Today, My Best Friend…Tomorrow, Who Knows?

May 11, 2011

Sometime last week, during the spate of coverage on the demise of Osama bin Laden, I happened upon a program on the life of the iconic terrorist.

One of the people interviewed was described as bin Laden’s best friend as a teenager.

It must make a pretzel of the mind to have such a notorious character as a former best friend.

The first best friend that I can remember having was a kid named George. There’s little else I recall aside from his name and I have no recollection as to what earned him status as numero uno amigo.

I do recall that I stripped him of the title and I slotted another classmate into the position.

I wanted John as my best friend because he was tall, a head taller than everyone else.

(people have been placed in high office using such logic, but I was five)

I’ve had no contact with either of these kids in almost forty years, but it seems as though George is a DJ in the upper Midwest, so perhaps I was being prescient about the interest I’d someday have in music.

By the time I reached high school, I was in a transitional period with friendships. The concept of best friend had evolved into a group of eight or nine of us who would end up together in different permutations and numbers.

One of these buddies was a bit of a fire enthusiast and devotee of things that go kaboom.

During senior year, Kirk The Pyro went to California with another of our friends for spring break.

(most of us settled for wandering the malls in Cincinnati)

This dynamic duo returned to the grimness of March in the Midwest with tans and dynamite.

“Where did you get dynamite?”

“Tijuana”

“So, you brought dynamite from Tijuana on your flight home from California?”

It was a simpler world and a time when – relative to today – the airlines essentially had a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

The interviewee on the television screen had described bin Laden as quiet and polite, their friendship rooted in a shared love for soccer.

I could only describe Kirk The Pyro as like Woody Woodpecker in human form and our bond forged by a common appreciation for antics, hijinks, and shenanigans.

And though I haven’t had contact with him since college, I also haven’t seen him become the target of a global manhunt.

Here are four friend songs…

Clarence Clemons And Jackson Browne – You’re A Friend Of Mine
from Hero

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were probably as big as any act in my lifetime. During the mid-’80s. Born In The USA sold ten million copies and pretty much every song on the record got extensive airplay on the radio. The group’s success was so massive and demand for more music so great that b-sides like Pink Cadillac and Stand On It got played heavily.

E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons even had a solo hit during the winter of ’85 when he duetted with Jackson Browne on the upbeat and catchy You’re A Friend Of Mine.

The Rolling Stones – Waiting On A Friend
from Tattoo You

Personally, I’ve always thought that Waiting On A Friend was one of the Stones’ finest post-’70s moments. The song is so casual and the vibe so laid-back that it’s always welcome when it pops up on shuffle.

Apparently it was the first video by the Stones played on MTV (with reggae great Peter Tosh hanging out on the steps).

Grateful Dead – Friend Of The Devil
from Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead got discovered my generation while I was in college when A Touch Of Gray put the venerable band all over MTV. I liked the song and I even liked a lot of its parent album, In The Dark, which was played often in the record store where I worked.

I’ve also enjoyed stuff from their catalog as I’ve been introduced to it here and there, but I’ve never felt the rabid passion for The Dead that they inspired in a lot of my peers.

Jellyfish – He’s My Best Friend
from Spilt Milk

I discovered Jellyfish when the record store where I worked received a promo copy of the band’s debut, Bellybutton, in 1990. The psychedelic album cover was eye-catching and the music earned the group from San Francisco comparisons to greats like Queen, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, XTC, and Cheap Trick.

Despite plenty of swooning by critics, Jellyfish was unable to find mainstream success and would split up after just one more album, 1993′s Spilt Milk, but the group has continued to loom large in the hearts of power pop devotees for the past two decades.

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The Grammy Awards

February 15, 2011

The Grammy Awards aired the other night.

I watched The Simpsons.

During the first few years in which I was suddenly fascinated by and paying attention to music, it was – like most people of a certain age, I suspect – through pop radio. The idea that there were awards given for songs was a compelling one.

