In The Darkest Corner Of A Cemetary On The Edge Of Town…*

October 30, 2011

Growing up, there was no house in my hometown that the kids passed warily, whispering amongst themselves as they eyed the dilapidated structure and weed-riddled, overgrown yard reined in by nothing more than a decaying wrought iron fence.

However, I know from the television and movies I’ve consumed over my life, that everyone else had such a landmark in their life.

In fact, I can think of nothing in my small hometown that had a paranormal bent to it – no legends, no lore, no creatures lurking in the woods. There was simply no sinister goings on and never had been.

(perhaps the townsfolk lacked imagination)

The closest thing to the macabre I recall was one grave.

On the southwest edge of town, one street led to a small, non-descript bridge. There were fewer homes as you approached the bridge, even though it was no more than a twenty-minute walk from the center of town; travellers crossed into a vast stretch of sparsely populated farmland.

It was dark out that way at night.

A classmate lived in a massive, three-story Victorian which was one of the last houses before reaching the bridge. Running past their home, off the main street, was a tree-lined lane which led to a cemetary a half-mile or so down the gravel road.

The trees grew more dense as you walked deeper into the grounds, culminating in thick woods, separated from the cemetary by a small ravine.

There was little reason to go back there. There were a number of places for the high school kids to escape from supervision, so that cemetary wasn’t even a gathering place where minors might smoke or drink.

But, there, under a canopy of thick trees, was a rectangular, stone slab, with weather-worn scripture quotes and no name.

At one end of the slab was a small stone lamb with no head.

The story our classmate had told us was that, a hundred years earlier, the property had been owned by a well-known racist. Hunting in those woods one day, he spotted a young Native American girl on the far side of the ravine.

Then, like Roland did to Van Owen in Warren Zevon’s Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, the racist land owner raised his gun and blew off the Native American girl’s head.

“Her head popped off and rolled into the ravine.”

It was the Native American girl supposedly buried beneath that slab.

I suppose that it would make the tale eerie if townsfolk claimed to have seen a headless spirit or heard mournful wails from those woods.

If there are such stories, I’ve not heard them.

Here are four songs for the Halloween season…

Outlaws – (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
from Ghost Riders (1980)

The radio station in our small town had flipped from Top 40 to country around the time that Southern rockers Outlaws released their cover of (Ghost) Riders in the Sky. The radio in the kitchen was usually tuned into the station and I think I heard it every morning for months on end during breakfast before school.

I was just beginning to be interested in music at the time and the spectral song always caught my attention as I listened for the school closings, hoping that the previous night’s snowfall was enough to merit a reprieve from trudging into the elements.

Annie Lennox – Love Song For A Vampire
from No More I Love You’s single (1995)

If it’s between vampires and werewolves, the lifestyle of the latter holds more appeal to me. Chicks might dig vampires, but immortality sounds exhausting, you have to dress like a dandy, and you can’t go in the sun.

As a werewolf, you’re like a big dog, you don’t have to wear pants and you can pee wherever you please.

As for the ex-Eurythmics vocalist, I prefer my Annie to be more edgy like her classic stuff with partner Dave Stewart, but even on something more slight – like her track from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula – her voice is still mesmerizing.

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon
from Bark At The Moon (1983)

I could never take Ozzy Osbourne seriously, certainly not after seeing the goofy covers for albums like Blizzard Of Oz, Diary Of A Madman, and Speak Of The Devil. However, the ex-Sabbath singer was a favorite of most of my junior high/high school classmates.

Then, Ozzy issued Bark At The Moon and the hallways were filled with hushed whispers usually reserved for a cheerleader pregnancy over the inclusion of So Tired, a ballad, on the album.

But I do dig some of Ozzy’s catalog and the lupine-laced Bark At The Moon is good fun.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

All You Zombies, with its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. Though Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, the Philadelphia band’s debut had several hits over the next year or so.

Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks), but main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian have certainly received some nice royalty checks over the years for penning Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

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Love For The Band Whose Debut Was One That “No One With Ears Would Give A Second Listen”

October 8, 2011

It was some time in early autumn of 1990 when I read that assessment of Concrete Blonde’s self-titled debut in a copy of the Trouser Press Record Guide.

