If It’s December, It Must Be Christmas

December 2, 2012

iawlOn one of the however hundred or so cable channels, NBC is airing It’s A Wonderful Life. Most years, since I first watched the seasonal classic in my mid-twenties, I’ve made an annual viewing a habit.

(Paloma finds the flick too depressing and annually doesn’t watch it)

Instead, I’m watching the alma mater’s top-ranked basketball team as they finally lower the boom on a plucky low major that has hung tough but is gassed.

When I went to bed last night, it was still November. The last remnants of the Thanksgiving bird are still in the fridge.

(Paloma wants to dispose of the remaining scraps; I’m having separation anxiety)

And though I have – surprisingly – already finished some holiday shopping, the windows behind me are open as it is twenty-five degrees warmer than would be expected for this time of year.

It certainly doesn’t seem to be time for It’s A Wonderful Life, just yet.

Meanwhile, across the street, a local university’s recital hall is emptying following a Christmas pageant. Since late afternoon, holiday-themed music has been blaring from a sound system that had been assembled earlier in the day which left us – particularly the three felines – feeling a bit like we’ve been re-enacting Manuel Noriega’s last stand.

(I’ve heard Greensleeves at least a dozen times since dinner)

During the past week, I did hear Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band barrel through a rollicking version of the Darlene Love staple Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) on Sirius’ Springsteen station and I also caught Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas on the ’80s channel.

I didn’t change the stations, but, as I stared up at sunny, blue skies through the open sunroof of Jeepster, the songs seemed a bit like green bananas.

(and, I should remind Paloma that while there is a Sirius station devoted to Bruce, there still isn’t one for The Smiths)

There’ll be plenty of time for holiday songs over the next three weeks and change and they’ll seem a bit more fitting when I can see my breath in the air.

And, I do hope that NBC will rerun It’s A Wonderful Life, perhaps a week before Christmas as I believe happened last year.

(and, I hope it’s on an evening when my school’s team isn’t turning an outgunned non-conference foe into steak tartare)

For now, here are four random songs…

New Radicals – You Get What You Give
from Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too (1998)

Few albums tickled Paloma’s fancy more as the ’90s drew to a close than Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, the lone release by the musical collective led by producer Gregg Alexander. The group included former child actress Danielle Brisebois, who had been an addition to the cast of All In The Family toward the end of the groundbreaking show’s lengthy run.

So, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too came out, garnered comparisons to power pop icons like Todd Rundgren, notched a smash hit with the ebullient You Get What You Give – which took some shots at Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, and Hanson – and, then, Alexander promptly split up the outfit to focus on songwriting and producing.

The Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin’
from Carry On Up The Charts (1994)

I can’t say I’m overly familiar with The Beautiful South (despite owning several albums), but what I have heard is consistently wonderful. And, the British group’s version of the lovely, melancholic Everybody’s Talkin’ seems tailor-made for their classic pop stylings.

Fleetwood Mac – Think About Me
from Tusk (1979)

The last of Tusk‘s trio of Top 40 singles, the sassy, upbeat Think About Me serves as an excellent reminder that, although Stevie and Lindsey might have gotten most of the attention, Christine McVie was an integral part of the Mac’s period as a ’70s pop music juggernaut.

Shivaree – Stealing Home
from Rough Dreams (2002)

I became curious about Shivaree after reading reviews of the band’s 1999 debut I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump which was produced by Joe Henry. It was understandable.

The reviews were glowing, the band had named their debut I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump, and the outfit was led by a singer/songwriter named Ambrosia Parsley.

So, I was quite pleased to receive an advance of the trio’s follow-up, Rough Dreams.

I was fortunate to snag a copy because, nearly a decade later, the album has yet to receive a proper release in the States. It’s too bad as Parsley might well have endeared herself to the audience that Shelby Lynne claimed during the decade with her soulful Americana.

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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.


Andrew Burt – Or Someone Else – In 2012

June 14, 2012

The candidates have not yet formally been nominated and I am already fatigued by the quadrennial excercise in slapstick that is the presidential election.

Ihe source of this indifference is not the coverage and pontificating pundits parsing a never-ending election cycle.

It’s the vacuum left by honest, intelligent discourse that has been filled by – at best – a din of white noise and – at worst – very ugly and ignorant rancor.

The older I get, the more people like Noam Chomsky and Bill Hicks make sense to me.

I’ve been considering writing in Willie Nelson this November and – damn it – I still might if for no other reason than so that I might honestly tell people that I wrote in Willie Nelson for president.

(and how cool would it be to have the Red Headed Stranger in office?)

Let’s spare ourselves the coming months of nonsense and pick a name out of a hat.

Seriously.

We could take the hundreds of millions of dollars – or more – that will be spent carpet bombing us with soundbites and, instead, make a giant hat into which interested citizens would put their name.

Your name is chosen, you serve a year as the leader of the free world.

Hold the drawing at halftime of the Super Bowl.

The construction of the giant hat would put innumerable people to work.

It would be a lottery where the winner would get a good-paying gig and nice package of retirement perks.

It would all be over in ten minutes, we all get on with life and it’s only slightly less silly than a mostly uninformed electorate using color-codes to choose their candidate.

(which is how Garanimals wanted us kids of the ’70s to dress)

As I don’t have luxury of a giant hat and a pool of applicants, I entered “random” into google, scanned the results for a first name, then for a last name and got Andrew Burt.

Under my proposed system, our next president might be one of several physicians from California, a marshall from Utah, a science fiction writer, or some fellow arrested for a DUI.

Sadly, with the self-serving, petty, visionless group of squabbling suits who serve our country, I’m beginning to doubt that it matters which Andrew Burt actually leads them.

Here are four somewhat random songs that caused my ears to prick up…

Bruce Springsteen – Dancing In The Dark (12-inch “Blaster Mix”)

So perhaps the protagonist of Dancing In The Dark is suffering some existential angst, but it’s also an anthemic call to action. Or that’s how the song was imprinted onto my DNA as a sixteen-year old kid when it arrived with the first weeks of summer in 1984.

I was surprised to realize that I have a copy of Arthur Baker’s 12-mix of the song. I suppose the song mortified Springsteen purists, but I heard it a lot that summer.

(I kind of dug it)

Hearing it for the first time in who knows, I still kind of dig it.

John Stewart (with Stevie Nicks) – Gold
from Bombs Away Dream Babies (1982)

Stewart, the man who wrote Daydream Believer, was joined by Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on the timeless-sounding Gold. It’s a pretty perfect pop song.

I always pictured this song taking place on some dusty, desolate stretch of road in Arizona, so if Paloma and I ever open up a bait shop in the Southwest, I’d insist this song be on the jukebox.

Sparks and Jane Wiedlin – Cool Places
from In Outer Space (1983)

My buddy Streuss introduced us to Sparks in high school, but the duo has had little commercial success in the States aside from their collaboration with Go-Gos guitarist Jane Weidlin.

Cool Places is typically quirky Sparks and the song actually became a minor hit during the summer of ’83 when it seemed like they appeared on Solid Gold every other week to perform it.

Lick The Tins – Can’t Help Falling In Love
from Some Kind Of Wonderful soundtrack (1987)

Director John Hughes made music an intrinsic part of the fabric of his films. For the close of Some Kind Of Wonderful, he opted to have the two social misfits walk off together to the energetic, playful take on Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love by the Celtic rock band Lick The Tins.