Be Ripped To Shreds By A Cheetah…

October 6, 2012

…or be stomped into a pulpy mess by an ostrich.

I spent a good twenty minutes – or maybe it was two hours – pondering this existential quandry.

It began when I told a buddy that I wanted the power to picture everything and everyone as cartoons.

(even bad things are amusing in cartoon form)

This friend – a gangly fellow with glasses, prone to bobbing his head in a furtive fashion – immediately wanted to know what kind of cartoon character he would be.

“An ostrich. With glasses. And a rumpled fedora.”

He was less than enthusiastic.

“Is it the fedora?”

It wasn’t the hat that ruffled his feathers. He was unwilling to sign on with my delusion as an ostrich.

He demanded cheetah.

I suspect he was envisioning the über cool Chester Cheetah, spokescartoon for Cheetos.

He was far too quick to dismiss the ostrich.

Paloma instilled in me a healthy respect for the ostrich from her experiences with them.

And if Dr. Grant would have wanted us to take one lesson from Jurassic Park, it would have been how closely dinosaurs were related to birds.

The ostrich, according to the internet, can grow as large as nine-feet tall, run as fast as 45 miles an hour, and has a sharp nail on each toe.

As ungainly and comical as it might appear, the ostrich is, in fact, a descendant of the velociraptor.

The ostrich is one badass bird.

So, while an encounter with a cheetah would undoubtedly result in a dramatic death, I hypothesize that it would be over quickly.

With no teeth and a proclivity for kicking, death by ostrich would be a slow, agonizing ordeal that wouldn’t read as well in the obituary.

I choose the cheetah.

As I have no ostrichcentric songs, here are four random songs that caught my attention…

Sinéad O’Connor – You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart
from So Far…The Best of Sinéad O’Connor (1997)

I dug Sinéad O’Connor from the moment she appeared on the tiny black & white television in my dorm room. Sinéad had just released her debut, The Lion And The Cobra, and, and suddenly this striking girl with a shaved head was wailing like a banshee in the video for Mandinka.

A decade later, O’Connor’s career had crashed and burned (so far as the mainstream American public) and the singer had only put out two albums in the seven years since I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got and Nothing Compares 2 U had made her a momentary superstar.

It’s a shame that more people didn’t get to hear the haunting, atmospheric You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart. The song had initially appeared on the soundtrack to In the Name Of The Father several years earlier.

Rush – New World Man
from Signals (1982)

Rush is suddenly everywhere and more beloved than ever.

(Paloma was quick to give me a heads up on the use of Fly By Night in some new car commercial)

I was still listening to mostly Top 40 radio when I entered high school, but Rush had a rabid following with the older kids, especially the few known stoners, and I knew Tom Sawyer from hearing it blaring from beat-up Camaros in the parking lot.

Then, Rush notched their only US Top 40 hit with New World Man and, as I ventured beyond the confines of pop radio, I became a devotee of the band with Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows, eventually digging into their older titles.

Francis Dunnery – Good Life
from Fearless (1994)

I first heard guitarist Francis Dunnery when the groovy American Life In The Summertime, also from his solo debut Fearless, got a smattering of airplay at the time. Good Life, the closing track on the album slipped by me.

But, my boss at the time and his wife, who would both go on to be VPs at separate major labels, were insistent that the song had the potential to be a massive hit, causing me to revisit it.

It’s an uncluttered song – acoustic guitar accented by strings – that allows the focus to be on the words which are an emotional gut punch.

Good Life never became a hit or even a single, but it certainly could have been and is a lost gem of a song. Dunnery has continued to put out solo albums while also serving as a sideman for acts including Robert Plant, Lauryn Hill, Santana and Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe.

Pretty & Twisted – Dear Marlon Brando
from Pretty & Twisted (1995)

I was disappointed when Concrete Blonde broke up (for the first time) in 1995, but lead singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano quickly released two albums that year. The first was with Holly Vincent under the banner of Vowel Movement, which didn’t resonate with me.