I think the first Grammy Awards show I remember was the one from 1981 and Christopher Cross’ slew of trophies for his debut album from the prior year.

At the time, Cross’ shiny trinkets undoubtedly validated my affection for the cassette of Christopher Cross, which I had made one of my first musical purchases.

Though that album has retained a special place in my psyche, it wasn’t long before I realized that, for the most part, the Grammys was a bit bogus and not to be taken seriously.

Through the years, I’d sometimes catch the show and sometimes I wouldn’t.

I did have the opportunity to once fill out a Grammy ballot. An ex-girlfriend worked at a law firm that had some musician clients and, thus, the firm was a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

This girlfriend’s boss knew that she was an aspiring singer and, having no interest in performing the task, handed his Grammy ballot to her.

I don’t recall the specifics, but a voter was allowed to vote in so many categories and this girlfriend blew through most of her allotment notching a straight ticket.

(it was either for Joan Osbourne’s Relish or Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs, I can’t remember)

She handed the ballot to me with a few picks remaining.

It truly destroyed the last bit of mystique that the Grammys held for me.

In February, 1983, I most certainly was excited to watch the Grammys. Here are songs from four of winners for whom I’d have undoubtedly voted…

Men At Work – Down By The Sea
from Business As Usual

During the second half of ’82, Men At Work became a sensation with the release of Business As Usual, one of the biggest selling debuts ever. By the time the Australians won Best New Artist, the album had already spawned two mammoth hits with Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under.

Though the two hits were the most memorable songs on the album, Business As Usual could have had another hit single or two had the band not had the follow-up Cargo waiting in the wings.

Though I wasn’t fond of the laid-back Down By The Sea, the song was a nice change of pace from the manic vibe of most of the album and it’s grown on me over the years (likely because of Paloma’s affection for the song).

Toto – It’s A Feeling
from Toto IV

Toto won fifty or sixty Grammys – ok, it was really six – for Toto IV including Album Of The Year. Sure, there were the twin titans of Rosanna and Africa, as well as the lesser hits Make Believe and I Won’t Hold You Back, but the entire album is a stellar set of pop/rock gems.

It’s A Feeling was moody and mysterious – not so dissimilar from Toto’s early hit 99 – and one of my favorites from Toto IV.

A Flock Of Seagulls – D.N.A.
from A Flock Of Seagulls

When A Flock Of Seagulls arrived with I Ran and their self-titled debut, I quickly adopted the Liverpool quartet as my own. I was hearing the music of the future and I wasn’t about to be left behind.

A Flock Of Seagulls relied heavily on synthesizers and electronic drums, but there was also plenty of guitar as on D.N.A. which won the band a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance, beating out nominated songs by Dixie Dregs, Maynard Ferguson, King Crimson, and Van Morrison.

Pat Benatar – Shadows Of The Night
from Get Nervous

Pat Benatar was one of the major acts of the early ’80s and Get Nervous became her fourth straight platinum album when it was released in late autumn of 1982. She was fetching in spandex and her songs were on every crude mixtape I was making from the radio.

Get Nervous provided Benatar with one of her signature songs in the dramatic Shadows Of The Night and the song earned the singer a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.


Yes, Mr. Capra, You Are Correct*

December 18, 2010

Tonight is being forecast to be one of the coldest of the season so far, but the central heat is keeping the chill of the outside world at bay and its steady hum is soothing.

The only light radiating – other than that from the television’s glow – is from several strands of white bulbs which Paloma has put up along with several other trinkets of the season.

On the television screen is Bedford Falls and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Unlike The Wizard Of Oz, which is aired several times each Thanksgiving, there’s one chance to see the Frank Capra classic each year and tonight is it.

I didn’t grow up with viewings of It’s A Wonderful Life, which is odd I suppose as I was a kid in the ’70s.

