Eating Pop-Tarts, Ogling Go-Go’s

July 14, 2011

It’s been too hot to really think of anything but nothing the past week. When I have had a thought, I’ve been trying to reconstruct my discovery of Rolling Stone magazine.

(this all prompted by the recent death of Bill Johnson, who designed the magazine’s logo)

The magazine was not readily available to me as a kid. I don’t recall seeing it in the limited selection in the racks at either of the small, family-owned drug stores in town.

I was familiar with Rolling Stone mostly through a buddy who would mention stuff that he’d read in the issues swiped from his older brother.

By the summer of ’82, the Kroger supermarket downtown (such as downtown was for us) relocated to a considerably larger location much closer to our house. It was there that I began reading Rolling Stone.

When boredom and the sweltering summer heat left us with little to do, my neighbor Will and I would hop on our bikes, head over to Kroger, and enjoy the refrigerated air of the store.

We’d loiter at the magazine rack, leafing through the offerings as we munched on Pop-Tarts purchased with whatever change we’d scrounged up.

The music magazines were limited to Circus and Rolling Stone and the album reviews in the latter were of particular interest to me despite the critical shellacking most of the bands I loved at the time received.

These slights indicting my young musical tastes where quickly forgiven the day we found The Go-Gos staring back at us from the cover wearing nothing but their underwear and some smiles.

Sadly, it was likely the most memorable moment involving girls in any state of undress for us that summer, but it did amuse Jane Weidlin years later as I discussed that cover with her during an interview.

I was also greatly intrigued by the album chart in the back of each issue and seeing the names of bands with whom I was wholly unfamiliar.

Oh, I had come to expect seeing names I didn’t know in the rest of the magazine, but how could I not have heard of an act that apparently had a popular album?

But, during that summer, it was a most excellent way to waste away some sweltering afternoon munching on Pop-Tarts in the air-conditioned cool, wondering who the hell The Jam were, what they sounded like, and why I had never heard them on the radio.

Here are four songs from albums that would have made me go “hmmm” as I scanned those album charts in the back of Rolling Stone twenty-nine years ago…

Roxy Music – More Than This
from Avalon

I remember seeing the movie Times Square late one night on a local station when I was about twelve or thirteen. Roxy Music’s Same Old Scene played over the opening credits

(not that I knew who it was)

It wouldn’t be ’til college that I’d really listen to Roxy Music. A French professor I had would play their albums before class.

And, on nights when I had a shift at the record store where I worked, I found Avalon to be a suitable choice as I went through the closing tasks

Squeeze – Black Coffee In Bed
from Sweets From A Stranger

My introduction to Squeeze came sometime in high school through one of my friends who had a copy of the UK band’s compilation Singles – 45’s And Under. I enjoy their music, but I’ve never been bothered to own anything other than a handful of songs I’ve accumulated along the way.

Black Coffee In Bed is pretty nifty and a bit of a sequel – musically and thematically – to their better-known Tempted (a song I long ago burned out on) from the year before.

XTC – Senses Working Overtime
from English Settlement

I thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed English Settlement on the Rolling Stone charts.

A year or so later, I would become familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.

But I mostly knew XTC’s music through my buddy Streuss who became enthralled with their quirky style of alternative rock far earlier than most of the kids I knew in college who loved the band.

The Blasters – American Music
from Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings

I want to like The Blasters. I’ve read wonderful things, they seem like the genuine article, and I have liked the handful of songs I know. Yet, when shuffle pulls up a song by the band, I have to check the screen for the title of a song I don’t recognize, see that it’s The Blasters, and hit next.

It simply seems as if each and every time I’m presented with the chance to check them out, I’m not in the mood for their sound.

I guess it’s not them, it’s me as American Music is pretty groovy little rave-up.

Bringing Bender Home

August 10, 2010

I’m not, generally speaking, an impulse buyer.

When I head out to the store early on Saturday mornings to snag provisions for Paloma, the animals, and me, I do so with blinders on.