I tucked the book back onto the shelf and, as I left the bookstore, reached up and felt the sides of my head.

I had ears – I needed somewhere to put my ear buds – and, in my backpack, I had cassettes that contained all three albums by the trio of Los Angelenos.

I’d missed Concrete Blonde’s Trouser Press-disapproved debut from three years earlier and the 1989 follow-up, Free, had also gone unnoticed by me.

(though I had seen – and taken note of – the video for God Is A Bullet a few times on MTV’s 120 Minutes)

I finally became hip to the apparently unhip band with Bloodletting and that discovery was also made watching 120 Minutes late one Sunday night with the video for Joey.

Joey, a plea to an alcoholic, became an unexpected hit single – reaching the Top Twenty on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 in the US – and Bloodletting, a spectral brew of gothic-tinged, punk-influenced alternative rock, was a fixture in my Walkman throughout the autumn and winter.

The two earlier albums were soon added (and enjoyed) though neither Concrete Blonde or Free got listened to as much as Bloodletting.

(few albums were listened to as much that winter as Bloodletting)

I remained a devotee of Concrete Blonde up through 1993’s Mexican Moon, on which there was a windswept, Southwestern vibe, and was bummed out when the band split shortly thereafter.

(though I did have the good fortune to see them live)

Pretty & Twisted, which saw Concrete Blonde lead singer Johnette Napolitano join with ex-Wall Of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland, offered an enjoyable fix with their lone self-titled album.

And then, unexpectedly, Napolitano and guitarist James Mankey united with Los Angeles-based Chicano punk band Los Illegals for 1997’s Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals before vanishing again.

Napolitano and Mankey have reunited a few times since, but I haven’t heard much aside from Group Therapy a decade ago and that album didn’t really pull me in.

I spent a lot of time in the ’90s with the music of Concrete Blonde.

There are still stretches of a few days, every so often, during which I will dial up some of the one hundred and fifty-some Concrete Blonde tracks on the iPod.

And Trouser Press be damned, I can’t help but think that Concrete Blonde was one of the more underappreciated alternative rock acts of their time and much of their music still sounds pretty cool two decades on.

Here are a pair of songs each from a quartet of Concrete Blonde albums…

Concrete Blonde – Joey
Concrete Blonde – Tomorrow, Wendy
from Bloodletting (1990)

The seedy underbelly of Los Angeles often provided a backdrop as well as the film noirish characters to populate Concrete Blonde’s songs as in Joey, their best-known song which addressed addiction. The mid-tempo track was highlighted by Napolitano’s raw vocals and Mankey’s serpentine guitar.

On Bloodletting, the band conjured an atmospheric vibe that was almost dreamy and no song was more haunting than Tomorrow, Wendy, a song about a woman dying of AIDS and written by another ex-Wall Of Voodoo member, Andy Prieboy.

Concrete Blonde – Ghost Of A Texas Ladies Man
Concrete Blonde – Les Cœurs Jumeaux
from Walking In London (1992)

Following up their greatest success, Concrete Blonde returned with the eerie Ghost Of A Texas Ladies Man, a song driven by Mankey’s twangy guitar as Napolitano recounts a tale of spectral seduction that, apparently, was based on an experience she’d had at The Driskill Hotel in Austin.

Les Cœurs Jumeaux is a bit of a departure for the band, a lush, romantic ballad partially sung in French that conjures up the feel of a walk along the Seine on a moonlit night.

Concrete Blonde – Mexican Moon
Concrete Blonde – Heal It Up
from Mexican Moon (1993)

As much as the urban vibe of Los Angeles provided inspiration for the music of Concrete Blonde, the band also incorporated elements of Hispanic music and culture – subjects of particular interest to Napolitano – into the mix. Rarely did this fusion prove more effective than on the shimmering, evocative title track to their 1993 album.

Heal It Up strips things down to a straight-ahead, snarling rock song delivered with some ferocious vocals from Napolitano.

