It Wasn’t A Nakamichi Dragon, But It Was Mine

March 13, 2010

I’m not sure when Spring Break became an event, but it was beginning to take on a life of its own by the time I reached high school in the early ’80s.

It was an underwhelming stretch on the calender for most of us in southern Indiana. Sure, it was time off school which was a wonderful thing, but there were no junkets to Ft. Lauderdale or Cancun for most of us.

There were a handful of kids from more affluent families (or families feigning affluence) who trekked off to more sunny locales, but, for the majority of my classmates, Spring Break was something people in teen movies – or, a few years later, MTV – experienced.

Instead, I remember a lot of rain. It seemed to always rain during that week in mid-March, but, coming out of winter in the Midwest, rain meant that it was too warm to snow and that was enough to put most folks in a hopeful mood (even when it was a cold, stinging rain).

Despite the uncooperative meteorological conditions, there were a couple Spring Breaks which were memorable to me, maybe none more than 1984.

When I had first become interested in music three or four years earlier, I staked claim to an old, boxy tabletop radio with big dials and a front panel whose grill was becoming detached. I’d dug it up in our basement where it had likely languished since the early ’70s.

Sometime over the next year or two, I’d gotten a tape recorder and begun to purchase albums on cassette. However, mostly I was taping songs I liked off the radio, placing the built-in mic as close to the radio’s single speaker as possible for maximum fidelity and minimal background noise.

(and, as Any Major Dude will agree, you opted for pause instead of stop)

The next step in audio evolution was a “component.” Though it was almost the size of an actual stereo component, it was essentially a glorified clock radio with a tape deck.

I loved it and my crude radio compilations of Journey, The Police, and Duran Duran had never sounded better.

But, several of my friends were burgeoning audiophiles and were putting together actual rack systems and so, as Spring Break arrived in March of ’84, I was ready to take the first step in entering into this audio arms race.

So, on the first morning of the first day of that break, I headed into Cincinnati with a couple friends and $150 I had saved from a part-time job with the intent to purchase an actual tape deck.

It was, of course, raining.

By that evening, I had contributed to Pioneer’s first quarter profits, purchasing a sleek, silver CT-20 model (with Dolby). It would be toward the end of the summer before I would scrounge up enough cash to add an actual tuner and speakers to the electronic menagerie, so I hooked up the tape deck to the glorified clock radio.

And there was no place on earth that I’d rather have been that Spring Break than sprawled out on my bedroom floor, setting recording levels, dubbing cassettes, and taping songs from the radio.

Here are four songs I distinctly remember taping from various stations as I got to know the tape deck which would be a fixture in my life for the next five or six years…

Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi

Though I’ve never really been a fan aside from a couple songs, I’ve always kind of rooted for Bon Jovi. He seems like a pretty good guy.

She Don’t Know Me got played a lot on 96Rock that Spring (along with Runaway) and it was a catchy reflection on unrequited love at the time. Marc Avsec of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers had written it and it’s not hard to imagine that band doing the song.

(maybe they did a version, but, if they did, I haven’t heard it)

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard the hits from Side Kicks (it had a different title in the UK). I thought Love On Your Side and Lies pleasant at first but soon they were annoyingly hyperactive and grating.

(you know, the kind of song you start to really fall for and then wonder what the hell you heard in it in the first place)

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid and lush. It totally drew me in.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
from Lament

I had never heard Ultravox before late winter of 1984, but I had seen their name in my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, Lament was released and I heard Dancing With Tears In My Eyes on the radio (though not very often).

I actually borrowed Lament from a friend. It was the first cassette I ever dubbed – a most momentous personal milestone.

I was a fan. At least for that album. I never really have gotten around to explore the rest of their catalog aside from knowing the songs Vienna and Reap The Wild Wind.

Strike Up The Children’s Choir!

July 2, 2009

Paloma accused me of being an aficionado of songs with children’s choirs. I found myself on the receiving end of this perceived slur when we chanced across The Lost Boys on cable.

As we watched the antics of ‘80s-styled vampires, the song Cry Little Sister played on the movie’s soundtrack; said song featured a children’s choir.

It was then that she made her allegation (despite the fact that the song means nothing to me – though the movie’s soundtrack was fun back in the day).

I stammered for a comeback to an accusation that was truly a first. My fifth-grade teacher said I was “as trustworthy as a rattlesnake,” but this children’s choir charge had me bumfoozled.

Could it be true?

The Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want has a children’s choir. No shame in being a fan of that one.

The only other song that popped into my head was, of all things, Kenny Loggins’ Welcome To Heartlight. Aside from one, maybe two songs, I’ve never been a fan – his association with Top Gun pretty much demanded that I blacklist him – and I loathed Welcome To Heartlight when it was a hit in ’83.

If the only thing standing between me and a sullied reputation as a fan of children’s choirs was a dislike of Kenny Loggins, I was standing on shaky ground.

