And Then The Ceiling Comes Down

February 8, 2012

It was late January or early February and I was trapped in the special hell that was inventory at the large record store where I worked.

The store was so large that it took our staff of sixty or so two days at about ten hours each day to accomplish the task of counting – and recounting – everything.

And, the festivities started at six in the morning.

(if you wish more grisly details, they’re here)

On this particular morning, my head was splitting with a headache that – surprisingly for that period – was not a hangover.

(we were not opposed to a cocktail or six before, during, or after our shifts)

Attendence for inventory was non-negotiable; absence was a fireable offense even for veterans, but I had enough tenure and title to skate late that afternoon. I had realized that I had cracked a molar which had been the source of the headache.

I managed to get a dentist whose office was a fifteen-minute walk from the floor of the house I shared with two roommates, one a drummer who resided on the couch. The staff had mercifully agreed to stay a few minutes late and see me after the last scheduled patient.

The assessment was that a root canal would be necessary, but I would have to return the following morning. However, I was provided with the means to alleviate the pain until the problematic tooth could be properly addressed.

I stepped out of the doctor’s office, dazed and hungry. And then, the skies opened and, though it was unseasonably warm for the time of year, I was drenched to the bone within minutes.

I continued the trek home, now dazed, hungry, and drenched. Across the street from our house was a small grocery store and, though I was pretty much skinned, decided that, after the traumas of the day, I deserved something of sustenance more than Ramen noodles.

Ten minutes later, I unlocked the front door, salivating at the prospect of the Tombstone pizza I had purchased.

(truly a luxury at the time)

I preheated the oven and went to my room to change into dry clothes.

Entering the room, I noticed a large “blister” on the ceiling in one corner. I actually mumbled to no one, “Hmmm…that doesn’t look good” a split second before a chunk of the ceiling came crashing to the ground.

Fortunately the mess of plaster and water missed the stereo by eight inches.

Here are four songs from CDs that were likely in the stacks nearest the stereo that day…

Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger
from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

Though it was received mostly with a shrug here in the States, Paloma and I loved Definitely Maybe, Oasis’ debut, spending a lot of time listening to it during the early portion of our friendship.

A friend who was a label rep snagged me a copy of the band’s sophomore effort and, though we weren’t quite as passionate about (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, I professed our approval.

(then I added that I didn’t think that it would break them here)

Six months later, Wonderwall was finally making the Gallagher brothers a sensation Stateside (albeit briefly). Personally, my favorite track was the shuffling sonic tower of grandeur that is Don’t Look Back In Anger.

Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost Of Tom Joad
from The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995)

Late in 1995, Bruce Springsteen released the stark solo album The Ghost Of Tom Joad, which recalled his grim masterpiece Nebraska. I lived with the album for months.

And though the album wasn’t as stellar as Nebraska, I’d put The Ghost Of Tom Joad‘s haunting title track on the list of Springsteen’s essential songs.

(and, sadly, the lyrics resonate far more now than they did fifteen years ago)

Pulp – Common People
from Different Class (1995)

I discovered Pulp from reading British music magazines in the mid-’90s and, though the band never really broke through in the States, I became a fan when I snagged a promo of His ‘n’ Hers in 1994.

A year later, Different Class became an even bigger seller in the UK, making Pulp and lead singer Jarvis Cocker superstars in their homeland. In the US, the group remained a cult act relegated to college and alternative radio or MTV in the middle of the night.

The witty, slightly acerbic Common People – in which Cocker describes a relationship with a female acquaintance from a wealthy background – has an infectiously elastic melody and is impossible to dislodge from the brain.

Aimee Mann – You’re with Stupid Now
from I’m With Stupid (1995)

Aimee Mann was a favorite from the first time I saw her platinum blonde rat tail in Til Tuesday’s video for Voices Carry. I hung with Til Tuesday through a trio of albums in the ’80s, each better – and more ignored – than the previous with the wonderful curtain call Everything’s Different Now being essentially a solo effort from Mann.

The quasi-title song from Mann’s second true solo album I’m With Stupid was as stripped down as anything she’d done before. Uncluttered and sparse, the song was a lovely showcase for Mann’s clever wordplay and knack for a catchy, melancholic melody

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Up With Up With People

September 10, 2011

Like millions of us here in the States, I was watching the Saints/Packers season opener this past week.

There was a lot of hullabaloo and fireworks and shiny objects.

And I couldn’t help but think that Maroon 5 is Collective Soul for this era.

(which isn’t exactly a bad thing)

Then, Kid Rock appeared and I decided to surf and find something interesting to kill some time until – you know – the actual game.

I hit on Batman Begins, got sucked into it, and missed the kickoff and first handful of plays.

Even as I watched Aaron Rodgers carve up an overmatched Saints secondary, the pre-game bombast lingered in my head. I thought of a more simple time when a stellar match-up involving two championship-caliber teams didn’t need The Black Eyed Peas or Daughtry to goose the drama.

Instead, the only entertainment concession made to get my mother and/or twelve-year old girls to watch was halftime and Up With People.

Up With People…

Was it a cult?

Were spaceships and/or Jesus involved?

Were they hippies that had been caught, removed from their native habitats, scrubbed, sanitized, and taught to dance?