Napolitano’s other short-lived union was with ex-Wall Of Voodoo singer/guitarist Marc Moreland as Pretty & Twisted. Moreland had been the inspiration behind Concrete Blonde’s Joey and Pretty & Twisted was very much in the vein of the guitar-driven alternative rock of the Blondes.

Though it found little commercial success, Pretty & Twisted, the act’s lone release, was a pretty stellar record. The chugging Dear Marlon Brando is an ode to the legendary actor and a request to hang with the reclusive man on his private island.

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Thirty Years Out From The Future

October 1, 2012

It was during 1982 that I first began purchasing music on an ongoing basis. I was hindered by the nearest actual record stores being fifty miles away and me and my buddies being thirteen-, fourteen-year old kids with little money and no driver’s licenses.

Those circumstances had conspired to keep my music collection to two-dozen or so cassettes as the first chilly mornings of autumn arrived that year.

(a significant portion of that collection courtesy of Columbia Record & Tape Club)

I doubt that I was aware of the arrival of the first CD player hitting stores in Japan.

It’s quite likely that I first heard of compact disc technology from my buddy Beej who, even then, had a subscription to Stereo Review and was citing Julian Hirsch “of Hirsch-Houck Laboratories.”

I was listening to music through the most basic of means.

I couldn’t get to Cincinnati to buy Hall & Oates H2O and probably didn’t have the eight dollars and change to do so. The price tag of Sony’s CDP-101 – around $750 – and the item being available in Japan made it something for the jet set.

By the time I reached college, the price of the players had finally reached levels affordable to mere mortals, but I was still hesitant to take the digital plunge with a collection of hundreds of albums on cassette.

As the school year was closing in on spring break in March of ’87, it was a paper for a business writing class that proved to be the tipping point. I opted to write about the burgeoning digital revolution and, after several weeks of research and writing, I had convinced myself.

As other classmates headed for tropical climes, I made the two-hour trip to my hometown for a week of reconnecting with several high school buddies.

During that week, we made a trip into Cincinnati – a trek we had made a year before as often as we could acquire transportation – and I joined the jet set, purchasing a floor model of a Technics CD player for, as I recall, $165.

I would have thought you to be addled had you told me that rainy March day that, over the next fifteen years, I would own upwards of 8000 CDs.

Here are songs from the first four discs that I ever played on that first CD player…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere (1986)

After purchasing the CD player, I summarily purchased two CDs with one being the solo debut by Boomtown Rats lead singer Bob Geldof and I’m not sure why. I’d bought the cassette of Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere when it was released toward the end of ’86 and was underwhelmed.

However I had just read Geldof’s autobiography, Is That It?, so that might have been the catalyst. With Eurythmic Dave Stewart co-producing I expected more, but the songs just weren’t there.

This Is The World Calling was one of the few exceptions. The anthemic plea featured the trio of Maria McKee, Annie Lennox, and Alison Moyet on backing vocals.

Rush – Territories
from Power Windows (1985)

Power Windows was the other CD I snagged for my new player and, like the Geldof disc, is a bit puzzling in retrospect not least in the respect that it had been released eighteen months earlier.

However, I had gotten into Rush heavily during my last couple years of high school and I did quite like Power Windows (and had seen the band on that tour). Territories was one of several tracks from the album that got played heavily on the rock stations that I was listening to and I loved the lyrical reduction of warring nations to a squabble for “better people…better food…and better beer.”

Canada, if I haven’t said so before, thanks for Rush.

(seriously, I find it comforting to know that Alex, Geddy, and The Professor are out there)

The Alan Parsons Project – Old And Wise
from The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project (1983)

In addition to the two CDs I initially bought, my buddy Streuss temporarily gifted me a pair of discs that he owned despite not having a CD player.

Several of us were fans of The Alan Parsons Project who had been a radio fixture during the first half of the ’80s with songs like Games People Play, Eye In The Sky, and Don’t Answer Me. At the time I bought my player, the duo of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson had just released Gaudi which would prove to be their final release under The Alan Parsons Project banner.

