The Road To Rose-Hulman

May 1, 2010

At the risk of tempting the weather gods, this spring has actually been a relatively orderly, pleasant shuffle into the summer months instead of the luge ride into the sun – winter to summer – we often get.

The past few days have been perfect and it was a perfect Friday when I set out for Terre Haute with my friends Streuss and Smart. I’ve mentioned Streuss, a high school friend who turned me onto music like Robyn Hitchcock, The Cocteau Twins, and The Cure, numerous times.

Smart, like Streuss, was a twin. His identical twin brother was Dumb.

Actually, both of them were quite intelligent, but Smart was the twin that was a bit more responsible and slightly less carefree, so…

(of course, it was Smart who, on occasion, could be found sleeping in the bushes outside their house after a night of drinking)

Smart hadn’t decided on a college, yet, and was considering Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, near the Indiana/Illinois border.

Streuss and I had known for months where we were headed.

It was our senior year, we were about a month from graduation, and we had already checked out. So, when Smart asked us if we wanted to go on a college visit one Friday morning, there was no hesitation.

Seniors were allowed so many absences for college visits, but they had to be with a parent, so, I’m not sure how we worked around that requirement – we likely didn’t care.

Dumb had missed something like thirty or forty days of school. Smart and the rest of us weren’t so accomplished, but we had spent a lot of time that school year everywhere but school.

So, the three of us set out in the late ’60s, light blue Ford Fairlaine which the twins shared and drove as though they were in pursuit of Mad Max in the Australian outback.

(oddly enough, one of our friends, Curt The Pyro, had been gifted the same car – same year and color – by his older brother Jailbait)

Terre Haute was two hours or so from our hometown. It was more than enough time on that beautiful spring morning – seventy-two degrees, blue skies with a few clouds for contrast – for Streuss and myself to convince Smart that he had to be deranged to even think of attending Rose-Hulman.

Now, Smart’s intention was to major in engineering and Rose-Hulman was regarded as on of the best engineering schools on the planet, but there were extenuating circumstances prompting Streuss and I to offer such contrary council.

Rose-Hulman was an all-male university.

We cruised down the highway at ridiculously high speeds and sorted out Smart’s future. As the song from a year or so later would declare – the future was so bright, we had to wear shades.

Actually, the future was the last thing on our minds that day. It was a beautiful day and we were hanging out while the rest of our friends – including Dumb and Curt The Pyro – were stuck in class.

And we had music.

There were new albums that spring from some of the staples of rock radio in our corner of the world. Bob Seger’s Like A Rock album was out and none of us could have known how sick NFL fans would be of the title song twenty-five years later.

The Stones’ version of Harlem Shuffle was on the radio and its parent album, Dirty Work, would prove to be fairly uninspired.

Van Halen’s first song with Sammy Hagar was on every station. David Lee Roth’s swagger, brains, humor, and sleaze was the soul of Van Halen, but I liked some of the Hagar-era stuff and Why Can’t This Be Love sounded great on the radio.

And Journey.

Journey would release Raised On Radio that spring. Sure, I bought a copy, but things had changed since Escape had been a soundtrack for the passage from junior high to high school.

But Raised On Radio didn’t resonate four years later.

(that’s twenty-eight years for any dogs that might be reading)

We also had a tape deck and we knew how to use it.

Here are four songs from some of the tapes I’m sure we played that day…

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door

Streuss had discovered The Cure with The Head On The Door, most likely via the memorable video for the perky – at least musically – Close To Me. He was soon catching up on their earlier albums especially Pornography, which was my favorite.

Big Audio Dynamite – Medicine Show
from This Is Big Audio Dynamite

Though thought of, first and foremost, as a punk band, The Clash incorporated reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, dance and rockabilly into their sound. When Mick Jones was sacked following Combat Rock, he put together Big Audio Dynamite and continued to draw from diverse musical styles adding samples to the equation.

We immediately took to BAD’s intoxicating brew which took the experimental bent of The Clash to a new level. Though commonplace now, the band’s musical stew was strkingly original at the time and, acknowledged or not, served as a template for many of the modern rock acts that found success in the early ’90s.

The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary
from Love

The recorded output of The Cult is a bit uneven to me and, despite its success, I thought the Rick Rubin-produced Electric was an unredeemable disaster aside from the wonderful Love Removal Machine.

However, Love, Electric‘s predecessor, is a classic from the period.

The sleek, supersonic She Sells Sanctuary was perhaps the high point of Love, a near perfect fusion of Billy Duffy’s pyrotechnic guitar work and lead singer Ian Astbury’s otherworldly howl.

The Outfield – Your Love
from Play Deep

Both Smart and Dumb were mental for The Outfield who, at the time, were breaking in the States with the irresistible single Your Love. Urgent and catchy, the song was all over radio that spring.

The British trio would manage to produce a handful of engaging singles over the remainder of the ’80s, but Your Love remains pinned to that spring, that trip, and the twins for me.

A Fistful Of Quarters From A Grown Man In His Underwear

April 21, 2010

The end of the school year is within the distance of one well-spat loogie for the age appropriate. As a kid, it was the annual re-opening of the campground down the road that was a tangible sign that summer break was close.

Before we were old enough to drive, the campground also served as somewhere to waste the little money we had on things like miniature golf and video games.

At that time, our town was still a couple of years away from having an actual arcade and Atari game consoles were not yet in all our homes. The campground game room was one of the few places to play video games.

Of course, there were three, maybe four games and they were always well behind the times with the selection – Space Invaders when Pac-Man was the rage, Galaga instead of Defender.

Asteroids was a hip as it got.

The couple that ran the campground was on the staff of our high school.

