Odd Stuff In The Trunk

March 24, 2011

A couple weeks back, I was poking around for info on the ’80s cult movie Straight To Hell and most of what I found also mentioned another ’80s cult movie – Repo Man – mentioned.

(Alex Cox directed both movies)

My friends and I knew of Repo Man in 1984 when it was released and became an instant cult movie and favorite with midnight crowds. We certainly didn’t see it at the time, but, surprisingly, as we were living in Sticksville, we were aware of the movie.

Thinking back, it had to have been my buddy Beej’s uncle who told us about it. His uncle taught literature or something at a college in Cincinnati, an hour away, and was always turning us onto obscure (to us) new wave bands.

Eventually, we snagged a videocassette of Repo Man and a bunch of us watched it one Friday night.

It was Emilio Estevez’ first movie and he starred as a young punk named Otto being mentored in the ways of being a repo man by Harry Dean Stanton as the pair attempt to repossess a ’64 Chevy Malibu with two dead aliens in the trunk.

It’s been twenty-five years or more since that single viewing of Repo Man, but I remember digging some of it and thinking a lot of it was tedious.

The soundtrack consisted of Los Angeles bands – where the movie was set – including The Circle Jerks, Fear, and Burning Sensations.

That last band was known for their video hit Belly Of The Whale and – on the Repo Man soundtrack – covering the Jonathan Richman-penned Pablo Picasso. In the song it is opined that the artist “never got called an asshole.”

(though I seem to recall Paloma once referring to him as a bastard)

I don’t remember if there were or weren’t aliens in the trunk of that ’64 Malibu in Repo Man.

And though I had several friends who drove old Malibus at the time, I was with my buddy Streuss in his old man’s beloved Volvo when we got pulled over by the police.

I stood there in the night air with several friends as Streuss was unlocking the trunk of the car at the request of the cop.

All I could think of was Repo Man as the trunk lid swung open.

No aliens.

Instead, there was several handfuls of straw, a crumpled carton that had contained wine coolers, and one tube sock.

(and, no, despite the contents of the trunk his dad was not a serial killer nor some other deranged felon)

Though the soundtrack for Repo Man was heavy on punk music, we were more partial to the new wave and alternative acts we were discovering at the time from 97X, Night Flight, and Beej’s uncle. Here are four songs that I remember from that time…

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Over the previous year, U2 had finally reached us in the Midwest with songs from War and Under A Blood Red Sky getting a smattering of attention on a couple radio stations. With Sparkle In The Rain, produced by U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, I heard Scotland’s Simple Minds for the first time and was drawn to their anthemic, widescreen sound.

Waterfront, with its thumping bassline and ringing guitars, was an immediate favorite. A year later, Simple Minds was no longer a band I’d only hear on alternative outlet 97X, but on an array of stations as the group scored with the massive hit Don’t You (Forget About Me).

Though Paloma and I have a copy of Sparkle In The Rain on vinyl, the only version I have ripped of Waterfront is this live version from ’87.

Guadalcanal Diary – Watusi Rodeo
from Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man

The band Guadalcanal Diary were from Athens, Georgia and contemporaries of R.E.M., but, unlike Michael Stipe and company, the group never managed to cross over to a more mainstream audience. They did have a modicum of success with college audiences in the mid- to late- ’80s.

It’s the quirky and engaging Watusi Rodeo for which they are best remembered. The odd, little number about cowboys in the Congo lassoing water buffalo fused jangle-pop with surf rock and why it wasn’t blaring from every radio during the spring of ’84 is mystifying.

Talk Talk – Such A Shame
from It’s My Life

My buddy Beej did get hooked on Talk Talk by his uncle and had already played It’s My Life into the ground for me before the trio notched a lone US Top 40 hit with the album’s title track.

I liked It’s My Life, but I much preferred the pulsating, skittering follow-up Such A Shame.

The Alarm – Blaze Of Glory
from Declaration

With their post-punk guitars, martial drumming, earnest lyrics, and rebellious attitude, the Welsh quartet The Alarm also appealed to the growing affection my friends and I had for U2.

