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.

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Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

September 9, 2010

The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo, beginning in London, hitting both coasts and and so many castles – courtesy of TJ’s itinerary – that Donna and I began to refer to the trip as The Castle Hostage Tour.

TJ kept us plied with cigarettes and candy, resulting in a trek during which tensions flared only once or twice and those periods defused rather quickly.

For some reason, I seem to recall that one of those times when, if we had to spend another ten minutes in that Daewoo together, lives might be taken, occurred as we made our way to Liverpool.

Perhaps someone was out of smokes.

Perhaps someone had had one two many pints when we had stopped for lunch.

Perhaps it is merely the physics that disctate that, no matter how good of friends you might be – and the three of us remain friends fifteen years later – there is only so much time three humans can spend in a Daewoo together.

I remember the three of us reaching Liverpool as the sun was setting on the port city. We were muttering to each other under our breath as we settled into a booth in some dingily lit pub. The place was empty aside from a few grizzled, old characters at the bar who had the look of regulars.

I slumped in the booth, half-heartedly leafing through an abandoned newsheet. A headline caught my eye and the article had me laughing before I finished the first paragraph.

It was coverage of some local event that involved rolling wheels of cheese down a steep hill and participants scrambling after them. Apparently shenanigans and gravity ensued and there had been – as there were each year – a number of injuries.

Soon, the strife had passed and the three of us were laughing, pondering this insane sport over pints.

I thought of that evening when I read of the recent death of cellist Mike Edwards, a founding member of ELO. An immense bale of hay rolled down a hill and onto a road into the musician’s van.

Meeting your demise in such a fashion is out of your hands, but, should you concuss yourself while chasing a wheel of cheese down a steep hill, that one’s on you.

There’s been no shortage of bands from Liverpool to make an impact on the outside world (including that one mop-topped combo from the ’60s). Here are four songs from acts comprised of Liverpudlians…

Echo & The Bunnymen – Bring On The Dancing Horses
from More Songs To Learn And Sing

Echo & The Bunnymen was a band that I think I’d come across in print before I ever heard their music and, though the quartet were critical darlings, the name inspired no confidence in me.

But, when I finally heard their music I understood the hullabaloo regarding the Bunnymen. Their music was chiming, sweeping, cinematic, and grand and, though achieving commercial success commensurate to their critical acclaim in their homeland, Echo & The Bunnymen failed to escape the ghetto of cult act in the States.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Windows
from Telecommunications

I’ve expressed my affection for A Flock Of Seagulls in the past and recounted playing pinball with lead singer Mike Score.

This go ’round, I thought I’d offer up a more obscure track from the band, one which didn’t appear on any of the three studio albums by the original foursome. The twitchy, neurotic Windows must have been a song that didn’t make A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut as, musically and lyrically, it’s very much in the vein of that album.

The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s

The La’s long ago secured their place as one of the more bizarre tales in the history of rock music. One album, despised by lead singer/songwriter Lee Mavers who bad-mouthed the critically-acclaimed album in interviews, minimal sales and scant attention.

Then, nothing. For twenty years there has been nothing but rumors of new music and strange stories about Mavers’ perfectionist ways scuttling the arrival of new music.

Now, The La’s are kind of a cool secret.

Most people are likely familiar with The La’s music from Sixpence None The Richer’s cover of There She Goes, but that version pales in comparison to the chiming goodness of the original. The La’s echoed the classic pop of the ’60s with the ringing guitars and effortless choruses and that lone album is now, like its influences, timeless.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Enola Gay
from In The Dark: The Best Of OMD

Paloma turned me on to OMD. I mean, I knew their hits like 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.


Bringing Bender Home

August 10, 2010

I’m not, generally speaking, an impulse buyer.

When I head out to the store early on Saturday mornings to snag provisions for Paloma, the animals, and me, I do so with blinders on.

We need peanut butter, cheese, and bagels, so I am tossing a jar of peanut butter, a wheel of cheese, and container of bagels into the cart, checking out and moving on with life.

(unfortunately, our store does not sell cheese as wheels, but I can dream)

I am rarely tempted to stray from the mental list I have compiled for the trip.

