Cat D’État

January 29, 2011

Paloma and I killed most of a Saturday afternoon several years ago sucked into a Discovery channel marathon of the series Survivorman.

For the uninitiated, the show starred a fellow named Les Stroud who would place himself in precarious situations – stranded in remote, Canadian wilderness or adrift, alone, in the ocean – and videotape his efforts to not perish.

Then came Man Vs. Wild starring Bear Gryllis, with a similar premise.

Paloma immediately championed Bear mostly as he could be her brother’s doppelganger.

(the only difference between the two is, essentially, a British accent)

I preferred Les.

Bear was some British ex-Special Forces character. His country had invested considerable amounts of cash to train him to survive dangerous situations and perform feats of derring-do.

But Les…Les was everyman.

I couldn’t relate to Bear’s skills, panache or accent, but I could empathize with Les as he failed to trap a rabbit to eat or had a tantrum, bitching about his self-inflicted predicament.

(of course, Paloma and I were both puzzled by Les’ need to take his clothes of in almost every episode no matter how frigid the conditions)

There were moments when I’d watch Les and think that I wouldn’t be surprised if he failed to live up to his show’s ambitious title.

I’ve been thinking of Les the past couple days as, in essence, I am in the midst of a personal Survivorman situation.

Paloma has taken a trip to visit her mother and Bear Gryllis-doppelganger brother, leaving me to fend for myself. It’s the first time we’ve been apart in quite some time.

Now, I’ve often lived on my own, so there is little likelihood that I will have to snare a rabbit as there are a number of pizza places a mere seven digits away who will bring me sustenance.

I will have to make coffee and, I must confess, the coffee maker baffles me, but I should be able to manage.

No, the concern is our animals, four cats – Sam, Pizza, JuJu, and Ravi.

I am fond of this feline quartet and they are fond of me.

However, the four of them hang on each move Paloma makes. If, for some reason, she isn’t here when they expect her to be, chaos ensues.

(chaos consisting of much confused milling about)

Oh, it might seem like a peaceful protest, but these things have a tendency of late to mushroom and I have the proof as I watch the images being beamed from Cairo.

I have legitimate concerns that, when nightfall arrives and Paloma is absent, things could get ugly.

It is said, though, that music soothes the savage beast and Paloma has long insisted that Sam, the eldest in the menagerie, has a fondness for ’70s light rock (especially the trio America).

So, here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s easy listening chart for this week in 1978 that I hope will quell any uprising…

Player – Baby Come Back
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21

I had to check Player’s Wikipedia entry to see if I even knew another song by the group aside from the mammoth Baby Come Back. I did recognize their other Top Ten hit, This Time I’m In It For Love from later in ’78.

The breezy Baby Come Back is the one that everyone remembers, though, and the song has gained new life in recent years through its use in television commercials.

David Gates – The Goodbye Girl
from Super Hits Of The 70s: Have A Nice Day Volume 21

I didn’t see the movie The Goodbye Girl, though I did recognize Richard Dreyfuss in the television commercials as Roy Neary from Close Encounters Of A Third Kind.

Mostly, I remember seeing Quinn Cummings, a child actress who was my age, on some afternoon talk show – Mike Douglas or Dinah Shore – promoting the movie and being quite smitten.

Billy Joel – Just The Way You Are
from The Complete Hits Collection: 1973-1997

I’m strangely ambivalent about Billy Joel. If you asked me if I liked Billy Joel, I’d probably shrug and say something like, “He’s OK.”

But when I do hear one of his songs, I’m surprised at how often I pause, mentally list his songs in my head, and realize that the guy does have some truly fantastic tracks in his catalog. The smooth Just The Way You Are wouldn’t be on my list of favorites by Joel, but it’s pleasant enough.

Yvonne Elliman – If I Can’t Have You
from Disco Classics

Such a phenomenon was the movie Saturday Night Fever and its accompanying soundtrack that it was one of the few albums I owned at the time. I had little interest in music in ’78, but someone had given it to me as a Christmas gift.

