Aliens, Monks And The Kumbaya Moment

October 6, 2010

I stumbled down a rabbit hole in cyberspace the other day. One moment I was reading the comments on an article posted on Newsweek‘s site; the next I was searching for information on one of the commentator’s claims.

The comment referenced speculation about what would happen in 2012.

According to a piece in the India Daily from six years ago, Tibetan monks expect aliens to arrive in 2012 , clink the heads of the humans together like Moe did the other Stooges and get us to quit engaging in jackassery.

There are also folks that believe aliens have bases in the Himilayas.

It’s entirely possible I suppose.

It seems that every religion on the planet has followers that are militantly enthusiastic, but, if there are militant Buddhists, I haven’t heard about them.

Traveling in Thailand, I often saw Buddhist monks, clad in their bright orange robes. It was not uncommon to come across one of them sitting in prayer or meditation in the middle of the sidewalk as the flow of pedestrians gave a respectful berth.

After travelling however many thousands of light years to some strange world, who wouldn’t opt to attempt communication with the beings that seem to be calm, cool, and collected?

(as opposed to the ones behaving like poop-flinging monkeys)

It makes total sense that Buddhist monks would be sought out by the aliens.

As someone that is still transfixed when I happen upon Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, I hope that this forthcoming alien experience resembles the one in that movie.

The visitors arrive with a lightshow that dazzles the humans with the ultimate – and peaceful – display of shock and awe.

Then, Buddhist monks make the introductions.

The bobble-headed, child-like aliens are a global sensation.

Children love them.

Adults are charmed by them.

Madonna makes an embarassing attempt to adopt one.

The world’s leaders are called to the mothership for a trip to the galactic principal’s office and everyone on planet Earth gets a whole lot more humble.

(given the situation in Tibet, I’d think the Chinese would feel rather awkward)

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Yeah. It all makes sense.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind arrived in theaters in mid-November, 1977. Thirty-three years ago, I was nine-years old and eagerly anticipating the film’s release. I had minimal interest in music, but here is a quartet of songs that were on Billboard‘s charts during this week in 1977…

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

ELO is one of those bands that is always welcome to shuffle up on the iPod. I can’t say that I’m familiar with much beyond their hits (though there were plenty of those for the band in the ’70s).

I know that the group gets slagged some for being some pale imitation of The Beatles, but, if you’re going to imitate an act, you could do far worse, yes? And Telephone Line is simply gorgeous and angelic.

The Carpenters – Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
from Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition

I’ve loved The Carpenters since hearing them on the radio during their ridiculous string of hits in the early ’70s. The radio wasn’t on too often in our household, but it was usually on in the car and, if it was on, there was rarely a long wait to hear something from the duo.

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft is a cover of a song by Klaatu (who, like ELO, had their own connection to The Beatles).

This song has really grown on me over the years. I don’t really recall hearing it back in the day, but it has a wonderfully spacey vibe, an odd, yet endearingly jaunty midsection and, as always, Karen’s voice makes it worth the price of admission.

(and, it happens to suit the subject at hand well)

Styx – Come Sail Away
from The Grand Illusion

I’ve noted that Styx – on their infamous Kilroy Was Here tour – was my first concert.

But years before, my buddy Beej’s older brother had The Grand Illusion on eight-track and I was fascinated by the cover. We’d hang out in Beej’s basement and blast the album until parental supervision intervened.

(and, like The Carpenters’ song, this one also fits this post’s themes)

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner

Foreigner’s debut album also has a link to an older brother. Lynn, lived in our neighborhood with Evan, who was roughly the same age as me and my other friends. Sometimes we’d shoot hoops at their house.

As I think back to then, Lynn kind of resembled a young Axl Rose and, pondering him from thirty-years of experience, was undoubtedly a stoner. He drove a black Trans-Am and he’d tear through the neighborhood, Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player in the car.

(would a stoner have listened to Foreigner in 1977?)

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81. The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.


April 14, 2010

Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown.

By junior high, I was hearing the name Peaches daily on one station or another out of Cincinnati. The record store was one of the outlets rattled off at the end of commercials for tickets to upcoming concerts.

I’m not sure how many Peaches there were – there’s little about the chain on the internet – but one of the more iconic record stores of my childhood was the one on Colerain Avenue.

(this is the same Colerain Avenue as the one where Dustin Hoffman professes to purchase his underwear at K-Mart in Rain Man)

Above the entrance and the windows, looming up on the building were large reproductions of the biggest albums of the moment. Inside, there was a lot of wood. And a lot of aisles.

It was the size of the place that was memorable.

Between our hometown and Cincinnati was forty-five miles of mostly small towns and farmland. The only place to purchase music for us was a small section of the discount store in the town square – three bins of albums and one of 45s, a section of the adjoining wall devoted to racks of cassettes.

(thank [the diety of your choice] for the Columbia Record and Tape Club)

Peaches was more music then any of us had ever seen.

And it was primarily vinyl.

Once my friends and I were old enough to drive ourselves into The City, Peaches wasn’t necessarily a guaranteed shopping destination. We were mall rats and there were several malls with several record stores in each that offered us a more efficient use of our time.

(oddly, I don’t recall those chain stores – places like Record Bar, Musicland, and Camelot – being quite as homogenized as they would become)

Instead, it was dependent upon who was with us whether Peaches was a stop or not. If Beej or Bosco was in our group, it was more likely that we’d make an attempt. The rest of us were listening to cassettes.

I liked those trips to Peaches. I’d browse the LP bins, taking mental notes of titles which I wanted to snag on cassette. Sometimes, I’d find a copy at there; other times, I’d have to wait ’til we made our way elsewhere.

