The Union Jack

January 12, 2012

“You look different,” Paloma said.

As I had done nothing new with my hair, I countered her comment with a quizzical, gape-jawed stare.

“You’re standing up.”

It was true. I was vertical as opposed to the horizontal posture I had been prone to adopt for much of the past week as the result of sharing my immune system with some miserable, little bug.

And several times during the week, too enfeebled with fever to do more than slump on the couch, too weary from coughing fits to even turn my head toward the television, I stared straight ahead to the wall where I’d zone out in the pattern of the large Union Jack flag hanging there.

The flag has been with me for a long, long time, acquired during one of the many high school treks into Cincinnati with friends to roam through the malls searching for girls, music, and Orange Julius.

It was about this time of year, a couple weeks after the new year that a handful of us were on such a venture.

It was frigid outside and, inside, there were “sidewalk” sales during which the stores would take the crap that they hadn’t been able to unload at Christmas weeks earlier and piled the wares onto tables at discounted prices.

Outside one of the storefronts, I found my buddy Streuss, in his hand he clutched a Union Jack.

“You’re buying a British flag?”

“Five bucks, man. I’m hanging it up in my bedroom.”

England was some faraway land and I don’t recall much Brittania in my life as a kid.

A television station out of Dayton would air Benny Hill reruns late on Saturday nights. My neighbor Will and I would watch the hijinks through the snowy reception on the Magnavox in his family’s den.

In junior high school, I might have actually thought England was little more than slapstick, double entendres, and scattily-clad women.

But I soon discovered music and, especially in the early ’80s, there was plenty of it arriving in America from England. Even before I ventured far from Top 40 and mainstream rock radio, I was hearing The Police, Human League, The Fixx, A Flock Of Seagulls, Duran Duran…

And, of course there was the previous twenty years of exports from the British isle with whom I would become increasingly familiar.

I grabbed the remaining flag from the table. It was only five bucks, marked down from sixty-five (which would have been like twelve-thousand dollars in today’s dollars).

It was too good a deal to pass up.

And, for the past twenty-five years, that Union Jack has been hanging on the wall wherever I’ve lived.

Perusing the Billboard charts from twenty-five years ago, there were more than a few acts hailing from the U.K. Here are four that I recall…

Pete Townshend – Give Blood
from White City: A Novel (1985)

Had I been ten years older, I might well have associated the Union Jack with The Who, but the first truly iconic use of the British flag that I noted was when Def Leppard exploded onto the scene in ’83 with Pyromania.

Coincidentally, at the time I bought my Union Jack, Who guitarist Pete Townshend had recently released White City. These days, I’d probably favor All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, but White City is pretty stellar (aside from the hit Face The Face) and the bracing Give Blood – with David Gilmour making an appearence – was a favorite.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon
from Under A Raging Moon (1985)

And, coincidentally, Who lead singer Roger Daltrey had also recently released a solo album that, like Townshend’s, got some attention.

There were a few songs written by Bryan Adams (and his writing partner Jim Vallance) and much of Under A Raging Moon was rather uninspired, but it did include After The Fire, a fantastic track penned by Townshend.

The title track to Under A Raging Moon, a tribute to The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon, was notable for Daltrey’s ferocious vocals and the line-up of guest drummers – Martin Chambers, Roger Taylor, Cozy Powell, Stewart Copeland, Zak Starkey, Carl Palmer, and Mark Brzezicki – that perform on it.

Queen – One Vision
from A Kind Of Magic (1986)

Queen had peaked in America with The Game, which was released while I was in junior high and the stuff that followed from the legendary band – ’82’s Hot Space and ’84’s The Works – were largely ignored.

But the band remained popular with me and several friends and we were stoked when One Vision arrived in late ’85. It was on the soundtrack to some action flick whose name escapes me (and I’m too lazy to look up), one of several soundtracks in the ’80s that featured Queen’s music.

One Vision sounded great on the car radio that winter when we all spent a lot of time in the car together, usually going nowhere in particular, and the result was often everyone joining in on Freddie Mercury’s closing request for fried chicken.