It was during that decade that the copyright on the film lapsed. Suddenly, the movie was being aired repeatedly during the holiday season on independent television stations and was rediscovered, becoming a beloved, Christmas staple.

Somehow, I never watched the movie.

I didn’t see It’s A Wonderful Life until I was in my early twenties and rented it from the video store next to the record store where I worked.

I had two days off, was broke, and wanted to veg. There was It’s A Wonderful Life. I shrugged and figured I was due.

It was the middle of July.

Now, an annual viewing, seasonally adjusted, is a bit of a tradition. So, I’m stretched out on the couch and watching as the plans of Jimmy Stewart get laid to waste one by one – no travel, no college, no life in the dirty city.

(and, as I think about it, I’ve been fortunate to do all of those things he’d set out to do)

Paloma was up very early this morning, so she’s not watching. She’d likely have passed anyhow as she finds the flick to be depressing.

It is a bit of a grim slog to Jimmy Stewart’s epiphany.

A lot of folks watching tonight likely identify with the struggles of the working class citizens of Bedford Falls.

There is a dreary rain falling outside and gusts of wind. I can feel by touching the window that the temperature is dropping.

My eyes kept catching snatches of items about the living room in the firefly flickers from the black and white images on the screen.

Bob Marley is smiling from some odd print that has him juxtaposed against stars and stripes. Godzilla battles the Smog Monster on a framed Japanese poster – a very nifty gift from Paloma.

There’s some of Paloma’s artwork on the wall as well as a cattle skull painted metallic silver, a British Union Jack and a Singaporean flag, a subway poster for The Boomtown Rats, a clock with The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft’s face, and numerous other unusual artifacts.

There are a thousand or so CDs we’ve kept on one wall; a thousand or so vinyl albums filed against another wall.

We have creature comforts.

Ravi is asleep on a large chair, curled into a small ball of black furr and Ju Ju sits on the back of the couch staring out the window behind me.

Pizza and Sam are most certainly curled up with Paloma, sleeping in the next room.

We have a home.

It’s peaceful, it’s comforting, and, to have what we have, it is quite wonderful.

Here are four modern songs of the season that I must hear each Christmas…

Wendy & Lisa – The Closing Of The Year
from Just Say Noel

Wendy & Lisa were integral parts of Prince’s band The Revolution and, since the purple one split up that outfit, have made some fine work on their own and as The Girl Brothers. The Closing Of The Year appeared on the soundtrack to the Robin Williams’ flick Toys (which I seem to remember enjoying far more than the average critic).

I simply love the lyric “If I cannot bring you comfort then at least I bring you hope” and, yes, that’s Seal lending his distinctive vocals to the affair.

The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale Of New York
from If I Should Fall From Grace With God

Gritty and gorgeous – how can anyone not be charmed by Fairytale Of New York?

Band Aid – Do The Know It’s Christmas? (12″ version)

Band Aid’s charity single from 1984 has been pretty maligned and, granted, it might not be a stellar musical effort, but, if you were a young music fan at the time, it had a certain charm that it likely retains to this day. It featured some of the superstar acts of the early MTV era and it was one of the first musical events I had lived through.

And, if you were a kid at the time, it very well was one of the first times you realized that as big as the world might be, it was one world. And, maybe it made you stop and think that there are a lot of people in the world who might not have the simplest things which we take for granted, not just at Christmas, but each and every day.

At least it did for me.

The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping
from I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts

The Waitresses only released one full-length album and an EP of their quirky, New Wave rock. But, despite their scant output, the group notched two, enduring classics – the sassy I Know What Boys Like and their modern holiday classic Christmas Wrapping.

I’m sure that I first heard the song on 97X during Christmas ’83 as I was discovering modern rock and it was immediately memorable.

Years later, I’d much better relate to the story within the song, and, somehow, despite how many times I’ve heard it, the ending is still a surprise that makes me smile.

*reimagined last week from the posts of Christmases past