Of those first discs from which I had to choose as I got to know the crisp sound of the medium, The Best Of The Alan Parsons Project sounded the most impressive, but, then again, Parsons, as an Abbey Road engineer, did earn credits for his work on The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.

Old And Wise is a track from Eye In The Sky which I used to hear a lot on one of the soft rock stations and is most certainly a whisper of a song. With lead vocals provided by ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone, Old And Wise is reminiscent of the earlier Project hit Time.

The Moody Blues – The Voice
from Voices In The Sky: The Best Of The Moody Blues (1984)

The other disc Streuss passed to me was a Moody Blues compilation.

I knew Nights In White Satin and the band had hits while I was in high school like Gemini Dream, Sitting At The Wheel, and Your Wildest Dreams, but I was fairly ambivalent.

But, I had four CDs from which to choose and a new toy, so I gave the disc a lot of plays. I remained fairly ambivalent, but the breezy The Voice seemed less fussy than most of the other songs.

And, if I hear The Voice, I first think of seeing the Solid Gold dancers dance to the song during the summer of ’81.


The Drummer On The Couch

March 29, 2012

I spoke with a college buddy last week. He had called days earlier to inform me that a young drummer friend of his was moving to town.

I’m old enough to know better than to let him follow me home.

Years ago, I spent twelve months or so managing a band.

(and actually managed to get a label to offer them a deal)

Not long after meeting them, the drummer crashed on the couch in the house where I was living. Within a couple weeks, he was living on that couch.

It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. He coughed up a third of the rent.

He could have the couch. I had a mammoth room – the biggest in the place – and a hundred dollars more a month to spend at the watering holes.

Cooper was an asset. I could depend on him to diffuse tensions within the band with his antics.

At home, he could be a source of entertainment. I returned late one night after closing one of our local haunts. I slumped down down on one of the couches in our living room. Coop was sitting there with another roommate whom we had dubbed The Chinaman, watching a rerun of The X Files.

I soon noticed the smell of something burning.

“Yeah, those are probably ready,” Coop noted to The Chinaman, shuffling off to the kitchen.

I followed and watched as he pulled a tray of Pillsbury rolls from the oven, charred beyond reasonable – even drunken – edibility.

“You’re not going to eat those? Are you?”

The Chinaman looked at me as though I was crazy as he and Coop headed to the front porch with the busquits and a couple of wedges.

“Where the hell did you get golf clubs?”

The two were standing in the front yard, illuminated by the glow of the street light and the odd car. Mostly the neighborhood was still.

“Fore!” Coop bellowed as he chipped one of the briquettes and we watched it arc lazily into a neighbor’s yard across the street.

One by one, the two of them took turns until a dozen or so freshly-roasted Pillsbury rolls had landed on the green. Apparently this neighbor had invoked their ire and this was their vengeance.

It became a late-night ritual, though we soon opted for using foodstuff that had already spoiled.

Here are four songs featuring drummers I dig…

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)

I don’t often notice drummers, but I’ve come to realize that the ones that do seem to catch my attention are propulsive and primal which is exactly how I’d describe Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain.

(coincidentally, the drummer on my couch claimed to have known Chamberlain back in Chicago)

As for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Paloma and I spent countless hours listening to the double album during the autumn of ’95 and, from the first time I heard it, Tonight, Tonight was among my favorite tracks.

(though it’s still strange to hear it on the Major League Baseball playoff commercials)

The Who – Baba O’Riley
from Who’s Next (1971)

And, if you want propulsive and primal, you want Keith Moon.

(yes, Won’t Get Fooled Again better fit the bill, but I prefer Baba O’Riley)

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live (1994)

I suspect part of my affection for Manu Katché is his name which is lots of fun to say.

(Manu Katché, Manu Katché, Manu Katché)

However, I do quite like Manu’s mystic rhythms which seem perfectly suited for the songs of Peter Gabriel. Coop once spent twenty minutes pointing out Katché’s prowess on video to me and, given a bit of insight, I was duly impressed.

(and I’m thinking our next addition to the menagerie might be named Manu Katché)

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures (1981)

There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity.

A ticket, t-shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less twenty-five years ago than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.