Of course, even though I hadn’t became interested in music, yet, I was still quite familiar with the handful of Bee Gees’ hits from Saturday Night Fever. I was also familiar with the dramatic If I Can’t Have You which, though sung by Yvonne Elliman, was penned (and produced) by the brothers Gibb.

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Very Tall Humans And Light Rock In The Night

December 4, 2010

As a kid in Indiana, the town gym was packed for our high school’s basketball games.

The streets of our town were even more deserted on winter nights if Indiana or Purdue had a game on television.

And yet, though there was an NBA team in Indianapolis – a mere hour or so away – I don’t remember anyone really even knowing if the Indiana Pacers had a game most nights.

This was during the late ’70s and Bird and Magic hadn’t yet raised the profile of the NBA. My friends I were fans and the weekly game on CBS was must-see viewing, but we were fans of certain players and each of us adopted the team of our favorite as ours.

No one I knew claimed to be a Pacers fan.

(I loved the great George Gervin, so I followed – as much as I could in a pre-cable/pre-internet world – the San Antonio Spurs)

One of my first memories of the Pacers was a telethon held on the independent television station to help the team sell tickets and ensure it didn’t fold.

The team’s name was dreadfully uninspired and there was no compelling superstar.

(I have proposed to a friend that, should I acquire great wealth, I would purchase the team and rename it the Indiana Children Of The Corn)

Sometimes on weekend nights during the season, I’d catch the last quarter of a game on the same independent channel before watching Nightmare Theater.

I’d be sprawled out on the couch, watching the Pacers lose again,and be grateful I was on the couch awaiting a bad horror flick and not braving the frigid winter elements to be at the game.

But it was on such a night, in early December 1981, that I ventured to Market Square Arena to see a Pacers game. One of our neighbors had an uncle in his mid-twenties who offered to take several of us to a game.

Jay had played hoops in high school. He had height at 6’5″ or so, but he had the athleticism of a tree.

(we were impressed by the height, though)

I truly remember no details of the game aside from the fact that Indiana played the Detroit Pistons. This was a couple seasons before Detroit’s run of great teams in the ’80s and their recent history had been as pitiful as the Pacers.

I think I mostly just stared down at the court with a sense of awe. Seeing NBA players live had an element of scale that television couldn’t capture.

A few clicks and I learn that the game took place on December 4, 1981, a Friday night, and Indiana won 105-95. It was their third win in a row.

Maybe that night is a tipping point at which music was beginning to hold as much interest to me as sports. Though my memories of the game are minimal, I vividly remember the ride home. It was late, there was a light mix of sleet and snow falling, and I could barely keep my eyes open as we drove through the night.

And the radio was on, tuned to a light rock station out of Indianapolis whose call letters I can’t recall.

Here are four songs that I vividly remember hearing on that ride home…

Dan Fogelberg – Leader Of The Band
from The Innocent Age

I’ve noted before that it seems that each and every used record store I visit has plenty of Dan Fogelberg vinyl in the bins. Apparently not everyone held onto them, but the bearded troubadour sold a lot of albums in his day.

And he also had a lot of radio hits during the late ’70s and early ’80s most of which I was fairly ambivilant toward. I always enjoyed hearing the now seasonal staple Same Auld Lang Syne (especially at the holidays) and Run For The Roses will get played as long as they run the Kentucky Derby.

But of all of Fogelberg’s work with which I am familiar, it’s hard not to be drawn into the singer’s gentle ode to his father,

Paul Davis – Cool Night
from Cool Night

I was surprised when I first saw the man who gave voice to the late ’70s light rock classic I Go Crazy – he looked like a long lost Allman Brother who should be raising some hell rather than delivering melancholic ruminations on a love affair gone sideways.

Of course, Paloma and I’ve pondered Paul Davis in the past.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours

By the late ’70s/early ’80s, Rod The Mod was still having hits and selling records, but his adoption of elements from the disco craze of the time on songs like Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? and Passion had alienated some long-time fans even as it earned him new ones.

Young Turks found Stewart chasing trends again, giving the song a synthesized, New Wave vibe, but I always dug the song which chronicled the tale of Billy, Patty, and their ten-pound baby boy.

