Fall Break

October 11, 2012

moody-autumn-skyAs a kid, fall break was an inspired construct. It wasn’t as lengthy as spring break – a mere Thursday and Friday – but it’s placement in the school year was almost flawless.

It fell in the latter half of October, a week or so before Halloween and halfway between the start of the school year and Christmas break. It was far enough into the semester that the hopeless feeling that the school year would never end had set in even if the last warm days of Indian summer were reminders of the summer past.

There are a couple schools I pass on the morning commute to work each day. They all have some kind of message board at the front of the school, marquee letters announcing football games and such.

I’ve started seeing dates for fall breaks.

I keep thinking of the fall break in 1984. It was the first fall break where my friends and I all had licenses. Acquiring a vehicle, though, usually demanded nimble gamesmanship and negotiation with parents or an older sibling if not outright chicanery.

That break, my buddy Kirk showed up with his older brother’s car, a late ’60s Ford which we abused as often as possible.

Another friend, Bosco, was with him, but, as Kirk hadn’t actually gotten consent to have the car, there had been no time to assemble the rest of our usual group.

So, the three of us headed to the city – Cincinnati – and an hour later we were rifling through the racks at a record store.

Bosco, an obsessive fan of The Tubes, was determined to snag a recently released solo album by the band’s front man Fee Waybill.

He found the desired vinyl at a Record Bar from a clerk whom he summarily dubbed “DLR” as the kid had adopted the look of Van Halen’s soon-to-be ex-lead singer.

Bosco led us to the stereo department on the top floor of the mall, peeled peeled open the shrink-wrap and threw the new album onto a turntable for us to preview.

(at least until it was requested that we leave)

I remember vividly the overcast skies – much like today – that day, but it was far warmer than it is here, now, where it feels as though we’ve skipped directly from September to November.

As we headed home late that afternoon, the sun did its best to break through the clouds before issuing a surrender and making way for dusk.

I’m less certain of what music I purchased that day, though I have no doubt that I returned home that evening with several new cassettes.

Here is a quartet of tracks from albums that I very well might have snagged on that break in the autumn of 1984…

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
from The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

I do know that I purchased The Unforgettable Fire from a clerk in a record store that had been greatly influenced by Cyndi Lauper. She complimented my purchase and I asked her to marry me.

(it was all a whirlwind and ended with Cyndi answering my proposal with an indifferent shrug)

I arrived home, sprawled out on my bedroom floor with my Walkman, and was promptly confused as the jagged edges which had drawn me to War were now soft like watercolors. There were elements of the past, but I didn’t know what to make of the hints of U2′s future.

But I slowly embraced the more subtle nuances of The Unforgettable Fire.

The title tracks was one of my favorites at the time. Since then, it’s only become more dear to me. Nearly twenty-five years later, I’d consider the song to be four of the finest minutes of their career.

A Flock Of Seagulls – The More You Live, The More You Love
from The Story Of A Young Heart (1984)

In 1984, as U2 was becoming one of my favorite bands, A Flock Of Seagulls, one of my very first favorite bands, was issuing what would be their commercial swansong with The Story Of A Young Heart.

The More You Love, The More You Love got a bit of radio play where I lived and, as MTV had finally reached our part of the world, I do recall seeing the video a handful of times. The song wouldn’t reverse the Liverpool quartet’s fortunes, but it’s actually a very catchy track.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth (1984)

Cherry Bomb – originally performed by Jett’s previous band, The Runaways – is about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be and proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent fire.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.

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It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.


Go For Soda

May 16, 2012

I missed a lot of class during my junior and senior years of high school.

My friends and I, much like the prison escapees Gail and Evelle in Raising Arizona, felt that the institution no longer had anything to offer us.

(especially now that we were mobile)

We had our escapes down to a science. We worked through some office connections to erase any evidence that we had been absent or I would provide faked doctor’s notes using the nom de plume Dr. A.E. Lifeson, DDS, an homage to the Rush guitarist.

(I have no idea if his middle actually begins with an E, I simply liked the feel)

However, the nearest civilization was forty-five minutes away in Cincinnati. We yearned for the thrill of the escape, but time, financial or transportation constraints sometimes made such a trip logistically impossible.

And, these escapes had become too easy.

The rock station perferred by most of us at the time would play a song called Go For Soda by Kim Mitchell and its conclusion – “might as well go for a soda” – provided inspiration.

We challenged ourselves with a game we quickly dubbed Go For Soda.

We had ten minutes between classes and the goal was to sneak off the grounds and get to the nearest grocery store – about three minutes away – to get soda. We then had to return to school and make it to our next class on time.

(the best chance for success was if one of our twin friends – known as Smart and Dumb to us – was behind the wheel)

We soon became adept enough to return with grocery bags of donuts, Cheetohs, and Pop-Tarts.

We’d sit in the back of English class, munching on our provisions and plotting our next move.

Here are four songs that were possibly running through my head as I ignored Mr. Haynes droning on about Greek mythology as the school year wound down in early May, 1985…

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Don’t Come Around Here No More
from Southern Accents (1985)

It was recording the Southern Accents album when Petty broke his hand against a studio wall. I thought that I read in Rolling Stone at the time that he did so in a fit of excitement as he mixed the album.

Whatever the case, we all loved Petty and I eagerly awaited Southern Accent‘s release as it unexpectedly paired him with Eurythmic Dave Stewart as producer. The album was a bit of a mixed bag, though the title track might be the loveliest song the band has ever done.

Don’t Come Around Here No More was as wonderfully demented as I’d expected. The sitar-laden song was trippy and the video equally so.

(and it’s still one of the coolest clips ever)

Eurythmics – Would I Lie To You
from Be Yourself Tonight (1985)

Dave Stewart also had a new album that spring with partner Annie Lennox. The first song to hit radio was the surprisingly soulful stomp Would I Lie To You.

The two truly were a fortuitous musical pairing and made some of the most evocative music of the ’80s. And though Annie is undeniably cool, I’ve always thought Dave Stewart was underappreciated.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

Outside of the Philadelphia area where the band was a popular regional act, All You Zombies served as the The Hooters’ introduction to the rest of the US. With its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, the song hooked me the first time I heard it on Q95.

Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, but it had several hits over the next year or so and the band caused a stir for a brief time.

The second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent songs).

A songwriter friend hosted a couple members of the band years later to do some songwriting and apparently they were delightful guests.

‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry
from Voices Carry (1985)

And, in early ’85, Aimee Mann’s platinum blonde rat tail was the Annie Lennox orange buzz cut of two summers earlier. When ‘Til Tuesday first came up in conversations with friends, the striking Mann and her feathery ‘do and its braided appendage was duly noted.

The moody Voices Carry was a smash and, like Don’t Come Around Here No More, featured a memorable video. It would prove to be ‘Til Tuesday’s greatest commercial success. Though subsequent albums would be stronger, fewer listeners heard them and the band shed members until Mann eventually went solo.