Eating Pop-Tarts, Ogling Go-Go’s

July 14, 2011

It’s been too hot to really think of anything but nothing the past week. When I have had a thought, I’ve been trying to reconstruct my discovery of Rolling Stone magazine.

(this all prompted by the recent death of Bill Johnson, who designed the magazine’s logo)

The magazine was not readily available to me as a kid. I don’t recall seeing it in the limited selection in the racks at either of the small, family-owned drug stores in town.

I was familiar with Rolling Stone mostly through a buddy who would mention stuff that he’d read in the issues swiped from his older brother.

By the summer of ’82, the Kroger supermarket downtown (such as downtown was for us) relocated to a considerably larger location much closer to our house. It was there that I began reading Rolling Stone.

When boredom and the sweltering summer heat left us with little to do, my neighbor Will and I would hop on our bikes, head over to Kroger, and enjoy the refrigerated air of the store.

We’d loiter at the magazine rack, leafing through the offerings as we munched on Pop-Tarts purchased with whatever change we’d scrounged up.

The music magazines were limited to Circus and Rolling Stone and the album reviews in the latter were of particular interest to me despite the critical shellacking most of the bands I loved at the time received.

These slights indicting my young musical tastes where quickly forgiven the day we found The Go-Gos staring back at us from the cover wearing nothing but their underwear and some smiles.

Sadly, it was likely the most memorable moment involving girls in any state of undress for us that summer, but it did amuse Jane Weidlin years later as I discussed that cover with her during an interview.

I was also greatly intrigued by the album chart in the back of each issue and seeing the names of bands with whom I was wholly unfamiliar.

Oh, I had come to expect seeing names I didn’t know in the rest of the magazine, but how could I not have heard of an act that apparently had a popular album?

But, during that summer, it was a most excellent way to waste away some sweltering afternoon munching on Pop-Tarts in the air-conditioned cool, wondering who the hell The Jam were, what they sounded like, and why I had never heard them on the radio.

Here are four songs from albums that would have made me go “hmmm” as I scanned those album charts in the back of Rolling Stone twenty-nine years ago…

Roxy Music – More Than This
from Avalon

I remember seeing the movie Times Square late one night on a local station when I was about twelve or thirteen. Roxy Music’s Same Old Scene played over the opening credits

(not that I knew who it was)

It wouldn’t be ’til college that I’d really listen to Roxy Music. A French professor I had would play their albums before class.

And, on nights when I had a shift at the record store where I worked, I found Avalon to be a suitable choice as I went through the closing tasks

Squeeze – Black Coffee In Bed
from Sweets From A Stranger

My introduction to Squeeze came sometime in high school through one of my friends who had a copy of the UK band’s compilation Singles – 45’s And Under. I enjoy their music, but I’ve never been bothered to own anything other than a handful of songs I’ve accumulated along the way.

Black Coffee In Bed is pretty nifty and a bit of a sequel – musically and thematically – to their better-known Tempted (a song I long ago burned out on) from the year before.

XTC – Senses Working Overtime
from English Settlement

I thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed English Settlement on the Rolling Stone charts.

A year or so later, I would become familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.

But I mostly knew XTC’s music through my buddy Streuss who became enthralled with their quirky style of alternative rock far earlier than most of the kids I knew in college who loved the band.

The Blasters – American Music
from Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings

I want to like The Blasters. I’ve read wonderful things, they seem like the genuine article, and I have liked the handful of songs I know. Yet, when shuffle pulls up a song by the band, I have to check the screen for the title of a song I don’t recognize, see that it’s The Blasters, and hit next.

It simply seems as if each and every time I’m presented with the chance to check them out, I’m not in the mood for their sound.

I guess it’s not them, it’s me as American Music is pretty groovy little rave-up.

Caller Identity Crisis

January 13, 2011

I had vowed to myself that I would hold out, but a bout of car sickness on the commute one evening swayed me and, several months ago, I surrendered and got a cell phone.

I use it hesitantly.

Paloma is about the only person who I call using the cell. I haven’t even bothered to set up voice mail and, in fact, don’t even know the number as I have not given it to anyone.

(there’s at least a couple of 8s and, maybe a 9 – I think)

Paloma has suggested the fiscally prudent idea of jettisoning the landline.

But I know the landline’s number.

I’ve had it for longer than I have ever had a phone number.

It is the number that friends who I haven’t spoken to in years have for me.

In fact, it is the efforts to be more diligent in reconnecting with some long-time friends that has brought this existential angst over what is my phone number to the surface.

Since the holidays, I have made calls to a number of friends with whom I have not spoken to in far too long. As the cell phone has – as Paloma explained to me – free long-distance and several of these friends are long-distance, I have used the cell.

And I have not known what to say when I’m asked if the cell phone number is my number.

(as opposed to the number I have been known as for as long as I’ve known them)

This has resulted in a far-too lengthy explaination from me that I pay little attention to the cell phone and that the landline is still the line of choice, but, as Paloma crashes early and the phone is in the bedroom, don’t call too late, however…

I cannot bring myself to embrace the cell phone or its unfamiliar number.

In college, my buddy Streuss had a phone number that spelled out “cowslaw,” a fact that he understandably boasted of on his outgoing message, reminding callers that they had reached the “cowslaw headquarters and hotline.”

