Sharona Would Have To Wait

February 16, 2010

During the summer of 1979, I was still a couple of years from being a teenager, so it was one of the final years where summer meant no responsibilities.

The subdivision outside our small town where we lived was still sparsely populated and there were no more than eight or nine kids roughly the age of me and my brother. It was a forbidden trek into town on our bikes, but it was one we sometimes opted to make.

But it was a lengthy trip for us and though the lure of getting to hang out more with our classmates had sway, as our town was so small, there was an almost absolute certainty of running into a number of folks who spoke to your parents on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.

Usually, we hung out in the neighborhood or roamed the many wooded areas. Because we weren’t quite old enough to be focused on girls – not that there were many our ages in our subdivision – baseball was the constant.

Most mornings, we would be out on our makeshift field by mid-morning and would play until things ground to a halt because, a) of an argument over a call, or, b) our ball would be lost in the soybean field which bordered the third base line.

(there was also an outcome c where someone intentionally hit the ball into a neighbor’s strawberry patch down the first base line which allowed us to gorge on strawberries under the pretense of searching for the ball)

Tempers usually flared more quickly when we would, invariably, reconvene after lunch before wilting in the oppressive heat and humidity of early afternoon. The games we’d put together after dinner, when the early evening provided some respite from the heat, usually fared better and we’d often play until dark.

For us, there wasn’t much interest in music. Sometimes someone might have a transistor radio, but usually our only soundtrack was au natural. That’s why it wasn’t until I returned to school in late August that I caught the buzz that had been building for months surrounding The Knack and their monstrous single My Sharona.

So, for the most part, I missed the mania surrounding the band. By the end of the following summer, baseball was struggling to retain its hold on us, as both girls and music were becoming increasingly important. And The Knack had already flamed out, partially snuffed out by an inevitible backlash to the massive success of My Sharona.

The Knack would break up after releasing Round Trip in 1981 and though they’d reunite and issue a handful of albums over the next two decades, there was no recapturing that lightning in a bottle.

And, over the weekend, word spread that The Knack’s lead singer and founder Doug Fieger has passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

According to Billboard magazine, My Sharona reached the top of the US pop chart the final week of August in 1979 – just as the school year began. It would stay there for six weeks. Here is My Sharona and a trio of other songs on the chart as my friends and I settled in for sixth grade…

The Knack – My Sharona
from Retrospective: The Best of the Knack

Though I don’t really recall hearing My Sharona on the radio, I was well aware of the song. It was on my younger brother’s copy of Chipmunk Punk and a staple of the school band’s performances during high school basketball games that winter. It was simply an unstoppable power pop song.

Though what I know of the band, from their 1992 compilation Retrospective and, years later, snagging a used vinyl copy of the debut, reveals a band deserving far more than its brief time in the spotlight. It’s also understandable that everything else was swallowed by the wake of My Sharona.

Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

Willie, my best friend in our neighborhood, had older siblings, so there was some music that had been passed down to him – some 45s from an older sister, a Nazereth Hair Of The Dog eight-track.

And he did have a handful of more current singles of his own, including Don’t Bring Me Down which, without fail, ended up on his turntable on the rare summer day when the weather kept us indoors.

Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
from Fickle Heart

Driver’s Seat is one song that I do remember from that summer more than thirty years ago. Though our town was small, we had a rather nice public pool where we spent as many days as we could and, on those days, it seemed I would often hear the wiry, nimble song playing over the loudspeakers.

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution

In late summer of ’79, Journey was still two years away from being a commercial juggernaut with Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids from junior high and high school, the song came on the jukebox. As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed, inert, and mystified by the skittering rush of hormones.

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Big Fish

April 15, 2008

How far is it from a relatively obscure, failed ‘70s feature film by an Oscar-winning director to a thirty-foot, fiberglass catfish? If you said about thirty-five miles, you know too much about how Paloma and I spent our Saturday.

As we’ve been hooked on Netflix because we enjoy movies and…well..trips to the video store require leaving the couch, I’ve been delving into grainy movie memories from my childhood (several of which I’ve mentioned of late). One which I wanted to check out was Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame) and starring Roy Scheider, who was fresh off the boat from hunting the shark in Jaws.

I’d been fascinated by the poster for Sorcerer as a kid and the viewer comments on imdb.com touted it as an underappreciated gem. The story revolves around four dodgy characters from around the globe that end up hiding out in some South American village. Through a chain of events, they become mercenaries, driving two trucks laden with nitroglycerin through the jungle at great peril (Paloma was intrigued by this concept as a potential career opportunity).

Inspired by the viewing of Sorcerer, I decided that we should take a trek of our own, sans nitroglycerin, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where a restaurant boasted their catfish to be the finest in the state. It was the giant fiberglass catfish, perched majestically atop the roof, proclaiming to all passers-by, “Here be catfish!” that captured my imagination. Paloma, ever supportive of my random whims – and won over by my assertion that such a place would certainly have pie – agreed to the venture, so long as I knew where we were going (leading to my declaration, halfway there, that “We should be going west…or maybe south.”).

In the end, the catfish was serviceable, the Mississippi mud pie was, in the words of Paloma, “divine,” the thirty-five foot catfish sign was the most life-like thirty-five foot catfish sign I’ve ever seen, and Sorcerer was gritty, suspenseful, slightly surreal and well worth the walk to the mailbox.

Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
According to All-Music Guide, this London-based band released a trio of albums, but this song was their lone brush with greatness, but it is stellar. This wiry, nimble cut has a slight New Wave feel and a mysterious vibe about it. It seemed to be playing every day at the public pool during the summer of ’79.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
As instrumental as my friend Chris – whom I’ve mentioned in previous entries – was to exposing me to music during my formative years, so was my friend Bosco. However, where Chris had a penchant for the moody and alternative stuff, Bosco was on a decidedly more power-pop bent, turning me on to The Tubes (pre-She’s A Beauty) and The Kinks. He also was a Todd Rundgren fanatic and each new release from Runt was an event. I was always particularly fond of his The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect and Drive was a favorite from that set.

Paul Weller – Driving Nowhere
The Jam is one of Paloma’s favorite bands and they became one of mine after listening to Sound Affects numerous times with her (I can hear her singing That’s Entertainment). She was more enamored with The Style Council than I, but we both love Weller’s solo output (although it’s been difficult to follow at times here in the States).

Steve Earle – Mercenary Song
As a clerk at a record store, I waited on Steve Earle several times. The first time being the strangest and, given his well-documented struggles with addiction, I would imagine was during one of his rougher periods. That aside, he always struck me as genial and well-spoken. I certainly wish him well as I think sometimes the public allows their politics to dismiss the work of one of the more literate songwriters of his generation.