“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head”

March 15, 2012

Yes, though I might recently have questioned Morgan Freeman’s aquarium-related advice, I find the words of his iconic character Red from The Shawshank Redemption appropriate this morning.

In less than three hours, the true opening round of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament – as opposed to the cash grab “first four” – tips off.

For the first time in many years, I have arranged to be home to bask in ten hours or so of college hoops, the entire venture goosed by having upgraded to HD television.

I’ve noted in years past that the time period during which I was in college coincided with the rise of ESPN and the availability of all of the tournament’s games. The lax schedule of a college student allowed me to take advantage of the situation and my attendance of a university that was a hoops power in a basketball-mad state made doing so justifiable.

So, early this morning I took care of getting one of our animals to the vet and – aside from retrieving her later this afternoon – my agenda is juggling four channels’ worth of basketball with the added bonus of my alma mater’s return to prominence and two nearby universities also participating, one of them being a highly-touted upset pick.

I’m as giddy as Red headed to Zihuatanejo, so giddy that I’m considering having pizza for breakfast.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a college freshman and likely having pizza for breakfast as my school was beginning a run that would end up with them winning the championship three weeks later.

Here are four songs from cassettes that would have been in my Walkman at the time…

Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over
from Crowded House (1987)

Led by Neil Finn and including fellow ex-Split Enz member Paul Hester, Crowded House garnered more attention with their first single than Split Enz ever had in the States. It was certainly deserved as the wistful and haunting Don’t Dream It’s Over is as classy as pop music gets.

Of course, I can no longer hear the song without thinking of its evocative use in the mini-series of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic book The Stand. The song gave added poignancy as it played over scenes of a barren, empty world, lingering on a shot of a teddy bear bobbing in the surf on a beach.

Paul Simon – The Boy In The Bubble
from Graceland (1986)

Though Graceland had been released at the beginning of the school year, it took months for mainstream attention to catch up to the critical kudos the album received upon its release. I was well exposed to the album from its arrival by a music major on my dorm floor who quickly embraced Paul Simon’s collaboration with some of South Africa’s most respected musicians.

The song that stood out to me – aside from the rustic postcard that was the title track – was the loping The Boy In The Bubble and its surreal juxtaposition of imagery.

‘Til Tuesday – Coming Up Close
from Welcome Home (1986)

Like most guys watching MTV in 1985, my friends and I were left slack-jawed and smitten with Aimee Mann in ‘Til Tuesday’s video for Voices Carry.

Image aside, ‘Til Tuesday made three very good records, shedding members over the course of those albums. By the time the band reached its end after Everything’s Different Now, Aimee Mann had guided their sound from chilly New Wave to a more organic, guitar-jangling alternative rock.

That sound had been hinted at on the group’s second album, especially on the stellar – and surprisingly twangy – Coming Up Close.

U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name
from The Joshua Tree (1987)

Released the week before the tournament began in 1987, The Joshua Tree was the first album I ever bought on CD on the day of release. I had already been a rabid fan since discovering War through a high school friend as, in the Midwest, the band was still a little-known, cult act.

That changed quickly with the release of the first single, With Or Without You, and I still vividly recall putting the CD into the player for the first time, hearing the bracing, windswept opening of Where The Streets Have No Name, the album’s opening track and realizing that my favorite band was now going to be a mainstream juggernaut.

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Scribblings

February 1, 2012

The Drunken Frenchman once told me that “if you’re good with your barkeep, you’re good.”

Earl was our barkeep and, with him, we couldn’t have been better.

And The Iguana, a local bar with a quasi-cantina vibe where he plied his trade, was a reliable place to find grist for my imagination

From one night’s worth of notes…

Dave sits nearby, a sodden sort who perpetually attempts to engage me in conversation. He’s not good with his barkeep, nursing his drink as though he intends to still be drinking it when The Rapture arrives.

Elizabeth Shue is sitting alone, sipping a Bud Light.

