Going Postal: How I Intend To Thrive In A Post-Apocalyptic World*

April 7, 2011

The drumbeat that we, as a species, are reaching the closing credits keeps getting louder and whether we are or not is anyone’s guess.

I am now able to face such a dire proposition with a new-found sense of contentment and a plan for success in a brave new world.

I have seen The Postman.

I had seen a bit of Kevin Costner’s magnum opus years ago and had no intention of ever seeing more, but it was late and the pickings were slim.

“I know that Tom Petty’s in it,” I said to Paloma, shrugging, trying to feign a semblance of optimism.

(it was some of the best acting of the evening)

I have now seen it, though, and I am richer for the experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it’s set sometime in the near future and there has been some disaster that has left civilization in ruins with pockets of refugees and a quasi-military strongman who is trying to consolidate power.

I’m not sure what the disaster was as Paloma and I were going full-freakin’ Mystery Science Theater on the flick. There was some comment about drought, but everything seemed pretty lush and well-watered to me.

Enter Costner, a drifter with a penchant for reciting Shakespeare, who takes refuge in a mail truck during a thunderstorm and dons the dead carrier’s garb. With nothing more than a bag of mail, a USPS jacket, and a rather snazzy cap, he becomes The Man.

Actually, he becomes The Postman.

Coming upon an enclave of survivors, Costner is met with the same fanfare which The Beatles received when they arrived in America.

He gets soup.

He gets a bath.

They throw some party which gives reason to believe that bad jam bands will indeed survive the apocalypse.

He gets hooked up with a fetching, young village lass.

The Postman is livin’ la vida loca and there doesn’t appear to be a dog in sight, but it’s not all seashells and balloons.

There is that strongman to contend with who doesn’t like the fact that The Postman is giving the punters hope that the United States is being reformed.

There’s also the sheriff of the village who is suspicious of The Postman’s credentials. Of course, said sheriff is actually Mr. Kruger from Kruger Industrial Smoothing, so George Costanza and the legacy of The Human Fund has obviously made him cynical toward do-gooders.

(that will make sense to Seinfeld fans)

The Postman must also contend with cavernous plot holes, inane dialogue, and acting that would mar a good sock-puppet production.

So, yes, he does have his hands full, but he also has soup, a hot soak, and a nubile companion.

He also gets to hang with Tom Petty, who is the major of Bridge City.

As Paloma reminded me, Petty also had a recurring role on King Of The Hill and, like that part, in The Postman he essentially seems to be playing Tom Petty. However, he gives a tour de force performance because, no matter how gifted an actor – DeNiro, Pacino, or whomever you might fancy – no one plays Tom Petty like Tom Petty.

Forget stockpiling bottled water or canned hams. I intend to thrive after armageddon using the lessons I’ve learned from Kevin Costner, I’m off to find a mail carrier’s jacket or a patch of the US Postal Service which I might affix to my Belgian army coat.

Here are four songs from the mail route…

Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters
from High Land, Hard Rain

In late ’83, I was discovering alternative music with 97X and Aztec Camera’s Oblivious was a staple on the station. I was fifteen and Aztec Camera’s mastermind, Roddy Frame, was a mere four years older than me.

Frame was a prodigy and his songwriting skills were earning him comparisons to Elvis Costello. I owned all of Aztec Camera’s albums up through 1995’s Frestonia which, as it turns out, was the last release by the band-in-mostly-name-only.

We Could Send Letters, from that same debut as Oblivious, is melancholic but it alternates jangling passages with glorious vocals that evoke the best sunshine pop of the ’60s and ’70s.

Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals – Maria Elena (Letter From L.A.)
from Concrete Blonde y Los Illegals

Concrete Blonde was one of my personal favorites during the late ’80s and early ’90s. So, it was with sadness that I read reports of the trio’s break-up in 1994.

But, Blonde’s guitarist James Mankey and bassist/vocalist Johnette Napolitano reunited three years later, collaborating with Chicano punk band Los Illegals. It shouldn’t have been a complete surprise as Concrete Blonde had incorporated South of the border influences into their final (at that time) album Mexican Moon.

The grinding guitars of Maria Elena (Letter From L.A.) are hypnotic and the bi-lingual lyric offers a cautionary tale of life for an immigrant in East Los Angeles, warning those left back home to not make the trek.

PJ Harvey – The Letter
from Uh Huh Her

When a track from Miss Polly Jean shuffles up on the iPod, I invariably ask why I don’t know her work more intimately.

Oh, I’m familiar with a good portion of her ouvre and I own a handful of her albums, but there’s been no period since she arrived with the opening salvo of Dry and Rid Of Me in ’92/’93 that I’ve spent with her music in non-stop rotation.

