The first time I visited the nation’s capitol was with a buddy. His friend’s band had played the night before in Philadelphia and we were still sobering up – a condition we quickly set to rectify with a few pre-gig drinks at a bar in Georgetown – when we arrived in D.C.
The fact that the friend’s band had a tab at the club – The Bayou, I believe – necessitated that we continue to drink. By evening’s end, I was blissfully ignorant of the impending pain I had booked for the following day.
As my buddy and I trekked the twenty-odd blocks back to our hotel in the early morning chill, my only thoughts were for food. And for twenty-odd blocks, there was no food to be found.
There wasn’t a convenience store.
There wasn’t a Waffle House.
Arriving at our hotel, we realized that there was no consensus on what our room number was.
“I know it’s on the third floor,” I said. “If I’m wrong, I’ll go forage for food.”
I was wrong.
I did the honorable (and least intelligent) thing, wandering off into the night in a city where I had never been, squiffy and in search of food. I picked a direction and went with it, but I soon realized that things were looking progressively dodgy with each block I went.
I considered the idea of turning back when I saw it – a gaudy, neon oasis in the form of a ramshackle liquor/convenience store.
I entered, procured goods – an armload of salty, crunchy things and chocolate, caramel items – and got in line. It was a sketchy collection of ne’er-do-wells with darting eyes and, I suspect, concealed weapons.
Feeling a presence, someone else joining the processional march to the register, I turned slightly. There stood a petite, black woman wearing nothing more than a black thong under a see-through, thigh-length plastic raincoat.
She introduced herself as Tweety and a friend, wearing red go-go pants, as Simone. Tweety shattered the vacuous stupor of the crowd as a bunch of boggled-eyed men leered through bleary orbs.
She chattered away as we shuffled along, nearing the counter.
I was up.
The gruff, indifferent clerk who seemed to be wishing for death looked up and over my shoulder. He was staring at Tweety and Simone.
“Uh-uh,” he grunted, shaking his head side to side under a mop of wiry, grey hair. It was obvious that he wasn’t pleased with their presence – competition for dollars, I suppose.
“I told you,” he said firmly. “You can’t be in here…not without shoes.”
I looked down and Tweety was, indeed, barefoot.
Here are four shoe songs…
Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
from The Red Shoes (1993)
Kate Bush was an artist whom I had read about for several years before I actually heard her music. Then, the gloriously hypnotic Running Up That Hill became her lone hit single here in the States and I purchased its parent album The Hounds Of Love.
(which I wore out during the winter of 1985/1986)
I fell hard for the quirky and eclectic singer and worked backward through her weird and wonderful catalog. And, then, I learned of how being a Kate Bush fan required great patience as there would be lengthy waits between the arrival of future albums.
Personally, I lost patience and haven’t given as much attention to her few albums since The Red Shoes, an album that I enjoyed, though it didn’t dazzle me. The title track was one of songs I favored, a frantic tale of a dancer and a pair of enchanted shoes.
Paul Simon – Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
from Graceland (1986)
Paul Simon had already reached his commercial peak – both with Garfunkel and solo – by the time I truly began listening to music. I knew little of his catalog aside from his more popular hits when Graceland was released.
I had just started college and a musician living a few doors down from me lavished Graceland with praise. It would take a few months, but a raft of rave reviews and a video featuring Chevy Chase led to the album blowing up, making Ladysmith Black Mambazo a household name, and giving Simon’s career a second wind.
Tom Waits – Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)
from Closing Time (1973)
The same dorm mate who sang the praises of Graceland to me was equally smitten with Tom Waits’ Frank’s Wild Years. In the past twenty-five years, I’ve become no more than casually acquainted with the gravelly-voiced troubadour’s work, but I have heard enough to think that Tweety and Simone wouldn’t be miscast in one of his songs.
Robin Zander – Walkin’ Shoes
from Robin Zander (1993)
After a commercial resurgence in the late ’80s, Cheap Trick’s career was in another lull which is why most folks likely never heard lead singer Robin Zander’s self-titled, solo debut from 1993.
That’s unfortunate. Though Robin Zander wasn’t in the same league as classic Cheap Trick albums from the ’70s, it is Robin Zander, the man my buddy The Drunken Frenchman once dubbed the “second best rock singer” (after Eric Burdon).