Ladies And Gentlemen, Boys And Girls…The Accordion

December 10, 2012

happywanderersWhile trekking about this morning, I had the Sirius tuned to the Bruce Springsteen station because, as you might be aware, there is no channel devoted to The Smiths.

As Be True blared from the speakers, The Big Man was – as the jazz cats might say – blowin’ notes and it occurred to me that the saxophone has all but vanished from rock and roll over the past several decades.

Then, it occurred to me that, though the saxophone might not be as prominent in rock music as it might have been in the ’50s and ’60s, at least the instrument does have a time-honored place within the genre.

Then, there is the accordion.

I learned a lot of things from the movie Ishtar. It aired often on cable in the late ’80s and when it comes to trekking forty-five minutes through snow and a sub-zero wind chill to a ten o’clock class or watching Ishtar on cable…at home…where it’s warm…Ishtar it is.

Aside from learning that it is unwise to buy a blind camel, a lyric from a song in the movie has stuck with me…

Telling the truth can be dangerous business
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand
If you admit that you play the accordion
No one will hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

As a child of the ’70s/’80s, I also am well aware that, growing up, Dennis DeYoung played the accordion. I’m not disinclined toward the former leader of Styx, but cool does not come to mind when I hear his name.

There is “Weird Al” Yankovic, who first came to me and my friends attention in junior high school when My Bologna got a lot of airplay, but, after immediately thinking of Springsteen’s 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), I struggled to think of other rock songs that made use of accordion.

A bit of quick research and I suddenly had a lengthier list of stuff that I owned with accordion. Here are four of them…

Billy Joel – The Downeaster ‘Alexa’
from Storm Front (1989)

I was in Thailand when Storm Front was released in late 1989, but when I returned to the States at Thanksgiving my dad mistook R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It for Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire, already the album’s mammoth initial hit.

I’ve always dug The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ on which Joel sings about the plight of Long Island fisherman with the driving music capturing the nautical vibe. In addition to accordion, there’s some cool violin credited in the liner notes to “World Famous Incognito Violinist.”

(rumored to have been Itzhak Perlman)

k.d. lang – Constant Craving
from Ingénue (1992)

As I was working in record stores, I knew the name k.d. lang as her early records arrived in the latter half of the ’80s. But, she was filed under country, so I couldn’t have been less interested at the time.

By the early ’90s, I was working in a much, much larger record store and I was invited to see lang shortly after Ingénue was released. So, the first time I ever heard lang’s music was live and I was blown away. She remains one of the more captivating live acts that I have ever seen.

Ingénue went on to be the singer’s commercial breakthrough and leading the way was Constant Craving with its mesmerizing melody – “borrowed” several years later by the Rolling Stones on Anybody Seen My Baby? – and lang’s yearning vocals.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
from Peepshow (1988)

I wasn’t a fan of everything by Siouxsie & The Banshees, but there was stuff that I thought was brilliant and quite inventive. They’re undeniably one of the iconic acts of modern rock.

Peepshow, on which Peek-A-Boo first appeared, got a lot of play in the record store where I worked in college. Peek-A-Boo was genius – a bizarrely hypnotic pop song comprised of samples, backwards masking, accordion, discordant guitar, and Siouxsie Sioux’ haunting vocals.

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining (1983)

Good for The The’s Matt Johnson getting a boost to his bank account from This Is The Day being used in commercials for M&Ms. Critics’ favorite Johnson was largely ignored in the States, though I’d occasionally hear The The on 97X at the time.

The The mostly reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved them – or him as The The was essentially Johnson – in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

They Were Going Where No Man Had Gone Before But They Were Going Without Me

January 20, 2011

I would be in my teens before cable television was available and, thus, my first experiences and earliest memories of the medium were limited to a handful of channels.

There were the three major networks, PBS, and two independent channels.

Of those two independent channels, our reception for one was so poor that most of the time it was just possible to make out shapes that might have been people.

Or possibly trees.

The station – from across the river in Northern Kentucky – taunted me when I’d leaf through the TV Guide, searching for something to entertain me. There, next to the small box with a nineteen in it, something would be listed that was far more interesting than the offerings on the channels available.

Channel 19’s line-up was heavy on syndicated kid favorites like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch with late night reserved for horror/sci-fi b-movies.

It was as though I had a ten-year old doppelganger programming an independent television station.

So, I’d optimistically flip to the station, hoping that it was one of those rare nights on which reception was good and I could try to watch The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant through snow flurries.

Usually, I’d find myself staring at a full-blown blizzard.

