Everyone Wants To Beat Daniel-san’s Ass

March 10, 2013

kkEverytime I channel surf the past few weeks, there’s Ralph Macchio sulking, being oblivious or – most often – getting his ass kicked by every living soul whose path he crosses in one of the three Karate Kid flicks.

I was roughly the age of high school student and social pariah Daniel-san, the character Macchio was playing, when The Karate Kid opened in theaters in the summer of 1984.

(Macchio was, at the time, already in his forties)

The movie was, as I recall, an unexpected hit.

I saw it, as did most of my friends, at the old theater in our hometown. It was slight but entertaining and, of course, we all dug Mr. Miyagi who came from another world and possessed wisdom dispensed in riddles.

But Daniel-san…

It’s tough to be the new kid in town, but, having had three decades to reflect on the situation, I have to wonder if Mrs. LaRusso moved him three-thousand miles from New Jersey to Southern California to escape the shame of having an offspring whose mere presence instilled instant hostility and hatred in those around him.

(it couldn’t have been simply the lure of a secretarial job)

And then, she comes to find that there is no East Coast bias when it came to wanting to open a can of whoop-ass on the fruit of her loins.

Yes, you could have put Daniel LaRusso in a room with Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Ghandi, and the peace-loving threesome would have reduced Daniel-san to a pulpy heap identifiable only by dental records.

In truth, not only were Daniel-san and I roughly the same age in 1984, his attire led me to believe that he had been raiding my closet. I should have identified with the kid I was seeing on the screen.

I didn’t.

No one did.

The only people that seemed to dig Daniel-san were Elisabeth Shue and my girlfriend at the time.

(and though the girlfriend was googly moogly for Macchio, her five-year old brother – who loved The Karate Kid – also wanted to kick his ass)

And what about Elisabeth Shue’s interest in this human piñata?

She had money, she was a cheerleader, she was a fetching blonde whose student body was seemingly popular with the entire student body…

…and she would later graduate from Harvard and win an Academy Award nomination.

And she was smitten with Daniel-san.

It was inexplicable.

But, when I come across The Karate Kid on cable, I pause. I watch for the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi, but I also watch because there’s something about watching Daniel-san receive a beating that restores order to the universe.

The Karate Kid also served as an introduction for most of America to Bananarama, whose Cruel Summer appeared briefly in the movie and became a hit with its inclusion on the soundtrack.

Here are four songs from Bananarama…

Bananarama – He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’

Bananarama – Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)
from Deep Sea Skiving (1983)

My buddy Beej brought a lot of new music to us via his uncle, a college professor who lived in the city. So, we knew of Tears For Fears, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, and Echo & The Bunnymen well before we might have heard them on the radio.

Bananarama was another one. The trio’s Deep Sea Skiving might not have been more than a cult hit in the States, but I did hear He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ and Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) often when 97X went on the air in autumn of 1983.

The former was a cover of a minor hit by Motown girl group The Velvelettes and the breezy, tropical vibe of the song was augmented by a guest appearance by Fun Boy Three, a trio comprised of former members of UK ska group The Specials.

Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye) was another cover but of a far better-known song which had reached #1 in 1969 as performed by the studio band Steam.

Bananarama – Cruel Summer

Bananarama – The Wild Life
from Bananrama (1984)

Bananarama’s self-titled second album actually arrived in the spring of 1984 and my buddy Beej was again tuned in, raving about Robert De Niro’s Waiting… which he had discovered via the song’s video being played on the fledgling Night Tracks on WTBS.

By the time we returned to school that autumn, the loping Cruel Summer had become Banarama’s US breakthrough hit, so the trio might have been the only people on the face that didn’t wish to do great violence to Ralph Macchio.

That autumn, Bananarama provided the title track for Cameron Crowe’s The Wild Life, a movie that I don’t even recall being in theaters. The song was belatedly added to the US version of Bananarama and, though stylistically in the vein of Cruel Summer, The Wild Life failed to replicate the group’s prior soundtrack success.