Things do get a little dicier when I set foot in Target. For some reason, I find the store – with everything from frozen pizzas to clocks stocked on the shelves – mesmerizing.

(especially the frozen pizzas and clocks)

So, this morning, I set foot in Target to procure a handful of items that I had neglected to get on Saturday’s usual trip to forage. I had successfully rounded up the items and had even grabbed Paloma a book which she had mentioned she wanted to read.

In the book department was a section devoted to DVDs, most of them budget collections – four films featuring Clint Eastwood or Jackie Chan on one disc. There were also single movies and my eyes immediately locked onto one of them.

The Breakfast Club

Maybe it was having read a lovely tribute noting the one-year anniversary of writer/director John Hughes’ death at Stuck In The ’80s last week, but I paused.

I saw The Breakfast Club in the theater in ’85 as I was finishing my junior year of high school. My friends and I were not only the audience targeted by the movie, we were those kids and – as many in our generation did – embraced the film like few others.

Of course, the themes of the movie were applicable to anyone that had experienced high school. It just happened to be dressed in the trappings of the day and, twenty-five years later, I’ve come to realize that little really changes from high school save for the scenary.

I stumble upon The Breakfast Club on cable every so often and usually I am, regretfully, drawn into watching it. Regretfully, because for a good decade, the viewings have invariably been some bastardized version in which rather than Bender suggesting that Mr. Vernon “eat [Bender’s] shorts,” it is edited to “eat my socks.”

It’s frustrating. Not only am I unable to watch the film as John Hughes intended it to be viewed, it is distracting as – despite the time and distance – I still hear the actual dialogue.

And, I realized that it’s been a good ten years or more – when I owned a copy on VHS that I bought used for a few bucks – since I’d watched The Breakfast Club unedited.

I tossed the DVD into the cart.

Twenty-five years ago, my friends and I were beginning our senior year of high school and quoting The Breakfast Club like the pious quote scripture.

(“Yo Ahab, can I bum my doobage?”)

Musically, I was in a state of transition with Top 40 – the gateway to my music obsession four years earlier – having become such a source of disenchantment that I had mostly abandoned those stations.

I was ridiculously intrigued by the modern rock of 97X, but reception of the station was sketchy, giving me far less oportunity to listen than I would have liked. So, I spent a considerable amount of time surfing between a few album-rock stations.

Here are four songs that I was listening to at the time…

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – So In Love
from Crush

OMD’s breakthrough hit in the States was a year away when their If You Leave would appear on the soundtrack to another John Hughes’ movie, Pretty In Pink.

In the meantime, the airy So In Love was serving as my introduction to the British duo.

Jeff Beck – Gets Us All In The End
from Flash

I’m not sure if I knew of Jeff Beck before 1985. Perhaps I’d come across the name, but I certainly knew no music by the legendary guitarist (who more than a few folks would argue is the greatest guitarist of the rock era).

Flash had already gotten airplay (and MTV play for the video) with his soulful rendition of People Get Ready, on which Rod Stewart provided vocals. As for Get Us All In The End, Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall guested on vocals while Beck handles the guitar work which is simply ferocious.

Bryan Ferry – Slave To Love
from Boys And Girls

Roxy Music was another act with which I had little familiarity in 1985. I know that I’d heard Love Is The Drug on 97X, but I wouldn’t discover them until a year later when, as a college freshman, a French professor would play the group’s classic Avalon before class.

It was certainly on 97X where I was hearing Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry’s Slave To Love and I liked the suave fellow’s style.

Mr. Mister – Broken Wings
from Welcome To The Real World

Mr. Mister seems to get a lot of derision, but someone must have dug them twenty-five years ago because – for six months or so – the band was inescapable with several mammoth hits.

Personally, I loved Broken Wings in the day and I still enjoy the moody track. I recall seeing the video – lead singer Richard Page cruising down a desolate highway in the desert – for weeks before the song popped up on radio. Perhaps it was that video, coupled with the song’s lyric, that makes me think of open spaces and miles of it.