(it’s not really Elizabeth Shue but, rather, a reasonable facsimile)

Would Elizabeth Shue drink Bud Light?

There are snatches of conversation everywhere.

“I keep a place in the city, but I’m building a townhouse.”

“I think I’m a nympho.”

“Five grand and they’re all mine.”

Gina Zinnia is several seats down, perched at the corner of the bar; devouring a burrito as though she is performing origami with knives. I know her name because she has announced it in a shrill voice that has surely awakened the dead for George Romero’s next movie.

She has been babbling without pause for forty-five minutes about her opera singer father, a bad flight to Seattle, the time she was lost as a girl scout (I suspect she was abandoned), and numerous other traumas both small and smaller.

Her date sits slack-jawed and inert, certainly wishing for death or a stronger drink.

“To make a long story short…” says Gina.

I now know better. Gina Zinnia has never made a long story short. She has, however, made short stories into excruciatingly painful, long epics.

A blonde nearby – a model she claims – is lamenting for all to hear that she’s not in New York and nothing compares to New York and she should know because she just got back from Paris.

I want to write a bad country song and call it This Imperfect World Doesn’t Suit My Perfect Ass.

A smartly dressed young fellow is leaning against the bar, waiting for his drink and reeking of cologne. He waves to someone he obviously knows on the other side of the watering hole.

“I’ll be right back,” he tells his companion as she makes no effort to hold back a yawn.

“No,” she says. “Take your time.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?”

He asks the question flirtatiously, but, in the most honest moment, in this particular bar, on this particular night, the girl replies, “Yeah.”

Here are the first four songs to catch my fancy on the iPod…

Phantom, Rocker & Slick – My Mistake
from Phantom, Rocker & Slick (1985)

Take two Stray Cats (Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker) and add journeyman guitarist Earl Slick and you have the short-lived trio Phantom, Rocker & Slick.

The ferocious Men Without Shame got a lot of airplay when the self-titled debut arrived in late ’85 and though My Mistake apparently got some attention, too, I don’t ever recall hearing it.

The threesome hardly reinvents fire, but My Mistake is a loose, bluesy rocker that recalls The Stones.

Porno For Pyros – Pets
from Porno For Pyros (1993)

Perry Farrell’s post-Jane’s Addiction venture failed to capture the imagination or interest of his previous band, but there are some pretty cool tunes on both of Porno For Pyros’ albums.

On the atmospheric Pets, Farrell considers a world where humans have been supplanted as rulers of the planet, noting that “We’ll make great pets.”

(personally, I’d opt for a dog, cat, or howler monkey)

Lone Justice – Ways To Be Wicked
from Lone Justice (1985)

Lone Justice had quite a buzz surrounding them when they were burning down the clubs on the Sunset Strip of Hollywood.

(or so I was reading at the time in Rolling Stone)

Everything would have seemed to be in place for the band’s success, including a lead single written by Tom Petty in Ways To Be Wicked. Instead, Lone Justice remained a cult band and critical darling favored for their ramshankle country rock and the sultry vocals of lead singer Maria McKee.

Duran Duran – Rio
from Rio (1982)

Duran Duran hooked me the first time I heard Hungry Like The Wolf. The song seemed to be always on the radio during the first few months of 1983 (and the song’s video a staple on the fledgling MTV – though our small town wouldn’t get the channel ’til the following summer).

Q102, the station of choice for me and my friends, was playing Rio well before Hungry Like The Wolf had worn out its welcome. Though I much preferred the latter, Rio‘s manic charm proved to be irresistible as well and made its parent album one that most of us owned.


Dennis Hopper

June 1, 2010

Scrolling through the filmography of Dennis Hopper, I realized that I’ve only seen about half a dozen of his films and that several that would be considered essential aren’t on that list.

I’ve seen Straight To Hell, but I haven’t seen Giant.

I’ve seen Waterworld, but I haven’t seen Blue Velvet.

I’ve seen portions of Easy Rider and, honestly, I can’t say that it moved me.

