Nothing Like The Threat Of Armageddon To Stoke An Appetite

November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving, like the once annual airing of The Wizard Of Oz used to be, is an event.

Yeah, some people make it out to be dysfunction junction (and for them, maybe it is), but getting to watch football all day on a day which usually would be spent slogging through work is a brilliant concept.

And, of course, it is a chance to feast.

It’s like being king for a day.

Bring me gravy! I shall gnaw on this turkey leg in a slovenly fashion as these superhumans on the television perform amazing feats for my amusement!

OK. It’s not necessarily that dramatic and, as the Lions always play on Thanksgiving Day, the feats are not always amazing in a good way.

(though I cannot imagine how empty a Thanksgiving without the Lions playing the early game would be – it would be like a Halloween without a visit from The Great Pumpkin)

One Thanksgiving was spent living in London, eating some take-out pizza in an ice-cold flat.

And, in a cruel twist, my favorite team was making a rare Thanksgiving Day appearance. They would lose, in overtime after a bizarre coin toss snafu to begin the extra period.

It was a game that would have been maddening to have watched and it was maddening to miss.

Thanksgiving hasn’t been brilliant every year, but that year – no food, no football, no heat – is really the lone one I recall as being truly miserable.

As a kid, our parents dragged us off to mass. I mean, you have the day off school and can sleep in and lounge on the couch; the last thing you want to be doing at an early hour is trudging off to church.

When I was fifteen, the priest decided to use his sermon to rattle off a laundry list of accidental nuclear exchanges between the US and USSR that had been narrowly avoided.

(this was 1983 and two months earlier there had been all of the hullaballoo surrounding the television movie The Day After)

I kept having images of an extra crispy bird and excessively dry stuffing.

It was a bit of a bummer.

It was also a year when my team had a Thanksgiving game and Detroit bottled them 45-3.

But, global tensions and football smackdowns aside, I have no doubt that the food was good.

Of course, as a kid in the ‘80s, we had a lot of music with somber themes alluding to the impending nuclear Armageddon. But a lot of those songs managed to be far from sinister. Some even managed to be deemed perky enough to sell Burgers.

Here are four Armageddon-themed songs from the ’80s…

Nena – 99 Luftballons
from Nena (1983)

Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits.

Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth.

Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark – Enola Gay
from The Best of OMD (1988)

Paloma turned me on to OMD. I knew their hits So In Love and If You Leave, but there was an entire body of work with which I was unfamiliar.

Anyhow, Enola Gay is a sprightly little number about the bombing of Hiroshima.

Alphaville – Forever Young
from Forever Young (1984)

Forever Young will always remind me of a good friend from college. Her boyfriend, whom she had dated for several years in high school, had been killed by a drunk driver and she’d tell me how she would sit for hours playing Forever Young repeatedly as a means of coping with his death.

Modern English – I Melt With You
from After The Snow (1982)

Modern English’s I Melt With You is about as quintessential ’80s as it gets and with good reason. I’m not sure if I’ve read that it’s about nuclear war or it’s my own particular take on the lyric. Sure, it seems to be a nothing more than an extremely melodic, joyously upbeat song of devotion, but there is the whole matter of stopping the world and melting with your beloved which could be interpreted as a more dire scenario.


Walking On The Moon (Or Not)

March 2, 2011

I don’t dance.

It’s something I’ve never done for fun, fame or financial gain.

I’ve never felt inclined.

Though I didn’t grow up in that town in Footloose, there wasn’t much dancing in my hometown. I slow danced at prom one year, but I only recall one or two dances being held during four years of high school.

Mostly kids just gathered informally in some farmer’s field past the outskirts of town with a few kegs procured by older students (who’d make the trek to the state where eighteen was legal) with ‘EBN or 96 Rock blaring from someone’s car stereo.

I don’t remember much dancing.

One Friday afternoon in school, my buddy Beej proposed that we head into Cincinnati that evening.

A trip to The City was an offer that could not be refused. We weren’t old enough to do much more than be mall rats, but – in 1984, growing up in a town with two red lights – the mall was an oasis of civilization.

A trip to The City meant shopping for music.

The catch was that – as neither of us had cars and, in fact had only had drivers licenses for a few months – we would be tagging along with his brother, Junior.

Junior was a senior, a tall, gangly basketball player and mathematical genius whose behavior might have been mistaken, at times, as autistic.

(he now works for the military)

Beej and I were headed to Cincinnati for music, but Junior had a different agenda. For some reason, inexplicable to either Beej or myself, Junior wanted to learn to moonwalk.

It wasn’t as though Junior even listened to Michael Jackson.

And that is how the three of us ended up at some small dance studio in a dingy strip mall in a dodgy part of Cincinnati one Friday night, attending a Michael Jackson dance class at the height of Thriller‘s radio blitzkrieg.

I remember nothing from the class aside from standing off to the side, reading (and rereading) the Hot 100 from a page that had been ripped from Billboard magazine and taped to the wall.

There were half a dozen record stores that wouldn’t be open for much longer and I was stuck like a hostage in a dance studio in a skeezy neighborhood with the clock ticking.

If I recall, we had time to hit Peaches.

I know without doubt that I never saw Junior moonwalk.

Here are four songs that I recall from the beginning of March, 1984 when Beej, Junior, and I made that trip…

Big Country – Fields Of Fire
from The Crossing

Sometimes lost in the attention given to the effects-laden guitars of Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, was that the band had a formidable rhythm section. Bassist Tony Butler has played with The Pretenders, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend

Drummer Mark Brzezicki has an equally impressive array of credits. He also had one of the largest wingspans of any human I’ve ever seen (or so it seemed). Seeing him play live was mesmerizing – like watching the Hindu goddess Kali behind a drum kit.

