“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.

It’s Even Better Than Festivus

March 16, 2011

As someone who, as a kid, watched Bird and Magic in the ’79 NCAA basketball title game, March has long been, perhaps, the most wonderful month of the year.

Like December, March is a month-long trek full of anticipation and excitement, culminating in one massive blowout. But hoops in March trumps holidays in December.

The latter can be a slog, filled with stress and when you’ve reached the end, whether it’s been memorable or miserable, you’re staring at the deepest, darkest stretch of winter.

The former, even in less memorable years, is bound to have stellar games, performances and moments. By the time some team cuts down the nets, it’s spring.

The anticipation of the tournament beginning this week had me toggling between three games one night last week. I settled on Robert Morris/Long Island University – the most competitive matchup – playing in a gym that was no larger than the high school gym in my hometown.

In college, I’d watch more basketball games in a week than I’ve probably caught this entire season. It was required as I attended a school that was a hoops power in a state mad for the game, so, even if there wasn’t a game on ESPN, there was often a college game on one of the local channels.

And there was the serendipitous intersection of my years in college and the years during which ESPN aired games all day long. It was now possible to watch twelve, fifteen hours of basketball in one day.

Those first two rounds of the tournament probably resulted in my GPA being at least a tenth of a percent lower because the Thursday and Friday games caused a cessation of all educational matters.

The experience was made sweeter by the fact that March in Indiana can often be cold, grey, and rainy.

There was something life affirming about not trekking to class in the raw conditions but, instead, encamping on the couch in sweats and a heavy sweater, eating pizza and watching Pepperdine/Seton Hall at one in the afternoon.

I managed to retain some semblence of this annual tradition well into the ’90s, but, in the past decade, the times I’ve gotten to spend watching the Thursday or Friday day games have become fewer.

But I’m taking Friday off this week.

I’m older now, so it won’t be the epic, viewing marathon and showcase for one man’s will to remain inert, gorging on pizza and hoops that it was in college.

Not without a nap or two.

Here are four songs from Billboard‘s chart for this week in March, 1979, when hoops fans were formally introduced to the great Larry Bird…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose it would have still been on the radio a lot during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to check out. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52’s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.

A Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

April 5, 2010

(pre-occupied with hoops – my heart says Butler, my head says Duke has too much size -here’s a post from last March…)

There are no two better days in the sports year – at least here in the States – than the first two days of the NCAA college basketball tournament. There are usually at least a half dozen jaw-dropping moments in the first forty-eight hours.

Most of those moments prove to be quite fleeting and often the key players are soon relegated to fuzzy details – who was that kid that hit that shot when so-and-so upset so-and-so?

As much as the calendar, it is a harbinger of spring.

The tournament has become a bit bittersweet the last several years. It might be a longing for once having the luxury to skip classes and leave the couch only for snacks, glued zombie-eyed to the television for five or six games straight.

It rained a lot during the first two days of the tournament in ’90. It was a cold rain which provided a meteorological argument for not trekking to classes.

I don’t even think I had a shift at the record store.

My school, three years removed from winning the tournament, went out in the first round.

So, I lived vicariously through my brother’s school, Ball State, which was one of that year’s Cinderella teams – a #12 seed which upset two lower-seeded teams and came within minutes of beating a loaded UNLV team for a trip to the Elite Eight.

I remember speaking with my brother on the phone, not long after Ball State had won their first round game in Salt Lake City. It must have been closing in on midnight which meant we’d both been watching hoops for almost twelve hours.

And, of course, the most memorable run of that tournament was Loyola Marymount, the small school from Los Angeles which was a #11 seed. I’d read a lot about the Lions as they were the highest-scoring team in college basketball history. I don’t think that I’d seen them play.

The team had Bo Kimble who was the leading scorer in the country. His teammate, Hank Gathers, had done the same the year before. The two had been childhood friends and teammates in Philly who had headed west for college together.

A week before the tournament, Gathers, who had a heart condition, collapsed and died during a late-season game.

In an event that has no shortage of sentimental pull, Loyola Marymount was the must-see team for most hoops fans that year. They were like watching a pinball machine and the mastermind behind it all was a coach, Paul Westhead, who quoted Shakespeare to his team.

And in each of their games, basketball fans across the nation knew to expect the right-handed Kimble to shoot his first free throw of the game left-handed as a tribute to Gathers.

It came to an end one game short of the Final Four with Loyola Marymount going out against the eventual champions, UNLV.

And probably most of all, the reason that tournament was so memorable for me is that it was my last as a college student. I’d graduate in December.

I still hadn’t left town when the following season’s tournament was played. I likely watched as much or more of it in ’91, but things had changed.

Unlike twelve months earlier, my life was now on the clock.

Here are some songs that I remember from that spring of 1990, when Loyola Marymount made that memorable tournement run…

Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
from Violator

A good high school friend discovered Depeche Mode in ’83, a couple years before they really broke in the States, and decided to make them his band.

Personally, I found their early stuff to be irritating and didn’t come around ’til Black Celebration.

I thought that Enjoy The Silence was one of their finest.

The Church – Metropolis
from Gold Afternoon Fix

It was no Under The Milky Way, but the hypnotic Metropolis was a favorite that spring.

Everything But The Girl – Driving
from Language Of Life

I hadn’t really heard much of Everything But The Girl until Language Of Life, but the album got considerable play in the record store where I worked. It was most excellent for morning shifts.

Little Feat – Texas Twister
from Representing The Mambo

Little Feat is a band I should devote some time to (something I’ve never done). I know some of the band’s more popular songs, but nothing beyond that point.

Representing The Mambo was an album that my roommate brought home from the record store where he worked. The raucous Texas Twister was a big hit with us.