We need peanut butter, cheese, and bagels, so I am tossing a jar of peanut butter, a wheel of cheese, and container of bagels into the cart, checking out and moving on with life.

(unfortunately, our store does not sell cheese as wheels, but I can dream)

I am rarely tempted to stray from the mental list I have compiled for the trip.

Things do get a little dicier when I set foot in Target. For some reason, I find the store – with everything from frozen pizzas to clocks stocked on the shelves – mesmerizing.

(especially the frozen pizzas and clocks)

So, this morning, I set foot in Target to procure a handful of items that I had neglected to get on Saturday’s usual trip to forage. I had successfully rounded up the items and had even grabbed Paloma a book which she had mentioned she wanted to read.

In the book department was a section devoted to DVDs, most of them budget collections – four films featuring Clint Eastwood or Jackie Chan on one disc. There were also single movies and my eyes immediately locked onto one of them.

The Breakfast Club

Maybe it was having read a lovely tribute noting the one-year anniversary of writer/director John Hughes’ death at Stuck In The ’80s last week, but I paused.

I saw The Breakfast Club in the theater in ’85 as I was finishing my junior year of high school. My friends and I were not only the audience targeted by the movie, we were those kids and – as many in our generation did – embraced the film like few others.

Of course, the themes of the movie were applicable to anyone that had experienced high school. It just happened to be dressed in the trappings of the day and, twenty-five years later, I’ve come to realize that little really changes from high school save for the scenary.

I stumble upon The Breakfast Club on cable every so often and usually I am, regretfully, drawn into watching it. Regretfully, because for a good decade, the viewings have invariably been some bastardized version in which rather than Bender suggesting that Mr. Vernon “eat [Bender’s] shorts,” it is edited to “eat my socks.”

It’s frustrating. Not only am I unable to watch the film as John Hughes intended it to be viewed, it is distracting as – despite the time and distance – I still hear the actual dialogue.

And, I realized that it’s been a good ten years or more – when I owned a copy on VHS that I bought used for a few bucks – since I’d watched The Breakfast Club unedited.

I tossed the DVD into the cart.

Twenty-five years ago, my friends and I were beginning our senior year of high school and quoting The Breakfast Club like the pious quote scripture.

(“Yo Ahab, can I bum my doobage?”)

Musically, I was in a state of transition with Top 40 – the gateway to my music obsession four years earlier – having become such a source of disenchantment that I had mostly abandoned those stations.

I was ridiculously intrigued by the modern rock of 97X, but reception of the station was sketchy, giving me far less oportunity to listen than I would have liked. So, I spent a considerable amount of time surfing between a few album-rock stations.

Here are four songs that I was listening to at the time…

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – So In Love
from Crush

OMD’s breakthrough hit in the States was a year away when their If You Leave would appear on the soundtrack to another John Hughes’ movie, Pretty In Pink.

In the meantime, the airy So In Love was serving as my introduction to the British duo.

Jeff Beck – Gets Us All In The End
from Flash

I’m not sure if I knew of Jeff Beck before 1985. Perhaps I’d come across the name, but I certainly knew no music by the legendary guitarist (who more than a few folks would argue is the greatest guitarist of the rock era).

Flash had already gotten airplay (and MTV play for the video) with his soulful rendition of People Get Ready, on which Rod Stewart provided vocals. As for Get Us All In The End, Wet Willie’s Jimmy Hall guested on vocals while Beck handles the guitar work which is simply ferocious.

Bryan Ferry – Slave To Love
from Boys And Girls

Roxy Music was another act with which I had little familiarity in 1985. I know that I’d heard Love Is The Drug on 97X, but I wouldn’t discover them until a year later when, as a college freshman, a French professor would play the group’s classic Avalon before class.

It was certainly on 97X where I was hearing Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry’s Slave To Love and I liked the suave fellow’s style.

Mr. Mister – Broken Wings
from Welcome To The Real World

Mr. Mister seems to get a lot of derision, but someone must have dug them twenty-five years ago because – for six months or so – the band was inescapable with several mammoth hits.