The thunderous Fields Of Fire was the follow-up single to In A Big Country and one that a lot of people missed.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
from Totally ’80s

Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a cute chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits.

Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth in the lyrics to the perky song.

Oddly enough, I first heard the song when I discovered 97X in the fall of ’83 and that alternative station was also the first place I heard another German singer, Peter Schilling. Additionally, 97X was playing several German versions of Peter Gabriel songs like Schock Den Affen and Spiel Ohne Grenzen.

The Pretenders – Show Me
from Learning To Crawl

I didn’t know much more then Brass In Pocket and Back On The Chain Gang when Learning To Crawl was released in early ’84, but the album was a favorite of Beej’s at the time.

It was a fantastic record even beyond the hits. As we were listening to radio stations from Cincinnati, the Ohio-centric My City Was Gone was played often, 2000 Miles has become a modern-rock Christmas standard, and I’ve always dug the rollicking Thumbelina.

But there’s something about the celestial feel of the jangly Show Me that’s always made the song a favorite.

And when I hear a track from Learning To Crawl, I can’t help but picture the album cover and how shifty the character closest to the top – it’s either Malcolm Foster or Robbie McIntosh – appears to be.

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from Into The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard their first hits Love On Your Side and Lies. The songs were initially pleasant but soon became annoying and grating.

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid, hypnotic, and lush.

(and it still sounds pretty stellar)


Herr Jack Heads For The Deutsche Ecke In The Sky

February 25, 2009

As freshman in high school, my friends and I had a choice between a language to study – German or Spanish. Several of us opted for the former for the sole reason that we knew the Spanish club made an almost annual trek south of the border.

We had our sights set trans-Atlantic (although the German club had only made that trip once). We placed our hopes in the hands of Herr Jack (as he was known to us).

Herr Jack’s surname was German and it translated into “bow maker,” a fact of which we were reminded daily. It might have struck us as oddly compulsive, but it did not strike us as foreshadowing.

His obsession with Latin might have provided another hint at his impending collapse. Entering class, Herr Jack would soon be delivering an impassioned speech on the value of learning Latin; his example would always be “caido” – to kill. He would ask for English derivations and we would offer the obvious ones such as homicide and suicide.

After witnessing regular performances of this skit, I prepared for the next occurrence, compiling a list and dazzling him with vulpicide and other words decidedly difficult to make use of in casual conversation.

He was impressed.

We just thought he was a frustrated Latin teacher.

Soon, it was the buzzing of the clock in the classroom that had Herr Jack’s attention. The noise was outside the hearing range of my classmates and I (as well as most canines), but it drove him to distraction, resulting in entire classes lost while Herr Jack bellowed – his eyes bulging and perspiration beading on his balding pate – about the non-existent irritant.

His antics grew increasingly puzzling. He would decide that a lovely winter’s day would be the perfect time to have class outside in an area he had dubbed the Deutsche Ecke (or, German Corner).

We managed to convince him that, perhaps, we should watch a Deutschland Spiegel filmstrip indoors rather than conjugate verbs in the sub-zero weather outdoors.

The madness behind Herr Jack’s methods became apparent one day in gym class. In the locker room, several of us were admiring the towel that Wayne, our school’s star wrestler, had wrapped around his waist – a simple white towel marked as the property of the state mental institute.

“I got it from my old man,” he replied. “He came back with a dozen from the last time he was in.”

We all nodded with admiration and interest. At fifteen, this was new and uncharted ground for us. It was like those kids finding the dead body in the movie Stand By Me.

“Hey, you know what?” Wayne asked, addressing us. “Did you know that my old man did time there with Mr. Bogenhersteller about ten years ago? They used to play checkers and bet on baseball games on the television.”

It wasn’t long after this revelation that we entered German class one afternoon to find that Herr Jack had been replaced by a portly woman named Edna. We would all drop German the following year.

For me, Germany would have to wait for another fifteen years.

I learned that Herr Jack passed away last week.

Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Jack. I hope that you’ve found a Deutsche Ecke which is warmer than ours was that February day.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
I’ve posted this one before, but couldn’t it be argued that it is the most widely-known German pop song ever? Also, we were Herr Jack’s students in the autumn of 1983 when we began hearing Nena on 97X. We managed to get him to devote an entire class to listening to it (the German version, of course as radio quickly latched on to the English version).

Scorpions – No One Like You
I think that I long ago reached a saturation point on Rock You Like A Hurricane. Besides, my friend Brad had turned me on to the Scorpions with their previous record, Blackout, during the summer of 1982.

Actually, No One Like You got a fair amount of airplay in our part of the world – on radio and blaring out of the older kids Camaros and Trans Ams that summer.

Fury In The Slaughterhouse – Every Generation Got Its Own Disease
I received a copy of Fury In The Slaughterhouse’s album Mono in 1993 and did find this song to be interesting enough to hold on to it. It’s hypnotic and a bit menacing.

Aside from the fact that they were German, I knew (know) nothing about them, but, on their All-Music Guide entry, they are described as Germany’s U2 and have allegedly sold more records than any other band in that country (recently, passing the Scorpions).

Far Corporation- Stairway To Heaven
Far Corporation was a collection of German session musicians put together by producer Frank Farian (who would later work with Milli Vanilli). Rounding out the group was drummer Simon Phillips and several members of Toto including guitarist Steve Lukather. I believe Robin McAuley (who was in the group McAuley Schenker with guitarist Michael Schenker – who was a founding member of the Scorpions) handles the vocals.

Their cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven got a lot of airplay on our local album rock station for about two weeks in the autumn of 1985 (I imagine the public outcry was deafening). This version must be a single edit as the version I remember kicked into a thumping, bass-heavy instrumental section that reminded me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax where this one fades out.