

It isn’t even necessarily the music about which he wrote that made me a faithful reader. Though the music sometimes doesn’t connect with me, his affection and enthusiasm for his subject matter is like listening to one of my friends from back in the day.

So, here’s hoping to read something from you soon, Whiteray. Morning coffee won’t be the same without you.

Here are some songs that were on Billboard’s chart this week in 1982, a time when my own love of music was taking root…

The Go-Go’s – Vacation
from Vacation

The title song for The Go-Go’s follow-up to their massive debut Beauty And The Beat is giddy beyond repair (even if it does detail the end of summer). Fittingly, the first time I heard it was blaring from the car radio on a family vacation.

Years later, I’d interview Go-Go guitarist Jane Weidlin which was a true highlight of my music journalism endeavors (such as they were).

Elton John – Blue Eyes
from Jump Up!

Sir Elton’s output post-’70s has been a bit erratic. Of course, how could anyone have been expected to match the heights he did during his heyday?

I don’t think I cared for Blue Eyes at the time, but, nearly three decades later, I never tire of hearing John croon this simple, uncluttered ballad.

Jackson Browne – Somebody’s Baby
from Fast Times At Ridgemont High soundtrack

Fast Times At Ridgemont High was the movie for me and my friends in 1982 and was endlessly quoted. It also provided Jackson Browne with a song that was always on the radio late that summer.

Eddie Money – Think I’m In Love
from No Control

Eddie Money never aspired to reinvent fire. Instead, you knew that he was going to offer up straight-ahead, no-frills rock and roll, but, when he nailed it, he nailed it.

Few songs sounded better on the radio during the late summer of ’82 than Think I’m In Love

I Saw Styx Live And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

April 27, 2008

As a smoker, when I choose to enjoy tobacco during the workday, I am confined and corralled into a designated area like some livestock animal with a highly contagious disease. I don’t mind. I note that fact because you become a regular, seeing the same familiar faces each day as we all get a nicotine fix and a brief respite from the drudgery of our respective vocations.

I took note of one compatriot yesterday. It wasn’t because she bears an uncanny resemblance to washed-up ’70s glam rock icon and erstwhile convicted sex offender Gary Glitter in drag (or what I imagine he would look like in drag). What caught my eye was the Jackson Browne t-shirt she was wearing and, when she turned around, I realized it was a concert shirt (and of recent vintage, listing 2008 tour dates). It reminded me of a recent conversation with Paloma during which she lamented the vintage rock band t-shirts which are now a staple of retailers such as Target or readily available at stroke of a keyboard. Her implication – when we were kids, you earned your concert shirt.

The shirt in which Gary Glitter’s female doppelganger was clad was noticeably unworn and I have little doubt that it was purchased at the event. It tripped my thoughts to flashbacks of my high school years. Although we were far from the madding crowds, living in the sticks, there were three major markets for tours within a two-hour drive of our sleepy, agrarian hamlet. The day after a tour date in any of these nearby outposts of civilization, the hallways would be dotted with classmates attired in the badges of their triumphant attendance, adorned with the images of Van Halen, Billy Squier, Def Leppard, and The Kinks (who remained popular where I grew up both before and after their early ’80s resurgence).

Is this ritual still in place these days? Do these cloth trinkets still carry the same weight and afford the wearer with a cachet of cool? Or, as Paloma fears, has the ease and accessibility stripped concert shirts of such mystique?

Styx – Mr. Roboto
Yes, my very first concert was Styx and it so happened to be the infamous 1983 Kilroy Was Here tour, complete with a fifteen-minute movie prior to the band taking the stage which set-up the album’s concept of a dystopian future where rock music was banned (and everyone in the States had lost their jobs to robots from Japan). It almost wasn’t so as my mom had read a newspaper article about the band and the backwards masking on their song Snowblind (from 1981’s Paradise Theater). It’s quaint now to think that Styx was briefly thought to be in league with the devil (some music purists might concur), but it forced me to argue my case that my attendance would not be the first steps down a path to Hell. The ticket cost $13 and my first concert shirt – featuring Mr. Roboto’s leering mug – set me back another $16.

Rush – Tom Sawyer
Although we were only two hours from several venues, lack of funds, transportation, and ambition thwarted numerous potential concert ventures for me and my friends. There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity. Again, a ticket, shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less in 1985 than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

Survivor – Eye Of The Tiger
Survivor was hardly a hip pick to see live, although they were a constant presence on rock radio throughout the summer of 1985 with several songs from their Vital Signs album. The price of admission to see Survivor included a day at the theme park adjacent to the amphitheater where they performed and the band were rock enough for me and my friend Brad, but commercial enough to appeal to our girlfriends at the time. My decision to commemorate the occasion by purchasing a shirt remains inexplicable.

Warren Zevon – Searching For A Heart
From the time I entered college until the present, I have now seen hundreds of live shows, but I believe the last time I purchased a concert shirt was the one I bought fifteen years ago when I saw Warren Zevon perform for the third and what would prove to be the final time. Not only possibly the most comfortable t-shirt of any kind that I have ever owned, it also had a very cool skull with a cigarette dangling from its mouth on the front (which would be a kind of logo, appearing on the backs of Zevon’s later albums). The venue was a small club and there are two persistent memories, one being the idiot behind me who screamed for Zevon to perform Mohammed’s Radio after every song. I can’t recall if he ever did, but he did play this lovely (and surprisingly) heartfelt ballad which Warren introduced by observing, “This song has been on three movie soundtracks in the past year and I’m really hoping it becomes a hit, so I won’t have to be @#$%&! playing Werewolves Of London in Vegas when I’m seventy.” Additionally, a dear friend played bass in a band with the Lennon Brothers (who would have some success with their band Venice), who supply the gorgeous harmony vocals on this song.