Hookers Must Wear Shoes

April 12, 2012

The first time I visited the nation’s capitol was with a buddy. His friend’s band had played the night before in Philadelphia and we were still sobering up – a condition we quickly set to rectify with a few pre-gig drinks at a bar in Georgetown – when we arrived in D.C.

The fact that the friend’s band had a tab at the club – The Bayou, I believe – necessitated that we continue to drink. By evening’s end, I was blissfully ignorant of the impending pain I had booked for the following day.

As my buddy and I trekked the twenty-odd blocks back to our hotel in the early morning chill, my only thoughts were for food. And for twenty-odd blocks, there was no food to be found.

There wasn’t a convenience store.

There wasn’t a Waffle House.

Arriving at our hotel, we realized that there was no consensus on what our room number was.

“I know it’s on the third floor,” I said. “If I’m wrong, I’ll go forage for food.”

I was wrong.

I did the honorable (and least intelligent) thing, wandering off into the night in a city where I had never been, squiffy and in search of food. I picked a direction and went with it, but I soon realized that things were looking progressively dodgy with each block I went.

I considered the idea of turning back when I saw it – a gaudy, neon oasis in the form of a ramshackle liquor/convenience store.

I entered, procured goods – an armload of salty, crunchy things and chocolate, caramel items – and got in line. It was a sketchy collection of ne’er-do-wells with darting eyes and, I suspect, concealed weapons.

Feeling a presence, someone else joining the processional march to the register, I turned slightly. There stood a petite, black woman wearing nothing more than a black thong under a see-through, thigh-length plastic raincoat.

She introduced herself as Tweety and a friend, wearing red go-go pants, as Simone. Tweety shattered the vacuous stupor of the crowd as a bunch of boggled-eyed men leered through bleary orbs.

She chattered away as we shuffled along, nearing the counter.

I was up.

The gruff, indifferent clerk who seemed to be wishing for death looked up and over my shoulder. He was staring at Tweety and Simone.

“Uh-uh,” he grunted, shaking his head side to side under a mop of wiry, grey hair. It was obvious that he wasn’t pleased with their presence – competition for dollars, I suppose.

“I told you,” he said firmly. “You can’t be in here…not without shoes.”

I looked down and Tweety was, indeed, barefoot.

Here are four shoe songs…

Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
from The Red Shoes (1993)

Kate Bush was an artist whom I had read about for several years before I actually heard her music. Then, the gloriously hypnotic Running Up That Hill became her lone hit single here in the States and I purchased its parent album The Hounds Of Love.

(which I wore out during the winter of 1985/1986)

I fell hard for the quirky and eclectic singer and worked backward through her weird and wonderful catalog. And, then, I learned of how being a Kate Bush fan required great patience as there would be lengthy waits between the arrival of future albums.

Personally, I lost patience and haven’t given as much attention to her few albums since The Red Shoes, an album that I enjoyed, though it didn’t dazzle me. The title track was one of songs I favored, a frantic tale of a dancer and a pair of enchanted shoes.

Paul Simon – Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
from Graceland (1986)

Paul Simon had already reached his commercial peak – both with Garfunkel and solo – by the time I truly began listening to music. I knew little of his catalog aside from his more popular hits when Graceland was released.

I had just started college and a musician living a few doors down from me lavished Graceland with praise. It would take a few months, but a raft of rave reviews and a video featuring Chevy Chase led to the album blowing up, making Ladysmith Black Mambazo a household name, and giving Simon’s career a second wind.

Tom Waits – Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)
from Closing Time (1973)

The same dorm mate who sang the praises of Graceland to me was equally smitten with Tom Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years. In the past twenty-five years, I’ve become no more than casually acquainted with the gravelly-voiced troubadour’s work, but I have heard enough to think that Tweety and Simone wouldn’t be miscast in one of his songs.

Robin Zander – Walkin’ Shoes
from Robin Zander (1993)

After a commercial resurgence in the late ’80s, Cheap Trick’s career was in another lull which is why most folks likely never heard lead singer Robin Zander’s self-titled, solo debut from 1993.

That’s unfortunate. Though Robin Zander wasn’t in the same league as classic Cheap Trick albums from the ’70s, it is Robin Zander, the man my buddy The Drunken Frenchman once dubbed the “second best rock singer” (after Eric Burdon).

