A Fistful Of Quarters From A Grown Man In His Underwear

April 21, 2010

The end of the school year is within the distance of one well-spat loogie for the age appropriate. As a kid, it was the annual re-opening of the campground down the road that was a tangible sign that summer break was close.

Before we were old enough to drive, the campground also served as somewhere to waste the little money we had on things like miniature golf and video games.

At that time, our town was still a couple of years away from having an actual arcade and Atari game consoles were not yet in all our homes. The campground game room was one of the few places to play video games.

Of course, there were three, maybe four games and they were always well behind the times with the selection – Space Invaders when Pac-Man was the rage, Galaga instead of Defender.

Asteroids was a hip as it got.

The couple that ran the campground was on the staff of our high school.

He was a burly fellow, taught shop, and was known to all as Bandsaw Bob.

She was on the bony side, was the school nurse, and seemed to be going for some Jackie Kennedy vibe.

I don’t believe that I ever saw him without a tooth pick lodged in his teeth.

I couldn’t say the same for her.

The game room was downstairs from the gift shop/concierge desk/campground office which was usually our first stop to exchange a few dollars for quarters.

Several friends and I entered one afternoon and found the gift shop vacant. We stood at the counter, growing impatient to blast space bugs and such.

A door behind the counter of the gift shop led to the proprietor’s home and, as our conversation grew louder, we heard stirring from the adjacent dwelling (which was our objective).

Through the door lumbered Bob, muttering about “nobody minding the store” and “been out digging up a stump.”

There he stood, his large, round face flushed and beads of sweat trickling from his forehead met his flat top.

He was wearing nothing but his underwear.

And he had his tooth pick.

“You kids need quarters?” he asked jovially. He was a jovial fellow.

Before we could offer an affirmative, wife Jackie burst through the doorway. “Bob,” she barked. “Go take a shower and get cleaned up for dinner.”

He shrugged. “You all have seen a man in his underwear before.”

We’d seen pictures of Ted Nugent in a loin cloth in music magazines. And now, we had seen our high school’s shop teacher in his underwear.

Of course, in retrospect, I realize that, had this event – which became an oft-recounted part of me and my friends childhood lore – taken place in 2010 instead of 1980, Bob might have found himself in trouble, but there was nothing dodgy.

When you grow up in a small town, everyone knows everyone else fairly well, certainly well enough to know that sometimes a man in his underwear is just a man in his underwear.

Here are four songs that might have provided some clothing suggestions…

Sparks – Angst In My Pants
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen Sparks duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ‘82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Streuss owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
from The Red Shoes

I fell hard for Kate Bush when I discovered her music. It was, like many listeners here in the States, with The Hounds Of Love. I’d read about her and was intrigued, but hadn’t really had the opportunity to check out her prior albums.

Of course, subsequent albums were slow to arrive but worth the wait.

Haircut 100 – Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) (extended version)

I didn’t like Haircut 100 back in the day. Of course, they weren’t around very long and I never heard their lone hit, Love Plus One, on the radio much.

It was years later – when the song kept popping up on ’80s compilations – that I grew fond of Love Plus One. I finally snagged a copy of Pelican West on vinyl a year or so ago and it was underwhelming.

Favourite Shirts is more manic than Love Plus One and manic Haircut 100 doesn’t have the same charm to me (but I didn’t have a lot of “shirt” songs).

Bob Dylan – Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
from Blonde On Blonde

I hadn’t heard Bob Dylan in 1980. I wouldn’t begin a relationship with Dylan for a few more years.

Sartorially speaking, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat would have been a fitting suggestion for Bandsaw’s wife. She did have the Jackie Kennedy thing about her.

Advertisements

Canada, You’ve Really Let Me Down

September 27, 2008

Oh, Canada, from the moment that I first fell in love with music, you’ve been a constant (and usually welcome) presence in my life. During those formative years, there was no shortage of Canadians with hits on the radio, acts like Rush, Loverboy, April Wine, Bryan Adams, and Red Rider.