I totally dug those first two Bananarama records. Deep Sea Skiving was a lot of fun, the three girls were cute as buttons, and it’s still the only Bananarama I need to own.

Two years later, Bananarama fell into the clutches of producers Stock Aitken Waterman, scored a mammoth hit with yet another cover, Venus, and I was out.

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Stuck Inside The Jeepster Behind The #2 Bus With The Heading To Work Blues Again

February 13, 2013

(reimagined from a post from February, 2011)

I commute.

I do so relunctantly and under silent protest and, on good evenings, I can block out Sting howling the lyrics to Synchronicity II, which plays on a loop in my head during the drive.

Another working day has ended
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race

The morning trek, though, is typically Zen. The only people up when Paloma and I arise are us, the kid that drowsily mans the counter at the convenience store down the block, and a coke-binging, downstairs neighbor who probably never sleeps.

(which is good as she needs to devote plenty of time to searching for her pet ferret which she loses on a weekly basis)

The morning commute involves no travel on the interstate and the bulk of the map – once I get a few miles from home – threads through semi-rural, wooded areas. There are deer, a fox, and an old woman in bright red boots who is always walking her dog in her yard.

At such an hour, there is little traffic.

Usually.

Today, I was mere minutes off schedule, resulting in me inhaling the exhaust of the #2 bus. Not only did this predicament ruin the cigarette I was smoking, it frustrated me to not have open road to cruise as usual, with impunity, as though I was on the autobahn.

A paradoxical thought came to mind…

…I don’t want to go to work, so why am I rushing to get there?

(is that a paradox?)

I set the controls for the heart of the sun (part of the drive, depending on the time of year, is directly into the rising sun on the horizon) and I set to scrolling through the stations on Sirius.

I often opt for a ’70s pop station.

The music is from before I was a teenager, before music was of particular interest to me, but I know most of the songs.

Some of the songs I hazily recall from the time that they were hits and the others are ones I’ve come to know over the intervening years.

There’s something about the mellow vibe of a lot of the pop hits from the ’70s that calms the nerves and allows me to ease into the day.

Here are four songs that I’ve heard on that station on recent mornings…

Walter Egan – Magnet And Steel
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21 (1993)

Out of this foursome, Magnet And Steel is the only song that comes from the time frame during which I was actually listening to music of my own volition – though it was still rare for me to do so – and, thus, I certainly remember hearing it fairly often in 1978 when it reached the Top Ten.

Magnet And Steel, a throwback to ’50s doo-wop, is quite the earworm and it certainly didn’t hurt having Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks crooning away in the background.

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I seem to recall discovering Spirit In The Sky while in college via my buddy Streuss who, as I recall, discovered the song initially through Doctor And The Medics cover of it.

Paloma becomes positively giddy when she hears the fuzz guitar opening. So much so that – on a challenge from her – I almost contacted Greenbaum to invite him to the treehouse for a visit just to see if we would get a response.

Cat Stevens – Wild World
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

All debate regarding what Cat did say, didn’t say, or actually meant to say regarding Salman Rushdie aside, although I was pretty young, I do vividly remember hearing songs like Morning Has Broken and Peace Train on the radio as a tyke.

And, maybe most of all, I remember hearing the lovely Wild World and, though I had no grasp on Cat’s cautionary take on things, I was entraced by the la, la, las.

Lobo – I’d Love You To Want Me
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 9 (1990)

As was a toddler in 1971, I remember hearing Lobo’s Me And You And A Dog Named Boo on the radio and adoring it. I imagine the fact that the singer had a dog appealed to me.

(my brother and I had to make do with a hamster and hamsters, if no one has ever told you, don’t fetch).

I also remember hearing I’d Love You To Want Me from a year or so later, though I know that for some time I mistook it for America.