My memories of the troupe are fond, though, as it seemed that they performed at several Super Bowls in the late ’70s/early ’80s when I, not quite a teenager, got to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers almost annually in the title game.

It was hardly lost on me that Up With People featured more than a few fetching, young females gyrating through choreographed routines who could have – only a few years earlier – been cheerleaders from the high school I’d soon be attending.

In fact, a girl that had been a cheerleader at our small town’s high school had gone on to be a member of the Up With People cast performing on the television. Deb had also once been a babysitter for me and my brother.

We certainly didn’t see Deb amongst the throng of performers nor did we see Glenn Close, who, in her pre-bunny boiling life, was also apparently a member of Up With People.

But we also didn’t have to sit through yet another performance by The Black Eyed Peas and Let’s Get It Started.

Here are four songs about people…

Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers – Tomorrow People
from Conscious Party

Conscious Party, the third album by Ziggy and several siblings, was released in the spring of 1988 as my sophomore year of college was ending. That summer was the first one which I wouldn’t return home as I was taking classes and working in a record store.

Produced by Talking Heads’ rhythm section Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, Conscious Party was perfect to put on and groove to for forty minutes or so during lazy summer days at the store. The stand-out track was the breezy Tomorrow People which managed to reach the Top 40 in the States, something that their iconic father was never able tp accomplish.

Pulp – Common People
from Different Class

I discovered Pulp from reading British music magazines in the mid-’90s and, though the band never really broke through in the States, I became a fan when I snagged a promo of His ‘n’ Hers in 1994.

A year later, Different Class became an even bigger seller in the UK, making Pulp and lead singer Jarvis Cocker superstars in their homeland. In the US, the group remained a cult act relegated to college and alternative radio or MTV in the middle of the night.

The witty, slightly acerbic Common People – in which Cocker describes a relationship with a female acquaintance from a wealthy background – has an infectiously elastic melody and is impossible to dislodge from the brain.

Sly & The Family Stone- Everyday People
from Greatest Hits

Despite being one of the biggest acts around at the beginning of the ’70s, Sly & The Family Stone had imploded and weren’t heard a lot on radio by the time I started listening as the decade wound down.

Like a lot of the groundbreaking act’s music, Everyday People was a call for unity offered up in fine, funky fashion.

David Bowie – Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
from The Singles: 1969 To 1993

There are two versions of David Bowie’s Cat People which I have. One appeared in the 1982 movie of the same name in which Nastassia Kinski frolics about murdering bunnies (OK, it’s only one rabbit of which she makes a meal). The other version appeared on Bowie’s Let’s Dance, the singer’s commercial comeback album from the following year.

This one is from the former and has a nifty, smoldering intro and was produced, if I recall correctly, by Giorgio Moroder.


Dumbing Down The Cosmos

February 26, 2011

I happened across some television program on aliens the other night that was focused on theorists proffering the idea that human evolution has been influenced by extraterrestrial beings.

One fellow rattled off the Nazca Lines, the Pyramids of Giza and the Moai statues of Easter Island as evidence.

There was speculation that aliens might have altered the DNA of humans, resulting in some six billion or so lab rats.

The theory was also offered that some of their experientation with the various species on the planet explains the strange creatures depicted in ancient mythology – lions with wings and such.

And, these creatures might have, then, been taken by the aliens to populate other worlds.

I thought of our planet’s inhabitants as Sea Monkeys for extraterrestrials.

(it would be far less disappointing than brine shrimp)

Then, I considered Earth as a potential reality show for more advanced civilizations in the cosmos. Perhaps it competes for the attention of viewers with “reality” shows set in the other worlds the aliens have created.

Earth is probably quite popular in extraterrestrial trailer parks and a guilty pleasure for others.

(maybe it has a snappier title like So You Think You Can Evolve?)

Here are four television songs…

A-ha – The Sun Always Shines On T.V.
from Hunting High And Low

Here in the States, the Norwegian trio A-Ha has been relegated to one-hit wonder status which is unfortunate.

Sure, everyone knows Take On Me, but I’ve always been partial to that song’s follow-up, The Sun Always Shines On T.V. It hurtles along with a gloriously yearning melody and, as I recall, the video was almost as striking as the song for which they’re better known.

David Bowie – TVC 15
from The Singles Collection

TVC 15 is a jaunty little number that originally appeared on Bowie’s Station To Station set. Apparently the song was inspired by a drug-fueled hallucination by Iggy Pop that a television set had swallowed his girlfriend. Iggy wished to crawl into the television and join her.

(Burger King commercials have the same effect on me)

Pulp – TV Movie
from This Is Hardcore

I owned a trio of Pulp’s records from the mid-’90s when they reached their highest profile in their native UK. Here in the States, the group garnered little attention (which is too bad).

Jarvis Cocker always reminded me of a latter day Ray Davies. This is Hardcore was a darker, more somber affair than the band’s previous Different Class. TV Movie, lamenting a failed relationship, is somber, but it is also lovely and moving.

The Tubes – T.V. Is King
from Remote Control

My high school buddy Bosco turned me on to both The Tubes and Todd Rundgren. Though Remote Control was released several years earlier, I have no doubt it was a memorable moment for him as the album found Rundgren producing the band.

Rundgren also received writing credits on a pair of songs from Remote Control, a concept album about television, including T.V. Is King. The amusing track has Rundgren’s fingerprints all over it.