Some research quickly reminded me of The Carpenters’ Sing and Clint Holmes’ Playground In My Mind (“My name is Michael, I got a nickel…”). Both featured children’s choirs and I remembered hearing both as a youngster when they were radio hits.

Could affection for the dulcet strains of vocalizing urchins been ingrained in me when I was but an urchin myself? Is there something about the pint-sized choral harmonies of scamps and ragamuffins that cause my ears to perk up as though it was bacon sizzling in a pan?

I lost interest in researching pretty quickly. The results were inconclusive. For every song with a children’s choir that I liked, there was one that was not good.

Not good.

Actually, I didn’t even come up with a dozen songs. I have to have missed or forgotten some obvious ones.

However, here’s an assortment of songs that do have children’s choirs…

Sammy Davis, Jr. – The Candy Man

I think I was four when this song topped the charts. To a four-year old – when one of the few desires in life is candy – The Candy Man was as stirring as We Shall Overcome was to those marching for civil rights.

And though it wasn’t Sammy’s version, the song appeared in the movie Willie Wonka & Chocolate Factory, which seems to have quite a following with my fellow Gen Xers.

There must be a thesis in the relationship between that flick and slacker culture.

Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall, Part II
from The Wall

Like the concept of candy, a dislike for being confined to a classroom is a common thread in the DNA of kids. So, when I heard Another Brick In The Wall blaring incessantly from the bowling alley jukebox, it resonated.

It was one of the first 45s I ever bought with my own money and, though I wouldn’t really get into music for another year or so, Pink Floyd’s unlikely hit song helped awaken that interest.

Pat Benatar – We Belong
from Tropico

Pat Benatar’s rise to start status coincided with my teenage years, so she could have been singing Bolshevik work songs and she’d have had our attention.

Nonetheless, I owned most of her cassettes and likely bought Tropico soon after it came out. And, I’ve proven adept at repeatedly buying copies of her albums on vinyl which we already own.

Gorillaz – Dirty Harry
from Demon Days

Why I haven’t swooned harder over Gorillaz is a bit of a mystery to me. I love cartoons. Their music has always entertained me. And, I might be one of the few people that enjoyed the movie Tank Girl which was based on the comic book created by Jamie Hewlett who handles the animated aspects of the band.

I’d accept the blame except that would make me responsible. Instead, I think I need to devote more time to the music of Gorillaz. This should delight Paloma who is a big fan and – oh by the way – Dirty Harry features a children’s choir.

"I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead."

September 16, 2008

It was July 1, 1997. I know because that’s the date given when I checked on IMDb.

I walked into the dimly lit, catina-styled bar which was the favorite haunt of several of my friends and me during those days. Sitting there, nursing his scotch and Coke was The Drunken Frenchman, his haggard, craggy face bearing an obviously immense weight that made him appear to be even surlier than he often was.

“What’s wrong, Frenchman?”

The Frenchman barely glanced up, mumbling, “I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead.”

Although only ten years older than me, The Frenchman belonged to another generation. As I had learned much from him about pop culture that had occurred before I was old enough (or even alive) to experience it, I was quite willing to defer to his assessment of Mitchum as the paragon of cool and the maven of manliness.

The Frenchman remained sullen throughout the evening and I understand why more so as the years pass. The icons of his youth were shuffling off this mortal coil on a too regular basis.

As he existed in a near vacuum – no phone, no internet (which, granted was in its infancy), no cable – he relied on others to inform him of each grim piece of news. As we worked together most mornings in a record store, it was often me that would arrive and ask, “Did you hear…”

The Frenchman was, quite possibly, the most knowledgeable person I have ever known about rock music from its birth to the early ’80s. It was the early ’80s – and a confluence of synthesizers and bands like Kansas and REO Speedwagon – that had caused him to wash his hands of much of the new music which followed. The names of the deceased who we’d toast – barely familiar to me – were his touchstones.

I had never known a world without Beatles. He could tell me of their every move and where he was when it occurred. And someday soon, we will live in a world where the Beatles are nothing more than spirits.

And the ghosts keep getting closer to me. Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright passed away today.

By the time I became serious about music, Pink Floyd was nearing the end, but, like most teenaged boys, I spent many hours listening to Animals, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side Of The Moon.

I grew up with Pink Floyd’s music, but I wasn’t entirely connected to it – not like The Drunken Frenchman, who had probably bought Meddle on vinyl the day it was released.

But someday, the day will come.

Bono will die.

Or Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons.

One will die.

And another.

Soon I’ll be learning of deaths and struggling to place the name. Even those who didn’t have much importance to me, names of those were merely the window dressing of my childhood, will become a steady procession of flickering images growing more distant.

So, Frenchman, wherever you are, a toast to Rick Wright, sir.

Pink Floyd – Wot’s…Uh The Deal

Pink Floyd – Us And Them

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd – Sheep