Personally, I loved Broken Wings in the day and I still enjoy the moody track. I recall seeing the video – lead singer Richard Page cruising down a desolate highway in the desert – for weeks before the song popped up on radio. Perhaps it was that video, coupled with the song’s lyric, that makes me think of open spaces and miles of it.

Don’t Wake Me When It’s Over

January 20, 2010

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about this Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien/NBC three-way steel cage death match and I can’t say that I’ve really cared.

Yeah, I’ve read about it in the news, and while promises seem to have been broken, its difficult to work up much sympathy for two uber-wealthy guys who get to do what they want fighting over the same shiny, expensive toy.

When it’s over, one will have the toy and a pile of cash, the other will get a bunch of loot and a different toy, and a couple million Haitians will still be homeless.

As a five-year old in the early ’70s, I was quite aware of Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. I didn’t watch it, but the commercials fascinated me.

(I think that I thought of Johnny as something very adult like cigarettes and moustaches)

It was sometime around junior high, in the late ’70s/early ’80s, before I started watching The Tonight Show. I most vividly remember watching during the summer months when no school meant staying up late and sleeping in.

The summer nights in Indiana could be sweltering, especially without air conditioning. I’d often spend the summer months crashing out on a large couch in the wood-paneled womb that was a basement in the American Midwest of the ’70s.

Though I’d first check to see if there was anything worthwhile on the CBS Late Movie, there were many nights I’d end up watching at least some of The Tonight Show.

I’d construct a structurally sound sandwich and devour a midnight snack watching Johnny run through his monologue, banter with Ed McMahon, and roll out the evening’s line-up of guests.

It did make for a pleasant way to wind down the day.

I was a fairly regular viewer for several years aside from Fridays which was reserved for Fridays. I don’t recall watching The Tonight Show after I left for college. On nights when I was home, I was enamored with having cable for the first time and the only late night appointment viewing was Late Night with David Letterman.

I would catch Johnny from time to time and I did make a point to watch some of the last episodes before he signed off in ’92 (which was made easier as I didn’t have cable at the time).

In the nearly twenty years since, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have watched Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien (and that statement would probably hold true even if I had flippers instead of hands). If I’m home and up, I’ve opted for Letterman.

Someone will be hosting a show following the late local news on NBC next week. Unless they exhume Johnny and Ed, I’ll have to read about it.

I can’t really remember watching Johnny Carson anyplace else than on the television in our basement during those summers as a kid. It’s hardly summer, but it feels like we’re considerably closer to spring than we were a week ago. Here are some songs from albums on Billboard‘s chart in July of 1980…

The Pretenders – Stop Your Sobbing
from The Pretenders

From the debut by The Pretenders, a cover of a song written by future paramour of lead singer Chrissie Hynde (Ray Davies) and produced by a man (Nick Lowe) who would later write a song (I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll) alledgedly about the ex-wife of a co-worker of mine.

Van Halen – And The Cradle Will Rock…
from Women And Children First

It’s kind of gotten lost in the wake of the last quarter century – between Sammy Hagar, Gary Cherone and a lot of inactivity – but Van Halen was a great band. For a good half dozen years, the band ruled the planet as one of the biggest acts of their time.

Somehow, the further we get from their heyday, the more I recognize their greatness.

Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
from Peter Gabriel

An ex-girlfriend insisted that the line Kate Bush sings was “She’s so frontier.”

What the hell could that even mean?

(The line is actually “Jeux sans frontieres”)

Roxy Music – Same Old Scene
from Flesh And Blood

I remember seeing the movie Times Square late one night on a local station when I was about twelve or thirteen. I have no doubt that when Same Old Scene by Roxy Music played during the opening scenes it was the first time I had ever heard the band.

It wouldn’t be ’til college that I’d really listen to them again. My French professor used to play them before class and I began to check out more of their music. On nights when I had to close the record store where I worked, Roxy Music’s Avalon was one of my go-to albums to play as I went through the closing tasks.