Odd Stuff In The Trunk

March 24, 2011

A couple weeks back, I was poking around for info on the ’80s cult movie Straight To Hell and most of what I found also mentioned another ’80s cult movie – Repo Man – mentioned.

(Alex Cox directed both movies)

My friends and I knew of Repo Man in 1984 when it was released and became an instant cult movie and favorite with midnight crowds. We certainly didn’t see it at the time, but, surprisingly, as we were living in Sticksville, we were aware of the movie.

Thinking back, it had to have been my buddy Beej’s uncle who told us about it. His uncle taught literature or something at a college in Cincinnati, an hour away, and was always turning us onto obscure (to us) new wave bands.

Eventually, we snagged a videocassette of Repo Man and a bunch of us watched it one Friday night.

It was Emilio Estevez’ first movie and he starred as a young punk named Otto being mentored in the ways of being a repo man by Harry Dean Stanton as the pair attempt to repossess a ’64 Chevy Malibu with two dead aliens in the trunk.

It’s been twenty-five years or more since that single viewing of Repo Man, but I remember digging some of it and thinking a lot of it was tedious.

The soundtrack consisted of Los Angeles bands – where the movie was set – including The Circle Jerks, Fear, and Burning Sensations.

That last band was known for their video hit Belly Of The Whale and – on the Repo Man soundtrack – covering the Jonathan Richman-penned Pablo Picasso. In the song it is opined that the artist “never got called an asshole.”

(though I seem to recall Paloma once referring to him as a bastard)

I don’t remember if there were or weren’t aliens in the trunk of that ’64 Malibu in Repo Man.

And though I had several friends who drove old Malibus at the time, I was with my buddy Streuss in his old man’s beloved Volvo when we got pulled over by the police.

I stood there in the night air with several friends as Streuss was unlocking the trunk of the car at the request of the cop.

All I could think of was Repo Man as the trunk lid swung open.

No aliens.

Instead, there was several handfuls of straw, a crumpled carton that had contained wine coolers, and one tube sock.

(and, no, despite the contents of the trunk his dad was not a serial killer nor some other deranged felon)

Though the soundtrack for Repo Man was heavy on punk music, we were more partial to the new wave and alternative acts we were discovering at the time from 97X, Night Flight, and Beej’s uncle. Here are four songs that I remember from that time…

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Over the previous year, U2 had finally reached us in the Midwest with songs from War and Under A Blood Red Sky getting a smattering of attention on a couple radio stations. With Sparkle In The Rain, produced by U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, I heard Scotland’s Simple Minds for the first time and was drawn to their anthemic, widescreen sound.

Waterfront, with its thumping bassline and ringing guitars, was an immediate favorite. A year later, Simple Minds was no longer a band I’d only hear on alternative outlet 97X, but on an array of stations as the group scored with the massive hit Don’t You (Forget About Me).

Though Paloma and I have a copy of Sparkle In The Rain on vinyl, the only version I have ripped of Waterfront is this live version from ’87.

Guadalcanal Diary – Watusi Rodeo
from Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man

The band Guadalcanal Diary were from Athens, Georgia and contemporaries of R.E.M., but, unlike Michael Stipe and company, the group never managed to cross over to a more mainstream audience. They did have a modicum of success with college audiences in the mid- to late- ’80s.

It’s the quirky and engaging Watusi Rodeo for which they are best remembered. The odd, little number about cowboys in the Congo lassoing water buffalo fused jangle-pop with surf rock and why it wasn’t blaring from every radio during the spring of ’84 is mystifying.

Talk Talk – Such A Shame
from It’s My Life

My buddy Beej did get hooked on Talk Talk by his uncle and had already played It’s My Life into the ground for me before the trio notched a lone US Top 40 hit with the album’s title track.

I liked It’s My Life, but I much preferred the pulsating, skittering follow-up Such A Shame.

The Alarm – Blaze Of Glory
from Declaration

With their post-punk guitars, martial drumming, earnest lyrics, and rebellious attitude, the Welsh quartet The Alarm also appealed to the growing affection my friends and I had for U2.

Several songs from their debut, full-length album Declaration popped up on 97X including the defiant Blaze Of Glory.

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Bye Bye, 97X?

March 27, 2010

I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83.

Suddenly my musical universe expanded to include acts like Talking Heads, XTC, and Aztec Camera. These less than mainstream bands and artists wandered into the room and sat down next to Journey, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran like strangers entering some cantina in a dusty border town.

Everyone held their breath, expecting trouble.

It seem only a matter of time ’til someone looked at someone else the wrong way, a bottle was broken and wielded as a shiv, and the entire affair ended in a saloon-trashing melee.

I quickly realized that I could listen to Hall & Oates and Siouxsie & The Banshees and it was good. 97X introduced me to numerous acts that would become staples of my listening habit over the ensuing decades.

Reception for 97X was often dodgy and, once I left for college, I was forced to leave the station behind. I wouldn’t really reacquaint myself with the WOXY until a decade later when I would do so via the station’s internet broadcast.

Though highly regarded as it was one of the first modern rock stations in the US, 97X struggled to remain on the air throughout the years, recently relocating from Ohio to Austin, Texas.

During the past year or so, I had made more time to check in and, though my intention was to seek out newer music, invariably, I would stream the station’s vintage broadcast, beaming myself back to the mid- to late-’80s when it was all new to me.

But, it appears that 97X is no more. The plugged was pulled on the station earlier this past week.

