One Penny

April 13, 2011

I’ve lamented the lack of music easily available to me pre-drivers license.

There was a small section devoted to albums, cassettes, and 45s in the one diminutive department store of my hometown. There couldn’t have been more than three hundred titles and the lot of it would have fit easily into our den.

(which was of the typical, Midwestern, wood-paneled variety, circa 1979)

This lack of a proper record store was hardly an issue for the first year or so as this small selection of music available to me was strictly the most popular stuff – AC/DC, Journey, Styx…

It would be another year before I would be searching for titles that might require a trip to the nearest record stores, fifty miles (and several hours spent with the parents) away.

As I made my way through the final months of junior high in the spring of ’82, the sum of my music collection was, perhaps, half a dozen cassettes including Christopher Cross’ debut, Journey’s Escape, and J. Geils Band’s Freeze Frame.

I was hardly cutting edge. I was a thirteen-year old kid in a town that sometimes didn’t make the map and those handful or so of titles had been purchased with most of the little wealth I had at that age.

So, it was a momentous morning that spring when, sprawled on the den floor leafing through the Sunday paper for the comics, I stopped, mesmerized by the text on the insert.

The bold headline promised me a dozen titles for a penny and my eyes scanned the titles from which I could choose.

I had certainly seen this offer before but my interest in music had reached a critical mass and I had to own more. This was a no-brainer and as I penciled in my selections I chose with the careful consideration of someone manning a key in a missile silo.

And so, I entered into a contractual obligation as a member of the Columbia Record & Tape Club.

Four to six weeks later I arrived home from school to hours and hours of music, the smell of newly-opened cassettes filling the air.

Each month, a new catalog arrived and I pored through the titles as I fulfilled the however many tapes it took for me to fulfill the deal.

I suddenly had a music collection.

I soured on the club by the following spring for the lack of liner notes. The stuff Columbia House had licensed would have a simple paper sleeve with the album cover art.

I needed more.

And, as my friends and I now had drivers licenses, I no longer needed Columbia House.

I don’t recall all of the cassettes I snagged with that intial haul of a dozen. There was Queen’s Greatest Hits , The Best Of Blondie. and Air Supply’s debut.

Here are four songs from four tapes which I do know arrived on that glorious April afternoon in 1982…

Joan Jett And The Blackhearts – Victim Of Circumstance
from I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

The title track from Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was a juggernaut. The song caught my ear the first night I heard it and, within a day or two, everyone at school was abuzz about it. The song dominated Q102’s Top Ten At Ten for what seemed like forever.

By April, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll had been joined in the nightly countdown, on various evenings, by several other songs from the album including Crimson And Clover, You’re Too Possessive, and the driving Victim Of Circumstance.

(the latter two being about as close to punk rock as most of us had ever gotten)

Loverboy – Take Me To The Top
from Get Lucky

I’d wager that radio in our part of the Midwest had to have embraced Loverboy as much as anywhere south of their Canadian homeland. Not only did the hits from their first couple albums – Turn Me Loose, The Kid Is Hot Tonight, Working For The Weekend – get played incessitantly, other songs got plenty of attention, too.

Take Me To The Top was an album track that all of the rock stations were playing. The moody, mid-tempo song had the expected Loverboy mix of synthesizer and guitars that was heard blaring from every Camaro in town.

Aldo Nova – Fantasy
from Aldo Nova

The deciding factor when I selected that chosen dozen was, usually, song recognition. I wanted songs that I had heard, preferably on the radio but, also, on the jukebox at the bowling alley.

(hence the Queen and Blondie compilations)

One title on which I “gambled” was the debut by Canadian Aldo Nova. The cooler-than-cool Fantasy was the only song I had heard, but I dug it so much I had to get the full cassette.

Quarterflash – Find Another Fool
from Quarterflash

I’ve duly noted how fetching my friends and I found Quarterflash lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross to be. And, for a brief year or so, the usually mellow rockin’ group notched a few hits.

I suppose the only song most people remember Quarterflash for is Harden My Heart, but the follow-up Find Another Fool was quite popular at the time, too. It’s got a far more frantic feel with a similar lyric of a woman scorned and is a bit like the kid sister to some of Pat Benatar’s more New Wave-tinged tracks from the early ’80s.