The thing is, I’ve loved most of the music that I’ve heard from Harvey. Much like Neil Young, she constantly surprises while still sounding like no one else, occupying her own astral plane. She has a voice that she can take from sensual whisper to banshee howl in a split second and her lyrics have an often feral beauty.

Planet P Project – Send It In A Letter
from Planet P Project

One-time Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey got a lot of airplay on the stations in our part of the Midwest and notched some minor hits with songs like I Won’t Be Home Tonight, A Fine, Fine Day, and First Day Of Summer.

Concurrent to his solo career in the early ’80s, Carey was also releasing a pair of albums under the moniker of Planet P Project which is likely best remembered for the song Why Me?

Planet P Project’s output had a decidedly futuristic sound and lyrical bent – synthesizers and science fiction. Send It In A Letter is sparse and spacey with a pulsing melody that offered a glimpse into a future where electronica would become a mainstream genre.

*remixed and remastered from a post which appeared on April 21, 2008.

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Snow Globe

January 30, 2010

There’s probably as much snow on the ground tonight as I’ve seen in nearly twenty years. On the eave, it’s still undisturbed, but in the streets below, it’s already been churned into a sloshy mess.

The usual flow of traffic is non-existent, though, and the snow is still falling in the glow of the streetlights, so the landscape might be pristine again come morning.

One news channel is referring to it as “The Snowpocalypse.”

I think we have about three inches of snow.

It’s more like a snow globe.

(of course, since I started writing this twenty-four hours or so ago, we’ve gotten an additional four or five inches of snow – still far short of a “snowpocalypse”)

Snowfalls of this much and sometimes much more were far more frequent for me as a kid in the Midwest. I’ve told tale of the danger, but all things considered, the snow was usually welcome.

There was something quite zen in sprawling out on the bed and staring at the ceiling, listening to music as a heavy snow fell outside. It was a perfect way to waste a Saturday afternoon as a kid. I could stare up and out the window, watching large flakes falling against the sky.

Stare long enough and – with the lack of visual perspective – they would seem to be drifting upward.

I seem to recall a lot of snow on the ground in the first few months of 1984. I was still listening to Top 40 stations, but I had also discovered album rock radio and 97X was providing my first glimpse of the future and an exposure to modern rock.

Here is a quartet of songs I remember from the early weeks of the year Orwell had warned us about…

Van Halen – Jump
from 1984

Jump caused quite a bit of confusion when it hit the airwaves. At school, we asked each other if we’d heard the song in hushed tones as though someone had died. No one had, but the prominent use of synthesizer, especially when coupled with the brief, instrumental title track preceding it, vexed many of my friends.

The sheer exuberance of the song and the fact that it really wasn’t that startling of a departure from the band’s signature sound helped it gain quick acceptance from most fans and earned Van Halen new ones. Jump and 1984 both proved to be mammoth successes.

And a mere twelve months later, there would be no Van Halen as we had always known them.

Eurythmics – Here Comes The Rain Again
from Touch

With the release of Be Yourself Tonight in the spring of 1985, Eurythmics went in the opposite direction that Van Halen had with 1984, adding guitar and a more rock-oriented sound to their dreamy synth-pop.

But, Touch arrived in January, 1984 and was still firmly entrenched in the hypnotic, synthesizer-based groove of Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), the album that had broken the duo in the US the prior summer.

Touch received an earlier release in the UK and had already had several hits before being issued in the US, so I’m sure that I likely heard the lovely, melancholic Here Comes The Rain Again as an import on 97X prior to its becoming a major radio hit.

Icicle Works – Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)
from Icicle Works

Tribal drumming and chiming guitars made Icicle Works’ lone US hit a memorable one-hit wonder that still sounds stellar a quarter century later. The song had been a UK hit the year before (titled Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)) and, like Here Comes The Rain Again , I’m sure I heard the frenetic track as an import on 97X months before it became a hit in the States.

Tony Carey – A Fine, Fine Day
from Some Tough City

Paloma had no idea who Tony Carey was when I played A Fine, Fine Day for her. Though the song did make the Top 40, it apparently didn’t get much/any airplay where she grew up.

It was quite the opposite for me. Carey got a lot of play on radio with I Won’t Be Home Tonight and, under the moniker of Planet P Project, Why Me? during 1983. Both of those songs had a sci-fi bent to them.

A Fine, Fine Day is the tale of an aging mobster (or so it would seem) and, in those snowy, early months of 1984, it seemed as though I couldn’t go very long without hearing it on one of several stations while surfing the dial. Later that year, Carey would return to the sci-fi fare with Planet P Project’s album Pink World and one final radio hit, What I See, before vanishing from the scene.