(I sometimes wonder what his outgoing message might have been had his time with the “cowslaw” number coincided with the celebrated period during which he was the self-declared “Man Who Loves All Women”)

Perhaps it might work if this cell number spells something groovy like cowslaw.

Maybe I’d feel better about the cell phone if I referred to it as my mobile, pronouncing mobile as though I was British…like James Bond.

I haven’t been this confused about my phone number since I was four.

As far as I know, I only have three songs whose titles are phone numbers…

Squeeze – 853-5937
from Babylon And On

My buddy Streuss made me aware of Squeeze in high school with their compilation Singles – 45’s And Under. I think he had discovered it through a favorable review in Rolling Stone.

(it was ’82, we had no MTV or modern rock stations, and Rolling Stone was still worth reading)

Then, five years later, the band finally had a couple of radio hits in the US with the manic Hourglass and 853-5937. I couldn’t really remember the latter until I listened to it again.

It’s not bad, but it’s no Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) or Cool For Cats.

The Time – 777-9311
from What Time Is It?

The Prince-guided funk band The Time makes me think of a good friend from college who loved the band. He was a talented bass player who bounced around to different bands, one which even put out a couple albums on a small label in the ’80s.

I’ve never delved into The Time’s catalog, but I’ve always dug the handful of tracks I do know, including the opportunistic 777-9311.

Sometimes when I see someone being rude or obnoxious in public, I can’t help but hear frontman Morris Day in Purple Rain say, “Such nastiness” as he shakes his head.

Tommy Tutone – 867-5309/Jenny
from Tutone 2

Of course.

Chickenhead The Cat

April 10, 2008

I don’t understand cats. Actually, I think I do understand them which is why I am decidedly a dog person.

Not that I harbor malevolent intent toward felines. Paloma has two cats, Coltrane and Fat Sam, and I have come to be quite fond of both of them. I realize, though, that I could never have the same bond with a cat as I have had with dogs due to their blatant, almost brazen, indifference. They’re like an acquaintance whose body language says, “Yes, we’re interacting and – although I don’t dislike you – I don’t particularly like you and would not be the least bit disappointed if we never saw each other again.” I can get that anywhere. Why would I want it from someone I have to feed and clean up after?

I recall a time before Paloma and I lived together and she went out of town on business. I would make a daily visit to her apartment, making sure that the cats had food and water as well as spending a bit of time with them. Coltrane, especially, seemed inconsolable. I would find her own Paloma’s bed, crying, so I would pet her a bit and talk to her. For the next few days following Paloma’s return, my visits found both cats paying an unprecedented amount of attention to me. It didn’t last. They soon were ignoring me as always, leading me to suspect that their attention toward me was more a dig at Paloma for her absence rather than delight at my presence. Pretty dodgy, huh?

Then, there was Chickenhead. The windows to my apartment’s living room are easily reached by an overhang despite being on the second floor. One warm, summer night, I was sitting on the couch, writing, when a cat climbed through the open window, wandered about (indifferently) and left. This occurred several more times until one night when Paloma was there. She did the thing that I had purposely avoided – she put out a small saucer of milk. Realizing that he would now be a regular visitor, we named him Chickenhead – nicked from a Denis Leary bit involving the naming of a pet. Actually, I named him Chickenhead and Paloma kindly obliged me as the name made me laugh (I am, obviously, easily amused).

Chickenhead came around regularly for a few weeks, getting fed and receiving a bit of attention. Then, no more. And to prove my point about the indifference of cats, here it is a year later and I am writing about him while I know he’s out there somewhere with nary a thought of me.

The Cure – The Lovecats
This number is downright jaunty (particularly Robert Smith’s vocals which have an almost feline quality) – jaunty not being a description which I would have thought appropo to most of The Cure’s music. That is until I mentally went back over their catalog and realized, to my surprise, that they have more moments of jaunt than you might think.

David Bowie – Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
There are two versions of this song which I have. One appeared in the 1982 movie of the same name in which Nastassia Kinski frolics about murdering bunnies (OK. It’s only one rabbit of which she makes a meal); the other version appeared on Bowie’s 1983 commercial comeback album Let’s Dance. This one is from the former and has a nifty, smoldering intro and was produced, if I recall correctly, by Euro-disco-meister (say that three times fast) Giorgio Moroder.

Squeeze – Cool For Cats
Growing up in the hinterlands of the American Midwest in the years prior to MTV, it wasn’t easy to be exposed to new music and fringe acts. However, my friend Chris had an uncanny knack for turning me onto some of the most intriguing and beloved music of my formative years. Among his discoveries, he introduced me to The Cure with Pornography and the sprightly, New Wave-tinged pop of Squeeze with their compilation Singles 45 And Under. Good stuff.

Danielle Dax – Cat-House
I can’t recall how I found the music of Danielle Dax (most likely it was from watching MTV’s 120 Minutes one late night in college when I should have been studying). I believe most (all?) of her stuff is out of print now which is unfortunate because I know I lost a copy of her Blast The Human Flower disc (containing two favorites – The Id Parade and 16 Candles) when I loaned it out. As my Irish friend Liam would say, Cat-House is a corker. Well, if I had an Irish friend named Liam, I have no doubt that’s what he’d say.