Let The Games Begin

February 13, 2010

The first Olympics that I remember were the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria in ’76. Mostly I recall staying up late, sprawled out on the shag carpet in front of the television. People with unusual hats from places I’d never known existed were playing crazy wintertime games.

For the next fifteen years or so, there was a special vibe about an Olympic year.

(I think things lost a little specialness when they went to staggering the Winter and Summer games)

But I still watch and and there’s something about the opening ceremony that makes it absolutely riveting no matter how many times I’ve viewed one.

It’s stirring. It’s a moment where our species doesn’t look too damned bad. We clean up well and you almost want to yell, “Go humans!”

As an ex-jock, it’s impossible not to watch with a bit of awe. Anyone that ever played a sport knows how much work it takes to be merely good. The amount of sacrifice it must take to make it to the level of an Olympian makes my head hurt.

It’s all fascinating to watch and the unexpected is expected – bobsledders from Jamaica or a skier from Ghana.

One country – I forget which one – had two brothers, both competitors, sharing the duty of flagbearer for their nation. It made me think of the epic battles between me and my brother when one might have assumed – based on the grim intensity – that an afterschool air hockey game was indeed for global bragging rights.

Ireland’s flagbearer, bobsledder Aoife Hoey, bore a striking resemblence to Paloma. Not only did I have to wonder if she was a long lost cousin of Paloma’s from the old country, but I was reminded again that, of all the places I’ve traveled, Ireland might have the most beautiful women in the world.

There’s usually a few poignant moments like when the athletes from Georgia entering the stadium to a thunderous ovation just hours after a teammate was killed in a luge training run.

It’s hard not to smile at the sheer giddiness displayed by most of the athletes participating (see Canada’s Clara Hughes – who should never play poker). Even Iran’s Marjan Kalhor, the first female Winter Olympian from that country, appeared moved by the reception.

Most of the events are sports in which I have no interest and there are few that I have even attempted – I can only imagine the carnage had we opted to play “biathlon” as kids – but I’ll spend time over the next two weeks watching.

There’ll be names that will become familiar for a brief time and I’ll acquaint myself with rules and things to watch for in sports that I won’t think about again ’til 2014. There’ll be spectacular moments and some that will likely make our hearts ache.

Someone will end up on a box of Wheaties.

And, for two weeks, we’ll get a glimpse of the world as it could be – a peaceful gathering of nations engaged in (mostly) friendly competition.

(as well as unusual hats)

Personally, I thought Canada put on a stellar opening ceremony, especially incorporating music from Canadian acts into the program. Here is a quartet of songs from artists and acts from Vancouver (the first two acts actually having performed in the opening ceremony)…

Sarah McLachlan – Sweet Surrender
from Surfacing

I actually had received promo copies of McLachlan’s first two records and thought they were pleasant if unspectacular. It was album number three, 1994’s Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, that not only broke her to a major audience, it also burned me out on her (aided considerably by a co-worker who was unaware that there were lots and lots of other albums and acts out there).

There was something about Sweet Surrender that clicked with me, though and it remains one of the few songs of hers that I still enjoy.

Bryan Adams – Kids Wanna Rock
from Reckless

If you passed through the early ’80s on the way to adulthood, Bryan Adams was inescapable. And why not? No, he hardly reinvented fire, but up through 1984’s Reckless, the man managed to knock out songs that sounded stellar on the radio with seemingly little effort.

As for Kids Wanna Rock, the song pretty much seemed to sum up Adams’ approach.

Chilliwack – My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)
from Wanna Be A Star

Chilliwack has had a long, successful career in their homeland, but the band only managed a few songs that garnered airplay south of the border. My Girl was a mammoth radio track in our area of the Midwest and, with an undeniable hook, it’s easy to hear why.

(even though I’d wager a lot of people remember the song and couldn’t name the artist)

Loverboy – The Kid Is Hot Tonite
from Loverboy

Loverboy’s debut was one of the more popular releases with my classmates in junior high and, for the next few years, the band was a fixture on radio. Like Bryan Adams, Loverboy traded in no-frills, straight-ahead, guitar rock, but there was also a smattering of synthesizers in a nod to the burgeoning New Wave stylings of the day.