Concrete Blonde – Everybody Knows
Concrete Blonde – 100 Games Of Solitaire
from Still In Hollywood (1994)

Concrete Blonde performed a lot of cover songs during their career, mining the work of acts including Cheap Trick, Jimi Hendrix, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan, putting their distinctive twist on the material.

Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows found the band in fine form as the trio turned the song into a brooding rumination on the darker aspects of human nature.

A previously unissued B-side, 100 Games Of Solitaire is an ode to wanderlust where “any place with a bar and a bathtub’s all right.” Twangy and grungy, you almost feel the need to shake the dust off your boots by the song’s end.


The Era Of Canadian Bacon Is Upon Me

October 2, 2011

It’s an exciting time to be alive and I’m not referring to the jetpacks, hovercrafts, teleporters and such.

No, it’s bacon.

Canadian bacon.

It’s not really Canadian Canadian bacon (which is, actually, back bacon) but American Canadian bacon (which was invented by McDonald’s).

I brought up the subject once with a Canadian friend and he dropped his head, shaking it slowly back and forth. Like the stereotypical Canadian, this fellow was polite and generally good-natured.

“That’s not bacon,” he sighed.

I’d seldom seen him so peeved as he was over this perceived sullying of the good name of Canadian cured meats.

I was moved by the fact that the rarely witnessed state of agitation had not been brought about by politics or religion, finance or romance, but bacon.

I doubt I had ever respected him more.

But, several weeks ago on the weekly trip for foodstuff, a yellow sale tag in the meat section of the store lured me like a siren’s song to Canadian bacon.

I’d never purchased Canadian bacon though I had enjoyed it on Egg McMuffins.

Now, I’m hooked.

No, it’s not bacon, but it is meat, enchanting stuff blurring the line between ham and strip bacon.

It isn’t the greasy chore to make like strip bacon is and it is the perfect size for an English muffin.

It’s pretty damned wonderous stuff.

(even Paloma, often a reluctant carnivore, is smitten)

Here four slightly random songs from Canadian acts…

Rush – The Body Electric
from Grace Under Pressure (1984)

By 1984, I’d begun to spend most of my radio time listening to album rock stations, of which I had a pick of perhaps half a dozen in our swath of the Midwest depending on the reception.

(if conditions were favorable – usually at night – I’d try to pull in the modern rock of 97X, instead)

So, I was hearing a lot of Rush, particularly their more-accessible, synthesizer-laden albums of the time like Moving Pictures, Signals and Grace Under Pressure. Sure, the stoners in band were most passionate about the band, but Rush was held in high regard by most of my high school classmates.

Though not essential Rush, the galloping The Body Electric had an android on the lam, binary code for a chorus, and a reference to a work by Ray Bradbury, making for a pretty groovy mix.

I Mother Earth – So Gently We Go (acoustic)
from So Gently We Go single (1994)

The Toronto-based foursome I Mother Earth will forever be, to me, one of the great lost bands of the ’90s and one that served as an introduction to me on the harsh realties of the music industry.

With a sound that fused elements of then-current bands like Jane’s Addiction and Sound Garden with Pink Floyd and Santana, I Mother Earth was also one of the most ferocious live acts I’ve ever seen.

(I think I tested Paloma’s patience when I obssessed over the band for a few weeks recently)

So Gently We Go appeared on the band’s 1993 debut Dig and here in a stripped-down version here that highlights a trippy stoner vibe that was often present in their music.

Kim Mitchell – Go For Soda
from Akimbo Alogo (1984)

Guitarist Kim Mitchell has apparently had a long and successful career in his native Canada, but the only thing I’ve ever heard is Go For Soda, a minor hit here in the States.

My friends and and I dug the song and it inspired a game we played often our senior year of high school. If we decided to “Go for soda,” the object was to leave school grounds, get to the Kroger supermarket (it was the closest food), and return in time to attend our next class with a bag full of snacks.

We had ten minutes

The Pursuit Of Happiness – I’m An Adult Now
from Love Junk (1990)

I was still in college when I first heard I’m An Adult Now and was greatly amused by the humorous take on growing up. It’s still a pile-driving, power-pop tour de force (produced by Todd Rundgren) that I adore, but the humour is a bit more gallows in nature now.