(if we had the funds, Paloma and I could purchase the station and headquarter it in Samoa)

97X has cheated the hangman on several occasions over the past quarter century. Maybe it will again. But, if it doesn’t, here are four random songs that I know I heard back before the station and I parted company and I headed off to college…

Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
from The Hurting

In the summer of ’83, my friend Beej and I would get apprised on up-and-coming bands from his uncle, who possessed an unfathomable collection of New Wave acts on vinyl, many of them imports that had yet to reach our shores. Tears For Fears was an act thay came highly recommended.

It would be two more years before the duo would break in the States – I still recall hearing Everybody Wants To Rule The World for the first time on the radio show Rock Over London – but 97X was playing several songs from their debut that autumn.

One of them was the shimmering Pale Shelter.

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Like Tears For Fears, Scotland’s Simple Minds found mainstream success in the US in the spring of ’85 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) etched itself into the collective consciosness of a generation. The group had begun shedding some its more art-rock tendencies a year earlier with Sparkle In The Rain, which included Waterfront.

I heard Waterfront often on 97X and it certainly appealed to me as a U2 fan. The throbbing, hypnotic track would appear post-Don’t You on Simple Minds’ live release in ’87.

The Replacements – Bastards Of Young
from Tim

When I arrived at college in 1986, The Replacements seemed to be the poster children for modern rock at our school. Maybe it was because like us (and unlike other strong contenders like R.E.M. and The Pixies), the disheveled quartet was comprised of Midwesterners.

(maybe it was because they drank a lot)

Thanks to 97X, I was familiar with the band and songs like Kiss Me On The Bus, Waitress In The Sky, and the anthemic Bastards Of Young which suited our youthful, directionless enthusiasm in a brave, new world free from parental dominion.

Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw

Despite all the acclaim it received upon its release, I had never listened to Marshall Crenshaw’s debut until Paloma and I snagged a copy on vinyl. Of course, I knew his hit Someday, Someway and I knew Cynical Girl from 97X, but the classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Cynical Girl is a favorite of Paloma’s and it’s fabulously jangly.

(of course, there’s really not a bad track on the entire album)


Adios John Hughes

August 9, 2009

Last Thursday night, checking the news before going to bed, I read the headline that filmmaker John Hughes was dead. As I am of the age I am, it’s a passing of someone that had a rather measurable impact on my childhood.

In 1983, it was pretty much every line from Hughes screenplay for National Lampoon’s Vacation that my friends and I were quoting (especially on any road trip).

Years later, those quotes provided some comic relief when traveling through Thailand.

“I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out.”

“Roy, could you imagine if you had driven all the way to Florida and it was closed?”

“Perhaps you don’t want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?

The next thing from Hughes to catch my attention was The Breakfast Club which he wrote and directed.

(Yes, I’m skipping Sixteen Candles – didn’t see it in 1984 and have never seen it all in one sitting)

So, it was The Breakfast Club. And I have no doubt that if I came across the movie on cable tonight I’d be quoting most of – unedited, of course – almost involuntarily.

Like Bender, my friends and I would mouth off to people to “eat my shorts” years before Bart Simpson. Like Bender, we knew that “screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

Later in 1985, Hughes’ Weird Science introduced us to Oingo Boingo, Robert Downey, Jr., and Kelly LaBrock. Bill Paxton as an obnoxious, psychotic older brother Chet who had the lines we were spouting indiscriminately.

“How ’bout a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray?”

“Chet. My name is Chet.”

“Do you think they’re having a good time being catatonic in the closet?”

The last movie of John Hughes that would really take up space in my world was Pretty In Pink in 1986. During the remainder of the ‘80s, I’d see most of his movies. Though I’ll stop channel-surfing immediately if I come across Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, Some Kind Of Wonderful, or She’s Having A Baby, none were as dear to me as those earlier movies.

I had gone off to college and saw less and less of the friends with whom I had shared those earlier films.

Pretty In Pink served as the transition. I saw it with a girlfriend at a midnight showing on a Tuesday night. The dialogue didn’t become a part of my daily conversations, but some of the music on the soundtrack became future staples.

I didn’t follow Hughes into the ‘90s, but movies made from his screenplays – the Home Alone flicks – must have made him a few ducats.

The guy made a pile of money, created characters and images that dominated the pop culture landscape, and was, based on the reactions I’ve read from actors with whom he worked, apparently a good egg.

Some songs from the movies of John Hughes…

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from National Lampoon’s Vacation

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert in the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)
from The Breakfast Club

If I’m a betting man, my money is on The Breakfast Club to be remade (I think it’s been rumored of such a thing).

My friends and I were the perfect age for The Breakfast Club in ’85 and Judd Nelson’s John Bender was one of our first anti-heros. It helped that the movie was eminently quotable.

As for Don’t You (Forget About Me) – it’s still catchier than bird, swine, or ring-tailed lemur flu.

General Public – Tenderness
from Weird Science

Some songs just make me smile when I hear them and Tenderness is one of them. The melody is irresistible.

Of course, the lyric is pretty angst-riddled.

Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work
from She’s Having A Baby

1988’s She’s Having A Baby had a slew of great acts on the soundtrack including Kirsty MacColl, Everything But The Girl and the great Kate Bush. Bush hadn’t released an album in three years and her next one, The Sensual World, wouldn’t arrive ’til the following year.

But the movie made fine use of her lovely This Woman’s Work and the song is arguably her best known song to the mainstream public.