They Were Going Where No Man Had Gone Before But They Were Going Without Me

January 20, 2011

I would be in my teens before cable television was available and, thus, my first experiences and earliest memories of the medium were limited to a handful of channels.

There were the three major networks, PBS, and two independent channels.

Of those two independent channels, our reception for one was so poor that most of the time it was just possible to make out shapes that might have been people.

Or possibly trees.

The station – from across the river in Northern Kentucky – taunted me when I’d leaf through the TV Guide, searching for something to entertain me. There, next to the small box with a nineteen in it, something would be listed that was far more interesting than the offerings on the channels available.

Channel 19’s line-up was heavy on syndicated kid favorites like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch with late night reserved for horror/sci-fi b-movies.

It was as though I had a ten-year old doppelganger programming an independent television station.

So, I’d optimistically flip to the station, hoping that it was one of those rare nights on which reception was good and I could try to watch The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant through snow flurries.

Usually, I’d find myself staring at a full-blown blizzard.

But the one show that the station aired which I wanted to experience more than any other was Star Trek. The show had ended its network run before I could read and, though it hadn’t had the resurgence it would by the end of the ’70s, I was somehow aware of it.

(I think that a classmate, Kate, with whom I was quite smitten, was a fan)

I had to see it.

And the only station airing Star Trek was the one that I was unable to watch.

I tried, making efforts on a nightly basis, hoping against all hope that the reception might be good enough for me to meet Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise.

It didn’t happen.

It was maddening.

Soon, channel 19 would amp up its signal and Star Trek would be a staple on other channels, but, as kids at such an age are prone to do, I had lost interest.

I’d eventually see the first five movies that the series spawned, but, to this day, I’ve never seen an entire episode of the television show or any of its spin-offs.

During the time that I was not watching Star Trek on channel 19, I witnessed Capt. Kirk perform Rocket Man on some sci-fi film award show (which aired on the other independent station).

It boggled my ten-year old mind.

Here are four random songs by acts that, like Capt. Kirk, are from Canada…

k.d. lang – World Of Love
from All You Can Eat

I had never really listened to k.d. lang when I got dragged to one of her shows following the release of (but before the mainstream success) of 1992’s Ingenue. It was a free ticket and I figured what the hell.

Lang turned out to be one of the most charismatic live performers I’ve ever seen, possessing a genial personality and a wickedly charming sense of humor. Though I own a handful of her albums, I often forget what a stellar body of work she’s produced with songs like the lush, sophisticated pop song World Of Love.

Neil Young – Buffalo Springfield Again
from Silver & Gold

It seemed as though every time I looked up in the late ’80s and first half of the ’90s that Neil Young was releasing a new album to rave reviews. I was partial to the grungier stuff with Crazy Horse like Ragged Glory and Sleeps With Angels.

I still prefer the Neil that rocks.

But the mellow Buffalo Springfield Again, from 2000’s Silver & Good, is wistful and endearing as Neil reflects on his first band.

Jane Siberry – Calling All Angels
from When I Was A Boy

A friend at a record store in college introduced me to the eccentric music of Jane Siberry with 1987’s The Walking. Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of her catalog and, much like Neil Young’s, Siberry’s oeuvre takes some zigs and zags.

I first heard the achingly beautiful Calling All Angels when it appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Until The End Of The World, one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time. A year or so later, the track was on her album When I Was A Boy, a record that, if I compiled a desert island list, would certainly make the cut.

And, as further evidence confirming my suspicion that everyone in Canada knows everyone else, the voice heard duetting with Siberry on Calling All Angels is k.d. lang.

Arcade Fire – Wake Up
from Funeral

I’ve become quite loopless to new music since the turn of the century. I’d heard of Arcade Fire and knew that lots of folks were twitterpated over the band. I’d even checked out a few of their songs, but I was only lukewarm about them.

Then I heard Wake Up in the trailers for Where The Wild Things Are and was blown away. It’s an epic that roars to life and soars like a rocket.

I still haven’t delved any further into Arcade Fire’s music – there’s barely time to listen to all of the music I already love – and perhaps I never will, but we’ll always have Wake Up.

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Change In The Weather

November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving was the finest of holidays – feasting, football, feasting, and leftovers for midnight feastings.

The calculus of the holiday changed dramatically after leaving for college.

There was still the feasting and football, but it was now a complex puzzle of equations to balance feast, football and familial obligations with the chance to hang out with your high school friends (who were also battling the same logistical issues).