He was a burly fellow, taught shop, and was known to all as Bandsaw Bob.

She was on the bony side, was the school nurse, and seemed to be going for some Jackie Kennedy vibe.

I don’t believe that I ever saw him without a tooth pick lodged in his teeth.

I couldn’t say the same for her.

The game room was downstairs from the gift shop/concierge desk/campground office which was usually our first stop to exchange a few dollars for quarters.

Several friends and I entered one afternoon and found the gift shop vacant. We stood at the counter, growing impatient to blast space bugs and such.

A door behind the counter of the gift shop led to the proprietor’s home and, as our conversation grew louder, we heard stirring from the adjacent dwelling (which was our objective).

Through the door lumbered Bob, muttering about “nobody minding the store” and “been out digging up a stump.”

There he stood, his large, round face flushed and beads of sweat trickling from his forehead met his flat top.

He was wearing nothing but his underwear.

And he had his tooth pick.

“You kids need quarters?” he asked jovially. He was a jovial fellow.

Before we could offer an affirmative, wife Jackie burst through the doorway. “Bob,” she barked. “Go take a shower and get cleaned up for dinner.”

He shrugged. “You all have seen a man in his underwear before.”

We’d seen pictures of Ted Nugent in a loin cloth in music magazines. And now, we had seen our high school’s shop teacher in his underwear.

Of course, in retrospect, I realize that, had this event – which became an oft-recounted part of me and my friends childhood lore – taken place in 2010 instead of 1980, Bob might have found himself in trouble, but there was nothing dodgy.

When you grow up in a small town, everyone knows everyone else fairly well, certainly well enough to know that sometimes a man in his underwear is just a man in his underwear.

Here are four songs that might have provided some clothing suggestions…

Sparks – Angst In My Pants
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Though they never got radio airplay where I lived, I had seen Sparks duet with The Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin on Cool Places in ‘82 on Solid Gold. And, my friend Streuss owned several of their cassettes like In Space, Whomp That Sucker, and Angst In My Pants.

Quirky and amusing, Sparks often had an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of life’s truths amidst all of the melodic musical insanity.

Kate Bush – The Red Shoes
from The Red Shoes

I fell hard for Kate Bush when I discovered her music. It was, like many listeners here in the States, with The Hounds Of Love. I’d read about her and was intrigued, but hadn’t really had the opportunity to check out her prior albums.

Of course, subsequent albums were slow to arrive but worth the wait.

Haircut 100 – Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) (extended version)

I didn’t like Haircut 100 back in the day. Of course, they weren’t around very long and I never heard their lone hit, Love Plus One, on the radio much.

It was years later – when the song kept popping up on ’80s compilations – that I grew fond of Love Plus One. I finally snagged a copy of Pelican West on vinyl a year or so ago and it was underwhelming.

Favourite Shirts is more manic than Love Plus One and manic Haircut 100 doesn’t have the same charm to me (but I didn’t have a lot of “shirt” songs).

Bob Dylan – Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
from Blonde On Blonde

I hadn’t heard Bob Dylan in 1980. I wouldn’t begin a relationship with Dylan for a few more years.

Sartorially speaking, Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat would have been a fitting suggestion for Bandsaw’s wife. She did have the Jackie Kennedy thing about her.

It Must Be Spring When You Come Home With A Carnivorous Plant

April 11, 2010

For a week or so, it appeared that we were in store for one of those years in which the weather essentially leapfrogs from winter to summer – no spring for you!

But the last few days have given us at least a bit of spring with today being a beautiful day in which the baggy sweater/cargo shorts/sandal ensemble I sported was perfect.

(I am speaking from a standpoint of comfort – sartorially, I am wholly unqualified to comment)

Paloma and I opted to temporarily throw off our city slicker shackles for a drive into the country. She had wanted to browse at a garden show.

It was lazy, zen, and a wonderfully placed pause, and, we are now the proud owners of our first carnivorous plant.

Here are four songs that shuffled up on the drive and seemed to suit the day well…

Everything But The Girl – When All’s Well
from Love Not Money

Though I’d known of Everything But The Girl since college, it wasn’t until several years later that Paloma turned me on to their catalog in depth.

The breezy When All’s Well, from one of the duo’s early albums, is a brief shot of B12 for the spirit.

Starbuck – Moonlight Feels Right
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day

Sure, Starbuck’s soft rock smash Moonlight Feels Right might have been more appropriate later in the day, but the song always puts a smile on Paloma’s face.

Personally, the marimba-laden hit makes me think of hearing it at the pool, blaring from the radio during the summer of ’76, as a kid.

James Iha – See The Sun
from Let It Come Down

Iha rose to the top of the music world as a member of Smashing Pumpkins, the band that he formed with Billy Corgan. Following the mammoth success of that band’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Iha put out his solo debut, Let It Come Down, which failed to generate much interest.

It’s unfortunate that so few people heard Let It All Come Down. Simple, understated, and intimate, the album was the polar opposite of the Pumpkins. In truth, tracks like the lovely See The Sun would have fit nicely alongside Starbuck on late ’70s radio.

Richard Ashcroft – Crazy World
from Alone With Everybody

The Verve were one of my favorite bands of the ’90s with their expansive, spacey sound, walls of guitar, and charismatic lead singer Richard Ashcroft. But, aside from their breakthrough with Urban Hymns, tensions within the band and legal hassles from outside seemed to thwart them from sustaining momentum.

Following one of the group’s numerous break-ups in the late ’90s, Ashcroft took the solo path, issuing Alone With Everybody, a surprisingly upbeat release that lead a friend (and fellow Verve fan) to dismiss the record.

The pleading Crazy World isn’t completely angst free, but the string-laced song is insanely catchy and inviting.