Several songs from their debut, full-length album Declaration popped up on 97X including the defiant Blaze Of Glory.

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97X, Again

July 30, 2009

A few weeks ago, a television commercial spurred me to reminisce about the discovery of 97X during my musical formative years. It prompted me to do a bit of research.

I’ve been well aware over the years how fortunate I was to grow up having 97X in a radio landscape that was mostly Journey, Foreigner, and Styx.

(not that I’m necessarily anti-Journey, Foreigner, and/or Styx)

I did not know that 97X was one of the earliest stations in the country to adopt a modern rock format.

The view from my bedroom as a kid might have been a vista of cornfields, but, beginning in the autumn of ’83, 97X made it possible for me to discover Talking Heads, U2, Peter Gabriel, and other future staples I wasn’t hearing on other stations.

I’d forgotten that the station broadcasted from studios at an unused golf course.

(I always pictured Caddyshack when this was mentioned)

Reception was dodgy. It wasn’t a station that my friends and I listened to when we were in possession of a car. 97X was a station I’d listen to mostly alone on winter nights while not doing homework.

(meanwhile, several friends were doing the same)

Like most radio stations these days, 97X has a website from which you can stream their broadcast.

(actually, 97X is no longer a terrestrial station)

More intriguing to me than their current playlist is the fact that the site also offers a vintage channel. It’s heavy on acts like The Clash, The Smiths, The Pixies, and such, but it seems to lack some of the lesser-known acts that they played at the time.

The Suburbs come to mind as 97X used to play their song Love Is The Law religiously. I haven’t heard the song in twenty-five years and, though I heard it daily for months on end, I can’t even remember the chorus.

It’s kind of like Dee Dee Deuser, a girl who sat next to me in kindergarten. I can’t recall for the life of me what she looked like, but three plus decades later, I remember the name.

(of course, you don’t forget a name like Dee Dee Deuser)

Each Memorial Day, 97X would count down the Top 500 modern rock songs of all time. Finding the list for the countdown from 1989 online allowed me to build a playlist that surprised me in its breadth and depth.

Here are a few songs that popped up randomly…

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It
from The Colour Of Spring

In 1984, I saw the video for Talk Talk’s It’s My Life more than I heard it on radio (even though it was a hit). The hypnotic Life’s What You Make It was from their next album and the only place I heard it was 97X.

After The Colour Of Spring, Talk Talk got progressively more…umm…progressive. Their music on the successive albums – Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock – was a melange of classical, jazz, and ambient improvisation, and, though I own them and they have been critically lauded, those records require a serious commitment.

Fetchin’ Bones – Stray
from Galaxy 500 Plus

Sometimes funky, sometimes with a bit of twang, Fetchin’ Bones rocked harder than Athens contemporaries like R.E.M., Pylon or B-52s (all staples on 97X). Singer Hope Nicholls is formidable like Niagara Falls is wet.

Stray is a corker, but I’m still partial to their song Love Crushing – “Be my flesh blanket and lay upon me” – from Monster.

The Jam – That’s Entertainment!
from Sound Effects

On those archived lists of 97X’ Top 500, there was no shortage of songs by The Jam and, still, I don’t recall them from my years listening to the station. It’s likely they were simply too British for me to take notice.

Nonetheless, I do remember when I first did take notice of them and it was sitting in Paloma’s apartment years ago and her playing Sound Affects over and over. It’s impossible now for me to hear That’s Entertainment! and not hear her singing along (and adding her own exclamation point).

Bob Marley & The Wailers – Could You Be Loved
from Uprising

There’s no doubt in my mind that 97X was the first place I ever heard reggae. Surprisingly, the radio stations that I had to choose from in 1983 in Southeastern Indiana didn’t find a place for Marley, Jimmy Cliff, or Peter Tosh alongside REO Speedwagon and John Cougar.

Fortunately for me, 97X offered me a healthy dose of all three reggae greats.