Coordinating getting together was a series of fits and starts. Half a day or more could be blown trying to track down who was in town as we were moving targets.

By by second year of school, I was working in a record store, so the week at home I had the previous Thanksgiving had been whittled down to two, maybe three days.

It made the break a bit of a disjointed, exhausting affair that caused me to miss the comfort of the couch in my apartment back at school.

By Thanksgiving of 1990, I was logging the final few credits needed to graduate before year’s end. Several of my high school friends had already done so earlier that spring and summer, scattering us all to an even greater degree and leaving reunions that holiday with more of us missing in action.

So few of us were going to be around for Thanksgiving – most opting to make a pilgrimage weeks later for Christmas instead – that I didn’t even negotiate for an extra day or two from work.

Instead, the night before Thanksgiving, I actually trekked to Indianapolis with my buddy Streuss to attend a Warren Zevon show.

Oddly enough, the opening act was a guitarist from Louisville whose band, Hopscotch Army, was one of the most popular draws when they’d hit our college town every few weeks or so.

But, as I was used to seeing him clad in camoflage cargo pants and combat boots, a long rat-tail braid sprouting from his shaved pate as his band covered songs by Concrete Blonde, The Smiths, and The Cure, I wasn’t prepared for this solo turn.

Nattily attired in a sports jacket and clean shirt, the combat boots replaced by more formal footware, his style was more in the vein of New Age noodlings.

Even the rat-tail was gone.

Zevon was fantastic, but everything seemed a bit off kilter from even the previous Thanksgiving.

Walking through the still neighborhood following the show, even the weather was off. It was nearly midnight and it was unseasonably mild for late November with the temperature in the low 60s, a light rain falling.

The next morning, I headed home for Thanksgiving while Streuss, who had also gone to high school with me, but whose parents had moved while we were in college, opted to spend the break at school to work on a paper.

I spent the day with the family, did some feasting, watched some football, and returned to school the next morning to work a Friday afternoon shift at the record store.

That night, with my adopted town eerily deserted and campus empty, I stretched out on the couch in my apartment – my roommate still out of town – with my dog beside me.

The two of us munched on leftovers I had brought from home and watched basketball on ESPN.

Thanksgiving was still a fine holiday – the finest, really – and remains so, but that year it seemed to be over before it had even begun.

The transition from the Thanksgivings I had known as a kid had begun.

Here are four songs from albums that we were playing a lot at the record store that Thanksgiving…

Prefab Sprout – Looking For Atlantis
from Jordan: The Comeback

The first time I heard the name Prefab Sprout, it was from my buddy Streuss who briefly had interest in finding a copy of their well-reviewed ’85 album Steve McQueen. I thought the band name incredibly stupid and the album title – retitled Two Wheels Good here in the States – equally so.

I had no interest in even giving them a listen.

Five years later, I got my comeuppance the first time I heard the band with the shimmering Looking For Atlantis and the brilliant, Thomas Dolby-produced Jordan: The Comeback.

It was irresistible.

And, one of the first things I remember of Paloma is, several years later, watching her wander the aisles of the record store where we worked, singing along to Prefab Sprout’s The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Fuckin’ Up
from Ragged Glory

Neil Young was in – even for him – a musically idiocentric way during the early ’80s when I first started listening to music, so I didn’t hear much of his music. I became far more familiar with him when he returned to mainstream prominence with This Note’s For You in ’88 and Freedom a year later.

I had particularly loved the latter and one of my roommates and I would play Ragged Glory every shift that we worked together. We played it for months and I think we had exactly one customer that heard the chorus to the gloriously grungy Fuckin’ Up and objected.

The Posies – Suddenly Mary
from Dear 23

The Posies’ debut had more than a few moments of power pop brilliance, but Suddenly Mary was the song that lodged into brain and burrowed deep after hearing it the first time.

It’s hypnotic – chiming guitars, angelic harmonies, and a wickedly dark tale told within the sunshine of its grooves…

The Sisters of Mercy – More
from Vision Thing

We had a sizeable goth community at school that used to hang out at an immense arcade at one entrance to the campus. Some of the kids pulled it off far better than others.

I felt the same way about the music popular with the goth scene, though a lot of those acts had a profound influence on the sound and style of the time.

There were a handful of songs by The Sisters Of Mercy that I thought were pretty stellar and More is most definitely one of them.

Jim Steinman co-wrote and co-produced the song and, thus, it’s suitably epic – Rock You Like A Hurricane-guitars, gospel-styled backing vocals, and the growl of lead singer Andrew Eldritch.


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.