But the one show that the station aired which I wanted to experience more than any other was Star Trek. The show had ended its network run before I could read and, though it hadn’t had the resurgence it would by the end of the ’70s, I was somehow aware of it.

(I think that a classmate, Kate, with whom I was quite smitten, was a fan)

I had to see it.

And the only station airing Star Trek was the one that I was unable to watch.

I tried, making efforts on a nightly basis, hoping against all hope that the reception might be good enough for me to meet Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise.

It didn’t happen.

It was maddening.

Soon, channel 19 would amp up its signal and Star Trek would be a staple on other channels, but, as kids at such an age are prone to do, I had lost interest.

I’d eventually see the first five movies that the series spawned, but, to this day, I’ve never seen an entire episode of the television show or any of its spin-offs.

During the time that I was not watching Star Trek on channel 19, I witnessed Capt. Kirk perform Rocket Man on some sci-fi film award show (which aired on the other independent station).

It boggled my ten-year old mind.

Here are four random songs by acts that, like Capt. Kirk, are from Canada…

k.d. lang – World Of Love
from All You Can Eat

I had never really listened to k.d. lang when I got dragged to one of her shows following the release of (but before the mainstream success) of 1992’s Ingenue. It was a free ticket and I figured what the hell.

Lang turned out to be one of the most charismatic live performers I’ve ever seen, possessing a genial personality and a wickedly charming sense of humor. Though I own a handful of her albums, I often forget what a stellar body of work she’s produced with songs like the lush, sophisticated pop song World Of Love.

Neil Young – Buffalo Springfield Again
from Silver & Gold

It seemed as though every time I looked up in the late ’80s and first half of the ’90s that Neil Young was releasing a new album to rave reviews. I was partial to the grungier stuff with Crazy Horse like Ragged Glory and Sleeps With Angels.

I still prefer the Neil that rocks.

But the mellow Buffalo Springfield Again, from 2000’s Silver & Good, is wistful and endearing as Neil reflects on his first band.

Jane Siberry – Calling All Angels
from When I Was A Boy

A friend at a record store in college introduced me to the eccentric music of Jane Siberry with 1987’s The Walking. Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of her catalog and, much like Neil Young’s, Siberry’s oeuvre takes some zigs and zags.

I first heard the achingly beautiful Calling All Angels when it appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Until The End Of The World, one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time. A year or so later, the track was on her album When I Was A Boy, a record that, if I compiled a desert island list, would certainly make the cut.

And, as further evidence confirming my suspicion that everyone in Canada knows everyone else, the voice heard duetting with Siberry on Calling All Angels is k.d. lang.

Arcade Fire – Wake Up
from Funeral

I’ve become quite loopless to new music since the turn of the century. I’d heard of Arcade Fire and knew that lots of folks were twitterpated over the band. I’d even checked out a few of their songs, but I was only lukewarm about them.

Then I heard Wake Up in the trailers for Where The Wild Things Are and was blown away. It’s an epic that roars to life and soars like a rocket.

I still haven’t delved any further into Arcade Fire’s music – there’s barely time to listen to all of the music I already love – and perhaps I never will, but we’ll always have Wake Up.


September 10, 2009

I’ve been hesitant to actually make this move as I’m so used to how things work at my former residence. However, Half Hearted Dude touted the ease of WordPress and, knock on silicon, so far, so good.

A quartet of tracks in motion…

The Cars – Moving In Stereo
from The Cars

Paloma mentioned her affection for The Cars the other day. She also declared her feelings that they haven’t gotten as much due as they should.

I think I’d agree that maybe they haven’t gotten as much hoopla as some bands of their era. If you were listening to radio in the late ’70s/early ’80s – especially during the summer of ’84 – you certainly knew their songs.

Primal Scream – Movin’ On Up
from Screamadelica

There are a handful of songs that never fail to make me smile. Movin’ On Up is one of them.

k.d. lang – Just Keep Me Moving
from Even Cowgirls Get The Blues soundtrack

Even Cowgirls Get The Blues always seemed to get the most attention, but, when it comes to the works of Tom Robbins – from whose Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas we adopted our name – I much prefer Skinny Legs And All and Jitterbug Perfume.

Anyhow, Just Keep Me Moving was a nice contribution by k.d. lang to the soundtrack.

Neneh Cherry – Move With Me (Dub)
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack

One of the best assembled movie soundtracks of the ’90s was the one for Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World. In fact, it was the lure of a new Peter Gabriel song that prompted a roommate and I to catch the movie in the theater (putting us in the company of a select few).

The hypnotic simmer of Move With Me is likely to surprise folks who only know Ms. Cherry from her 1989 hit Buffalo Stance.