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“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.


Saturday Night Fever

October 22, 2011

The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever was the first vinyl album I remember owning, a Christmas gift in 1977.

I had little interest in music at the time, but I imagine that lots of folks received that album, that Christmas season, from people who knew them well enough to feel compelled to give a gift, yet not well enough to not what the recipient might truly want.

I received my copy from from an aunt.

(she wasn’t some cool, hip, younger aunt, but, rather, an older widow who swore like a sailor, drove a beat-up Oldsmobile like a lunatic accompanied by a German Shepherd named Odd, and lived in a crumbling, urban neighborhood prone to gang violence)

Of course, even with meager interest in music, I was aware of the first hit from the soundtrack – The Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love – which was the Number One song in the US on Christmas Day.

The movie had been released in November and I do recall the stir it had caused. My best friend Will had a sister in high school at the time who was obsessed with the movie. The poster from the movie adorned her bedroom wall – Farrah Fawcett’s famous poster hung in the room Will shared with his brother.

(I suppose that if future archealogists unearthed such a tableau, it wouldn’t be a bad pop culture snapshot of the times)

I was ten and hadn’t seen the movie.

Not that I had much interest in it, nor would I have been able to get past the box office at our town’s small movie theater. Everyone knew everyone, making underage admittance to an R-rated movie a no-go.

I would somehow avoid seeing Saturday Night Fever for two decades.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I also never thought to myself, damn, I’ve received a blessing from the Dalai Lama, but I really should sit down and watch Saturday Night Fever.

One of friends at a record store where I worked had told us during one our usual post-shift drinking sessions of his aunt, who worked on the lighting for the dancefloor in the movie and even appeared in a number of scenes.

During that same time, I traveled through the UK with one of those barroom buddies. In Stratford-upon-Avon, we returned to our accommodations following an evening of toasting Shakespeare.

It was one of the nicer places we had stayed, a small bungalow-type dwelling with a living room and kitchen.

My buddy crashed, but I sprawled out in the living room, working my way through bags of crisps and channel-surfing.

The screen was suddenly filled with Tony Manero, dressed like a dandy and strutting down some grimy Brooklyn street, making a clumsy attempt to pick up some chick and eating pizza.

All as Stayin’ Alive played over the opening credits.

So, I hunkered down, tore into more crisps, and watched.

And, sure enough, there riding shotgun in the DJ booth was our friend from back in the States, dressed in drag and wearing glasses.

Thirty-four years ago, Saturday Night Fever had yet to be be released to theaters and How Deep Is Your Love had been on the charts for a mere five weeks. Within six months, the movie was a smash, the soundtrack was a juggernaut, and thirty or forty Bee Gees songs or ones penned by the Gibbs were on the radio.

About the only music I was hearing then was from our town’s radio station which would be playing in our kitchen as I ate breakfast before school. It was still a Top 40 station at the time, leaning toward light rock.

Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 from this week in 1977 that I recall hearing those groggy mornings…

Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better
from Clouds In My Coffee (1995)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my comparison.

But, wasn’t Carly simply one of the sexiest women of the ’70s? I mean, I was ten when Nobody Does It Better, the theme song from the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me, was a hit and I’d figured that out.

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner (1977)

Foreigner’s debut album makes me think of Lynn, the older brother of one of our friends from the neighborhood, who resembled a young Axl Rose and drove a black Trans-Am, tearing through the neighborhood with Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player.

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81.

The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.

Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986 (1988)

In 1977, about the only thing I knew about Paul Simon is that I had seen him on television and I thought that he looked like an older, distant cousin of mine.

I quite liked the laid-back and resigned Slip Slidin’ Away when it would come on the radio, but it would be several more years before I began to learn of Simon’s place in pop music culture and his classic work with Art Garfunkel.

Steve Miller Band – Swingtown
from Greatest Hits (1978)

Even before I was really into music, I knew a lot of Steve Miller songs from his hits in ‘70s. Fly Like An Eagle, Jet Airliner, and Take The Money And Run were always playing over the public pool’s sound system.

Personally, I much preferred Swingtown which was a staple on the jukebox in the bowling alley during the winter of ’77 where my friends and I would spend Saturday afternoons.