Finding Coelacanthe

February 9, 2013

coelacanthePaloma has, on more than one occasion, wandered into the living room of our treehouse to find me watching an episode of Finding Bigfoot. Her usual response is to shake her head.

She doesn’t share my fascination at the possibility of an unknown species of giant hominids living in the most remote forests on the planet.

(but I still think she’s swell)

I have no expectations that, if the sasquatch does exist, the intrepid quartet of Finding Bigfoot will actually do so during the course of the hour.

No, much of the appeal is the various settings of the show. I’ve not been to the bottom lands of Arkansas or the heights of the Canadian Rockies, but I am able to appreciate the breathtaking, natural beauty of these places where McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart have yet to leave a corporate footprint in HD glory.

And, there is the possibility of an unknown species of giant hominids living in these isolated locales.

When Paloma expresses her doubt, I say one word.

Coelacanthe.

For the ichthyologically uninclined, the coelacanthe is a gigantic fish believed to have gone extinct during the Cretaceous period some sixty million years ago. Then, in the late 1930s, fisherman began pulling living coelacanthes out of the waters off the coast of Africa, proving the existence of an animal that had existed as nothing more than local folklore.

In college, one of my buddies knew of a door to the biology building that often remained unlocked. Late one night as we were downing one last round, he suggested a trek across campus to take advantage of this access.

We wandered the dimly-lit hallways of the massive building which I had rarely had reason or need to visit. And there, imprisoned in a glass tube in a display case was a fully preserved coelacanthe, five-foot long and covered in scales resembling armor.

We stood there for a moment staring at a creature who had not changed since a time when its ancestors swam the seas while dinosaurs roamed the land.

Here are four random songs that shuffled up on the iPod from bands that might be considered extinct…

The La’s – There She Goes
from The La’s (1990)

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 little more than 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.

Eurythmics – Missionary Man
from Revenge (1986)

Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox’ decade-long run as Eurythmics seemed to come to a close following 1989’s We Too Are One. Since then, the duo have reunited periodically but their only new release has been Peace in 1999 and, according to an interview with Stewart last year, there are no plans for future collaborations.

Eurythmics were coming off of the highly-successful Be Yourself Tonight – which had included Would I Lie To You? – when they issued Revenge in the summer of 1986. Missionary Man was one of the pair’s most mainstream rock efforts and provided the two with their last significant hit singles in the States.

Concrete Blonde – Caroline
from Bloodletting (1990)

Concrete Blonde was one of my favorite discoveries while in college and I quickly snagged each and every album the trio released, though most of their records were uneven.

Bloodletting was their momentary breakthrough with Joey becoming a hit and the title track getting some airplay on modern rock stations, too. For me, the wistful Caroline was one the band’s finest songs and featured some riveting, serpentine guitar courtesy of James Mankey.

The group wasn’t able to sustain the momentum and split in 1997 before reuniting for a couple albums in the early 2000s. And, like the coelacanthe, Concrete Blonde might not be entirely extinct as the band’s website lists some live dates from December of last year.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits (1994)

INXS was introduced to us in the States with 1983’s Shabooh Shoobah. Several friends were impressed, but aside from the brilliant Don’t Change, I was mostly indifferent. However, one of those friends was compelled to purchase INXS’ two previous albums as pricey, Australian imports and, thanks to his incessant playing of the band’s music, I became a fan.

Within five years, INXS was one of the biggest acts in the world with 1987’s Kick selling millions and spawning hits like Need You Tonight, Devil Inside, and Never Tear Us Apart. Kick‘s successor, X, arrived in 1990 and managed to be moderately successful, but the band’s commercial fortunes continued to decline in the ’90s.

INXS seemed to be done with the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence in 1997, but reality television intervened and the group had a brief reunion almost a decade later.

(of course, as anyone familiar with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary knows, sometimes dead is better)

The Stairs initially appeared on X and, though not a hit, other than Don’t Change, it might be the best thing that INXS ever did.