Soon, I would discover musical neighbors from the north who weren’t as embraced by radio where (and when) I was growing up – Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band, and, years later, Jane Siberry, K.D. Lang, and Bruce Cockburn.

Like most Americans, I know less about Canada than I should. I did have a drummer friend who lived on our couch for a year (sometimes drummer jokes write themselves) and he was an avowed fan of the country, touting the wondrousness of the Great White North and declaring the considerable merits of John Candy.

So, I was disappointed to learn that Canada is one of the biggest arms exporters on the planet.

Then, several days ago, I come across the following headline on msnbc.com – Man Guilty In Plot To Behead Canada PM. What is that all about? (I didn’t read the article as I felt certain that it couldn’t live up to the slapstick drama of the title)

The headline begged several questions. Is beheading really the route to go if one does want to take out a politician? I mean, it seems to be rather cumbersome and inefficient with slim odds for success.

The most important question that came to mind is what the hell is going on up there?! This, combined with the arms export thing, made me wonder if we Americans and our gratuitously violent television programs, films and political campaigns are having a negative influence on the Canadians.

It seemed best to consult a Canadian on this matter. And I realized as many different people as I’ve known and there have been very few Canadians. I’d always assumed that it was because Canada was such a lovely place filled with polite people (unlikely to behead a leader) that no one ever left to come here.

However, one Canadian I do know is a co-worker, so I queried him on this threatened beheading. I didn’t get an explanation, but I did learn that Canada, like the U.S., is in the midst of an election. Then, he informed me of something that truly floored me.

From start to finish, this election will take a mere 32 days.

So, I say sell munitions to every man, woman, and child on the planet, Canada. Let your citizens plot to behead every member of Parliament. If you folks can elect your officials in less than five weeks you are most certainly doing something right.

Oh yeah, and thanks for all the swell music.

There’s so much music by Canadian acts that are favorites (Gordon Lightfoot anyone?). So, I simply tried to pick a random selection.

Neil Young – Sleeps With Angels
Is Neil Young the greatest Canadian rock artist of all time? He’s got to be close and he’s certainly one of the most compelling. I logged a lot of hours listening to his album Sleeps With Angels in ’94/’95 and the title track was Neil & Crazy Horse in full, glorious fury.

Jane Siberry – Bound By The Beauty
I posted something by Jane recently, but Bound By The Beauty is one of her songs of which I am much more fond. Like Neil’s catalog, Jane’s takes a lot of zigs and zags. The one album that I would wholeheartedly endorse is When I Was A Boy, but it is an album best listened to start to finish. Bound By The Beauty is from an earlier album.

Bran Van 3000 – Drinking In L.A.
I first heard this song when I saw the video on MTV in Ireland. I was immediately smitten. Drinking In L.A. was on their debut Glee and it is an engaging, eclectic mix of strangeness (including a jangly, ’90s-styled alt rock cover of Cum On Feel The Noize).

Red Rider – Lunatic Fringe
Red Rider got a lot of airplay in the Midwest in the ’80s – Young Things, Wild Dreams (Rock Me), Human Race, Boy Inside The Man, and this song. Moody and atmospheric, I have a feeling that most people south of the border wouldn’t be able to name the band, but they’d know the song.

Bruce Cockburn – If A Tree Falls
I quoted part of this song’s lyrics in a speech on the rain forest in college (and I think it was a two or three years before Sting stole my thunder on the issue – oddly enough, we would kind of cross paths a decade later).

Anyhow, I apologize to Bruce for potentially sullying his good name with what was, I imagine, a clumsy effort at activism.

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Personally, I’d declare Leonard Cohen, from a standpoint of attitude, to be more rock and roll than any Emo band could ever dream of being. Acerbic, witty, and with more than a hint of menace in his lyrics and vocals, Cohen spent the early ’90s linked to actress Rebecca DeMornay (while he was in his mid-50s) and the latter part of the same decade living in a Buddhist monastery.