Turn Me Loose might have been the bigger hit from their self-titled debut, but I’ve always been a bit more partial to The Kid Is Hot Tonite.

Things Weren’t Exactly Where I’d Left Them

December 3, 2008

As the love of my life and my partner in crime, Paloma had the opportunity this Thanksgiving to spend twelve hours in the car, trekking between my hometown and our current home. She was a trooper, gracious no matter what the circumstances and/or chaos which accompanied time with family in a foreign land.

The foreign land in this case being a small town in Indiana and, yes, growing up there in the ‘80s was indeed like being in a John Cougar song. He’ll always be John Cougar to me – actually, he’ll always be Johnny Hoosier, the moniker which my buddy Bosco affixed to our budding local hero as he reached critical commercial mass in 1982 with the album American Fool.

I’ve rarely returned since leaving college nearly twenty years ago and this was my first venture home in almost a decade. Unfortunately, the first thing which greeted me in our hotel room was news of the terrorist strikes in India.* (in accordance with some impulse which most guys I know possess, upon entering said hotel room, I dropped our bags, flopped onto the bed, and did a compulsory channel surf)

For most Americans, terrorism hadn’t been invented the last time I had been to my hometown. Growing up, we had engaged in relatively minor acts of mischievous vandalism – OK, there was a fire or two (oddly enough, I seem to recall Bosco being involved in one) – but it was all rather harmless.

Current events aside, most things in my hometown were where I had left them. A few businesses had vanished and a few which hadn’t existed had replaced those now gone. The bowling alley, which along with the movie theater and high school basketball games was the hub for night life, remained, but is now painted a retina-damaging shade of yellow.

And, in a town of only a few thousand, everyone knows everyone, but, although certain faces looked familiar, names were irretrievable. Even more conspicuous in their absence were people who had always been there – cantankerous Mrs. G, whose husband owned the theater was not perched sternly in the ticket booth; Duck was not in the bowling alley, his alcohol intake increasing the degree of difficulty each ensuing frame; and Reuben, the portly town eccentric wasn’t wandering around barefoot outside his house (even with snow on the ground) by the grade school.

Times change, eh?

And though my hometown is no longer home, existing only as a gauzy concept now, it was an important stop along the way.

So, here are a handful of songs you would have undoubtedly heard blaring from a Camaro during those years…

Shooting Star – Hollywood
If you aren’t from the Midwest, you probably aren’t familiar with Shooting Star, but in our part of the world, Shooting Star were HUGE. They has a violinist in the band and it seems a lot of folks viewed them as a poor man’s Kansas, I always felt they were more a poor man’s Journey (circa Escape).

Hollywood was all over our rock stations during 1982. The song breaks absolutely no new ground with its tale of farm-fresh Midwestern girl having her dreams get shattered and getting sucked into the seedy underbelly of the dirty city. But, it is an engaging four minutes of straight-ahead rock with a sentimental pull.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Fire Lake
Seger will forever linked to my childhood friend Willie, who, if there was a jukebox, would inevitably play something by the band (often Fire Lake). The song certainly makes my list of favorite Seger songs. I’ve always taken Fire Lake to be describing some kind of Valhalla for rural Midwesterners, but I find the line about line about Uncle Joe puzzling. Why the hell was he afraid to cut a cake?

Billy Squier – In The Dark
It is not overstating things to say that Billy Squier was in the pantheon of rock gods in our town. Hearing this song still immediately makes me believe it is Friday night and, more than twenty-five years later, that reaction is unshakable.

Loverboy – The Kid Is Hot Tonite
I think that 96Rock used played about every track from Loverboy’s debut. Seriously. Bands from the Great White North – Rush, Triumph, Red Rider, Prism – were staples on our rock stations. Sometimes I wonder if there was some little doppelganger town in Canada where we had returned the favor.

*And, this morning, in a small world moment, the local news interrupted my coffee to note that one of the Americans injured in Mumbai was a girl whom I know and one whose sister Paloma and I both worked with at the record store where we met.