Sneaker – More Than Just The Two Of Us
from Sneaker

The group Sneaker not only took their name from a Steely Dan song (Bad Sneakers), but longtime Steely Dan (as well as Doobie Brother) guitarist produced the band’s self-titled debut.

I snagged a copy of the album trolling for vinyl and it’s definitely got that laid-back, shuffling sound so typical of Southern California pop acts of the period. Their lone hit, though, was the airy ballad More Than Just The Two Of Us that is so wispy it makes Air Supply sound heavy.


Being Ravi

November 4, 2010

Not quite a year ago, Paloma and I took in a pair of black cats that had encamped on our eave and porch.

(at this point I am sure that Paloma would want me to – in the words of her 93-year old grandfather – “let it be known to all” that we think at least one of them was abandoned by a neighbor)

Paloma’s focus was on JuJu, the larger of the two, as she had given birth to a couple of kittens.

I spent several weeks observing Ravi, a diminutive, quiet ball of fur.

“Ravi is a freakin’ genius,” I informed Paloma.

“She’s sweet, but I think she’s a little slow.”

(madam, I hope by slow you mean freakin’ genius)

I explained to her that Ravi is quite simply the most contented creature I have ever encountered. There is not a more zen soul on this planet – not a man, woman, child, goat, Phil Jackson, Buddhist monk, or houseplant is more in harmony with its universe than Ravi.

Pick her up, sit her down somewhere else and she just settles in.

Rub her ribs and she grooves on the affection, but she doesn’t pout like the others if someone else is receiving attention.

She doesn’t whine and doesn’t beg.

She just lives and let’s live and nothing seems to trouble her…ever.

This creature has figured something out and it’s something that eludes most everyone I’ve ever known.

And I want to know what it is.

With my brain reduced to poi, my nerves jangled, and the day gig being some hybrid of Wall Street and Lord Of The Flies, here are the soothing sounds of four random tracks from a playlist I created of light rock from the early ’80s…

Hall & Oates – Wait For Me
from X-Static

Whether you listened to a lot of music in the ’80s or not, if you are old enough to have been there, you likely know (or would recognize) a good number of songs by Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, Maneater

And twenty-five plus years later, the stuff holds up and seems to have earned a measure of belated respect. As good as their big hits were, the duo had a lot of hits that seem to have been forgotten a bit – Did It In A Minute and Family Man come to mind – that were pretty fantastic.

I’d put Wait For Me on that list, too.

Toto – Make Believe
from Toto IV

I never tired of hearing Rosanna during the summer of ’82 and that following winter I’d search the radio dial just hoping to hear Africa one more time.

But the hit song from Toto IV during the autumn of ’82 – nestled between those two iconic ’80s songs – was Make Believe. I didn’t really care for it at the time, but it’s grown on me over the years.

Quarterflash – Night Shift
from Harden My Heart: The Best Of Quarterflash

Thanks to Casey Kasem I know that Quarterflash got there name from…I think it’s an Australian saying…yeah, I had to look it up. It came from an Australian slang description of new immigrants as “one quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

Though well remembered for their big hit Harden My Heart, Quarterflash also had several other hits like the manic Find Another Fool and the sultry Take Me To Heart. I don’t recall hearing the slinky Night Shift very often, but it did pop up during the summer of ’82 and is pleasant enough.

(and lead singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross had a certain appeal to us at the time)

LeRoux – Nobody Said It Was Easy
from Last Safe Place

Formed by several members of a band that had backed up Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, LeRoux would, in a later incarnation, also feature singer Fergie Frederiksen who would briefly replace Bobby Kimball as lead vocalist in Toto.

Nobody Said It Was Easy was merely there to me when it was inescapable – at least where I lived – on radio during the spring of 1982. The thing was that I could hear LeRoux and Quarterflash as well as AC/DC, Human League, Journey, Dan Fogelberg, Devo and even Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap on the same Top 40 stations I was listening to at the time – sometimes in the same hour.

Like Toto’s Make Believe, Nobody Said It Was Easy is a song that I’m more fond of now than I was at the time.