(maybe, like Woodstock, it helped to have been there)

But, I have been a fan of Apocalypse Now since high school when my buddy Streuss used to cue it up often when we’d all end up hanging out in his den at the end of a Friday night.

Even today, one of my friends and I make attempts to rattle off some of Hopper’s manic verbiage from the flick…

…”One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics.”

That’s insane, man.

And, of course, there’s Hoosiers.

I grew up in Indiana and one of the schools in our conference was the tiny high school that provided the inspiration for Hoosiers.

In college, I attended Indiana University at a time when the basketball team was a perennial contender for the national title (actually winning it at the end of my freshman year).

So, I had a frame of reference when Hoosiers arrived in theaters at Thanksgiving in 1986. It was during the first semester of that freshman year and it was my first time home since starting school.

A handful of high school friends, also home from college, and I headed to Cincinnati one morning like we had done so many times only a year before. And, after roaming the malls and browsing for music, we caught an afternoon showing of Hoosiers.

I don’t know how accurately The Godfather movies portrays the Mafia or if Platoon is more than one man’s take on Vietnam, but I do know that Hoosiers nailed high school hoops in our part of the state.

Hooper scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayel of the town drunk Shooter, attempting to get sober, whose son is on the team.

We too had our town drunk (actually several), Duck. He was a gangly, goofy fellow who moved furtively like Don Knotts. I used to see him around town, particularly at the bowling alley and he’d affably offer a greeting.

Shooter finds redemption as an assistant coach, helping the team win a game when he has them run “the picket fence.”

(I think Duck once bowled a 300)

That Thanksgiving break, when we saw Hoosiers, was one of the last times I think so many of us were together. Over the next few years, our clan got distracted, scattered, and – for the most part – lost touch.

Duck dropped dead in his beloved bowling alley several years later.

And, now, Shooter has staggered off the court for the last time.

I have no doubt that some music was purchased on that Thanksgiving trip, but I have no specific recollection of what albums I might have snagged. Here is a quintet of songs from albums that I did acquire late that autumn…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere

Prior to his turn in The Wall, I was wholly unfamiliar with Bob Geldof and/or The Boomtown Rats. The band’s one, brief brush with US success, I Don’t Like Mondays, hit our shores a few years before music was of much interest to me (not that it likely got any airplay in our region).

By 1986 – post-Band Aid, post-Live Aid – I was well familiar with Geldof and the Rats and had collected most of the band’s catalog.

So, I was eagerly anticipating Geldof’s solo debut, Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere, and subsequently disappointed with most of it. However, I loved the moody plea This Is The World Calling which features Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet, and Lone Justice’s Maria McKee on backing vocals.

Billy Idol – To Be A Lover
from Whiplash Smile

Several of my friends had worn out Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell when it came out our sophomore year of high school. Little did we know that we wouldn’t hear from Idol again ’til we were in college.

That Thanksgiving break, he returned with a rollicking single, To Be A Lover, a cover of a late ’60s hit by soul singer William Bell.

The Pretenders – Don’t Get Me Wrong
from Get Close

Like Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders had been on a relately lengthy layoff since 1984’s Learning To Crawl, another record that had been quite popular with us during our sophomore year.

Though it wasn’t quite as strong as Learning To Crawl, Get Close was the last album by The Pretenders that I truly gave a lot of attention. And, leading things off was the energetic, giddy Don’t Get Me Wrong with its video homage to the classic British television series The Avengers.

Lone Justice – Shelter
from Shelter

Lone Justice’s self-titled debut album garnered a ton of rave reviews, but I didn’t hear it when it was released in early 1985. However, with their name still in mind, I snagged a copy of the Little Steven-produced follow-up, Shelter.

Though the title track got a lot of airplay, the album was a disappointment to those that had championed their earlier effort, criticized for being slick and over-produced. True, there is a late ’80s sheen to Shelter and less rockabilly influence, but lead singer Maria McKee possessed one of the finer set of pipes of the period and, though it isn’t as raw and immediate, the song (and album) are still worth checking out.