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door (1985)

Streuss had discovered The Cure with The Head On The Door, most likely via the memorable video for the perky – at least musically – Close To Me. He was soon catching up on their earlier albums which made me intimately familiar with much of their catalog before the band broke to the masses.

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Dig

August 27, 2011

As a child, I had an obsession with dinosaurs and the prehistoric world. It likely was triggered by seeing Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster in the theater and watching B-movies on late-night television in the ’70s.

It’s why I still pause, as I did the other night, when I stumble upon Jurassic Park.

I can’t help but think that had that movie arrived a decade or so earlier, I might have ended up a paleontologist.

I dug Sam Neill’s style as Dr. Alan Grant.

He had a groovy hat.

His work attire was well within my sartorial range.

He spent his days under expansive skies in the Badlands, digging about in the dirt, searching for the fossils and bones of fantastic creatures.

Yes, I think that I’d enjoy the paleontological lifestyle. It seems to be relatively uncomplicated.

(at least until some well-intending, yet short-sighted, billionaire industrialist recegenrates velociraptors)

Not being a homeowner or an escaped convict, it’s been awhile since I’ve had to dig. In fact, I don’t recall digging for any reason – for bait, for treasure, to bury a drifter – since before I left for college.

(where I, unwisely, didn’t study paleontology)

I’m confident that – thanks to a pop-up book I had when I was five and late-night movies – I know enough to recognize dinosaur bones should I happen upon some.

Surely leading the life of a paleontologist can’t be as simple as getting a pick, a shovel, and a floppy hat and moving to Southern Utah.

Maybe all of the really cool dinosaur bones have been dug up.

Then again, perhaps paleontology is as straightforward as finding a plot of earth and digging until you hit T. Rex remains or China. You either end up on the National Geographic channel or causing an international incident.

So, I might soon suggest to Paloma that we pack up the Volvo, load up the cats, and head westward.

In the meantime, here are four songs to get us aspiring diggers in the mood…

Peter Gabriel – Digging In The Dirt
from Us

Despite a great affection for Peter Gabriel’s music, his leisurely pace in releasing new albums has caused me to lose track of him over the nearly two decades since he released Us.

(which arrived a mere six years after the commercially successful So)

I much preferred the emotionally gripping Us and the brooding Digging In The Dirt might make a swell theme song for a freelance paleontologist.

(plus, seeing Gabriel on the ensuing Us tour might be the highlight of my concert-going life)

The Pixies – Dig For Fire
from Death To The Pixies

Though The Pixies were poster children for the burgeoning alternative rock movement that took place while I was in college, I had little more than a passing interest in the band. Why I’m not sure as I quite like much of their catalog.

(Paloma would likely put them high on her list of favorites)

Dig For Fire has been described by lead singer Black Francis as an homage to Talking Heads and the catchy track does possess the latter act’s jittery, stutter-step spirit.

The Who – Dig
from The Iron Man: The Musical By Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend’s adaptation of a children’s story was released while I was studying in Southeast Asia, leading to several confusing exchanges with shopkeepers as I attempted to find a copy…

me: “Pete Townshend of The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”
me: “Yeah, The Who…”
shopkeeper: “Who?”

The album, despite guest appearances by everyone from John Lee Hooker to Nina Simone, wasn’t worth the effort of acquiring it. It did feature two new songs by The Who – the first since the band’s first farewell with It’s Hard in ’82 – including an ill-advised cover of Arthur Brown’s Fire.

But I dug Dig and, though it’s hardly a Who classic, the repetitive use of the title does make me want to pick up a shovel.

Blondie – Dig Up The Conjo
from No Exit

So, I’m a bit confused by Dig Up The Conjo, from Blondie’s 1999 reunion album No Exit.

It sounds as though the band is imploring me to “dig up the Congo,” which would be ambitious as the Congo River is the deepest river in the world.

But, “conjo” is apparently a Spanish insult.

Of course, Blondie was often lyrically nonsensical, so perhaps my confusion is justifiable, but I thought No Exit was a strong return for Blondie (after a seventeen-year hiatus) and Dig Up The Conjo is dense, swirling, and hypnotic.