Hey Hey Hey, It’s Bill Cosby

October 27, 2012

Paloma has wandered into the living room a few weeks weeks ago and noted the show on the television.

The Cosby Show?”

She quickly attributed the interest to Lisa Bonet.

Sure, Ms. Bonet was a fetching beauty, duly noted by myself and most of my buddies when The Cosby Show debuted in 1984.

Two years later, I was in college and it increasingly seemed to me that she was trying too hard to establish her bohemian bona fides.

No, I just dig Bill Cosby. The man is a comforting presence, the macaroni and cheese of childhood celebrities.

My earliest recollections of Bill Cosby was as the host of Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids in the early ’70s. As I recall, it was usually the anchor show, closing out that Saturday morning’s cartoons

(attention was then focused on lunch as the midday television options would be bowling, b-movies or hunting shows)

And Bill Cosby continued to be a presence through the decade and into the early ’80s when I’d hear tracks from his comedy albums on The Dr. Demento Show.

Then The Cosby Show hit and the man and his television family was a cultural phenomenon.

I was sixteen when The Bill Cosby Show debuted and in college when the show was at the height of heights. I was at an age that I was gaining freedom from parental control and there were far more interesting things to do than watch television.

Of course, the show was a pop culture juggernaut with higher Nielsen ratings than God, so if I was in front of a television on Thursday night – at home or a friend or girlfriend’s place – it was undoubtedly tuned to NBC and The Cosby Show.

Though the show might have had cultural and social significance, I was watching because I had grown up with Bill Cosby. He had been an older brother in Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids and had become the patriarch of the Huxtable clan.

Each week, if I tuned in, I knew that I could expect Bill to be wearing zany sweaters, mugging for the camera and dispensing life lessons through amusing anecdotes and tales.

In retrospect, memories of catching The Cosby Show during those years meant that I was likely taking the night off – off from studying, off from going out, off from the hassles of the day – and spending it in an ideal world where things rarely got too heavy and all was resolved in half an hour.

(nearly three decades later, the show still fulfills such a purpose)

Twenty-five years ago, as Halloween was arriving and Thanksgiving break (and mid-term finals) were looming, The Cosby Show was the most-viewed show in the country. I had recently started working at a record store, leaving the show with one fewer viewer most Thursday nights.

Here are four songs I was hearing at the time…

Sinéad O’Connor – Mandinka
from The Lion And The Cobra (1987)

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 suddenly this striking girl with a shaved head was wailing like a banshee in the video for the driving rocker Mandinka.

At the time, O’Connor was a critical darling and a cult favorite in the music world. There was no way that we were ever going to hear the Irish lass alongside the likes of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Eurythmics – Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)
from Savage (1987)

Despite going in a more conventional pop/rock direction with 1986′ Revenge set, Eurythmics were losing commercial momentum in America which they would never regain. Savage found the duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart harkening back to a more electronic, synthesized sound that had helped them breakthrough with Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).

Though Savage wouldn’t reclaim a larger audience for the duo, the staff in our record store was fond of the album, especially the fierce I Need A Man and the trippy, pulsating Beethoven (I Love To Listen To).

Swing Out Sister – Breakout
from It’s Better To Travel (1987)

Top 40 music was mostly off my radar by ’87, but one gem from that autumn was the irresistible Breakout by the British trio Swing Out Sister. The sophisticated pop song was breezy, sunny and the perfect anitidote to the chill in the air as winter approached.

(and singer Corinne Drewery, with her jet-black pixie haircut, was rather fetching, too)

Bruce Springsteen – Tougher Than The Rest
from Tunnel Of Love (1987)

That autumn, Bruce Springsteen was issuing his first new album since Born In The USA had arrived three years earlier and established The Boss and band as pop culture titans of the mid-’80s (even for Republicans and the simpleminded for whom knee-jerk jingoism trumped lyrical comprehension).

Though critically lauded, it was impossible for the more pensive and less bombastic Tunnel Of Love to replicate the sales and hullabaloo of its predecessor. Much of the album was focused on the pitfalls of love and the unflinching Tougher Than The Rest is no different, though it addresses those perils with purposeful determination.

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.