The first time I set foot in Peaches must have been in the spring of 1981. Being several years from having my license, I had tagged along with my parents and negotiated a stop at Peaches. I was on the clock, but I knew what I wanted and I checked out with a copy of Styx’ Paradise Theater on cassette.

Here are four songs that I was hearing a lot on radio in April, 1981…

Styx – The Best Of Times
from Paradise Theater

There was no escaping Styx on the radio during the late ’70s and early ’80s in our world. It wasn’t happening.

I loved them. This was deep music. I was in junior high.

But it was their Paradise Theater album that landed me in Peaches for the first time. The Best Of Times was mammoth that spring and the radio stations I was listening to were playing Too Much Time On My Hands, Nothing Ever Goes As Planned, and Snowblind heavily, too.

Journey – The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love)
from Captured

Journey, too, was a midwestern staple. By the end of ’81, Escape would make them one of the biggest bands in the US, but, that spring, they had released the live/stop-gap album Captured.

The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love) still sounds very cool.

Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets

The fine folks over at Popdose have kind words for Donnie Iris this week much to my delight. I’ve loved his songs since I first heard Iris while listening to local radio on family vacations to Western Pennsylvania (from where Iris rose to semi-prominence and still resides).

I didn’t hear his songs as much back home. Ah! Leah! did. It was too monstrous to ignore. It’s a towering, glorious behemoth of a song. It thunders and shudders and Iris wails like a man possessed.

Jefferson Starship – Find Your Way Back
from Modern Times

Is it me or does Grace Slick get overlooked a bit?

I know that a lot the Airplane fans were none too pleased with the direction the band took in the late ’70s, but songs like Find Your Way Back and their other hits of the period were, if not essential to the band’s catalog, engaging arena rockers nonetheless. I seem to recall seeing them perform this song on Fridays around the time it was a hit.

Keep On Rockin’ In The Midwest

August 8, 2009

Recently, I showed some love for Foreigner and, over the time I’ve existed here, I’ve made no effort to conceal an even greater affection for Journey.

It’s time to complete the (some might say unholy) trinity with Styx.

The mention of those three bands likely makes the blood of some run cold, but, if you were in junior high in 1979 and discovering music through mostly radio in the Midwest, you knew the songs intimately.

I’ve told of how Styx’ was my first concert. Of course, that post was more of a concert shirt post as opposed to a Styx post.

It was spring, ’83, when Styx announced their Kilroy Was Here tour and a mere thirteen dollars secured me a ticket. I did have to allay the concerns of my mom who had read a newspaper article rehashing the controversy surrounding the band’s song Snowblind – backwards masking on the song had drawn Christian wing nuts out to declare the song and band Satanic.

My mom, while not overly religious, frowned on Satanism.

(more importantly, wrap your head around Styx, the band that brought us Babe, being thought by some to be in league with the devil)

In June, my pyromaniac friend Kurt and I climbed into his older brother’s Ford Fairlaine and headed to The City. As neither Kurt nor I had our licenses, we hitched a ride with his brother and two of his friends.

I seem to recall some tension heading to the show. I think the pyro’s brother got us lost. I feared missing the beginning of the show – no opening act but a fifteen-minute movie setting up the premise of the conceptual piece that was the Kilroy Was Here album.

(there simply would be no following the intricate plotline)

So, I was introduced to the magic of live music by Styx on their Kilroy Was Here tour, one of the most ridiculed musical spectacles of the ‘80s.

I was there and I did buy the shirt (and I wouldn’t be too surprised if I still have it buried somewhere). I don’t even truly remember it aside from the movie.

(I far better remember seeing Rush at my next concert)

Fifteen years later, Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung was shopping in a record store where I worked. I told him the tale.

He was dressed like someone’s father. I had hair down to the middle of my back and several nose rings.

It was slightly surreal.

Here are some songs I’m sure I was hoping to hear at that show (and, aside from, Mr. Roboto, don’t remember for sure whether they played them or not)…

Styx – Miss America
from The Grand Illusion

The Grand Illusion was the first Styx album I remember listening to repeatedly. We had The Grand Illusion on eight-track in our locker room when I started playing football in junior high.

Guitarist James Young growling Miss America rocked suitably and had a message. At twelve or thirteen, it made me feel like an intellectual.

(it’s deep, man)

Styx – Renegade
from Pieces Of Eight

Renegade was more straightforward. The only meaning to the song was of a desperado on the lam which was exotic as we merely had older, high school guys smoking cigarettes and cruising in Camaros in my hometown.

I actually met Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage, after seeing Styx again when I was older. Like Dennis DeYoung, Shaw seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot. I knew her from hanging out at a coffee shop and thought her to be quite fetching.

Adios, Tommy. Hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Styx – Half-Penny, Two-Penny
from Paradise Theater

Paradise Theater was one of the first cassettes I ever owned (I pretty much skipped right past vinyl as a kid) and I played it to the breaking point. Sure, I bought it for the hits I’d heard – The Best Of Times and Too Much Time On My Hands – but I’d repeatedly listen start to finish.

Half-Penny, Two-Penny was near the end of side two and, though I was initially unfamiliar with it, it soon became a favorite.

Styx – Mr. Roboto
from Kilroy Was Here

I suppose Styx was never a hip listening choice and, at the time, Mr. Roboto puzzled even the fans (or perhaps it pained listeners to know that we would soon be under the thumbs of our Japanese overlords).

Then, the song’s use in some television commercials in recent years (and the realization that we would actually end up under the thumbs of Chinese overlords) gave the song a bit of cachet.

As for me, it was Mr. Roboto’s creepy plasticized countenance leered out from the front of the shirt I bought at the show.