As both Canada and the States are in the midst of elections, I momentarily opted to post his song Democracy with its deadpanned chorus “Democracy is coming to the USA.” However, I’ve loved First We Take Manhattan since I first heard it on his album I’m Your Man in the late ’80s.

I Mother Earth – Not Quite Sonic
Out of college, I worked a couple of internships for record labels, including one in radio promotion. One afternoon, on my way out, my boss gave me a cassette and instructed me to critique it that evening. When I popped it into the player, I was blown away. It was demo recordings of I Mother Earth.

Combining the blistering, tribal rock leanings of Jane’s Addiction, the otherworldly poetry of The Doors, and percussive elements reminiscent of Santana (they actually toured with an ex-member performing percussion), I Mother Earth should have been huge. Our label lost them in a bidding war to Capitol Records who torpedoed their career by marketing them as a metal act. Well done, Capitol. Well done.


Help Me, Burt Bacharach, You’re My Only Hope

April 26, 2008

I’ve often been the dissenting voice among friends in expressing some disdain for music snobbery, offering the view that the kids that will be alright will be alright, and defending their musical missteps. Today, the universe woke me up loudly with a sonic reminder that no good deed goes unpunished and I found myself muttering semi-coherent rants in a sleep-deprived state.

Every year, there is a marathon whose route includes the street outside my apartment, literally right beneath my bedroom window. The first time this happened, it took me unawares and my slumber was interrupted by runners in the street and bystanders on the sidewalk, applauding with each intermittent pack of primates exhibiting locomotive skills.

Today, though, there was a special twist. The occupants of the apartment below opted to have a band on the porch. Soundcheck commenced at 6:30 and by 7:00, I realized that I was trapped like Noriega and there was no way to sleep through what can only be described as Emerson, Lake & Palmer covering the Grateful Dead (sans the musicianship). It drowned out the applause of the observers, but it prompted hooting and hollering from the marathon participants.

The band – a bunch of paunchy, geeky white guys – soon set about disemboweling classic soul and funk by artists like Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown complete with extended jams. There was a lounge, kitsch version of Survivor’s Eye Of The Tiger that was hardly the ironic, hipster moment that I imagine they had hoped it would be. I heard Proud Mary three times with the final rendition schizophonically teetering between a smoldering blues number and some stripped-down, bluegrass-tinged interpretation.

The performance led me to realize that alcohol consumption by the band doesn’t really enhance the performance except in rare cases like The Pogues. As the morning wore on and the beer began to flow, things rapidly deteriorated. I was hearing double.

The lead singer, though, remained committed to the show going on. Where early on, he stuck to formulaic banter that had me waiting for him to bellow, “Hello Cleveland!” he chose to go with the accidental experimentation of his rhythm section. Soon, he was yipping and yammering about sea turtles and the cosmos in some beat-poet cadence with an earnestness that would have made Jim Morrison jealous. If there is a Sea Turtle Anti-Defamation organization of some kind, they certainly will be issuing a grievance.

Five hours later, it was over. Bruce Springsteen is quite capable of playing three-plus hour sets that are spectacularly riveting, bordering on religious. This was not the E-Street Band. Whatever street they were from, it’s best that it’s from a place where they have no name.

So, for the rest of the day, or until I have a nap, the gloves are off. Should anyone dare play any music that doesn’t meet with my approval, I intend to ridicule their choice heartily and pummel them in the mid-section until their gums bleed.

Music snobs, I have heard the light.

Actually, pummeling and ridicule aside, I’m opting to counter the cacophony with some selections from the Burt Bacharach songbook – four pristine, impeccable, structured, sonically crafted gems.

Manic Street Preachers – Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head

The Carpenters – (The Long To Be) Close To You

Herb Alpert – This Guy’s In Love With You

Dionne Warwick – I’ll Never Fall In Love Again