The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

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Killer On The Rampage…Somewhere

February 23, 2013

(rebroadcast from February, 2010, now with added calcium)

I read the news most days.

But, unlike my parents and their generation, I don’t make a point to watch a news broadcast each day, merely pausing on the news channels if something catches my attention.

The other night, as I was watching some basketball, there was a commercial for the local news. It was some perky chick yammering about a murder suspect possibly being loose – or, in the parlance of our legal system, on the lam – in the “mid-state area.”

Details, she assured me, would be provided at ten.

A killer? In our relatively calm, safe, usually unhomicidal neighborhood?

At ten, I actually went into a holding pattern with the remote. Perhaps this was news that I might need.

(of course, if it had been truly vital information, shouldn’t they have told me twenty minutes earlier?)

It ended up being a murder that seems to have resulted from a domestic disturbance. I’m not even sure if the town where the crime had taken place is even in the station’s broadcast area.

Hardly clear and present danger.

Dodgy attempts to attract viewers aside, this station lost any credibility with Paloma and me long ago. One evening, we happened to be watching and there was a report on a murder at a restaurant in the wee hours earlier that morning.

And the visual accompanying the words was of someone dropping a couple of slices of pizza onto a restaurant’s kitchen floor. The camera was focused on the prone pie pieces as the broadcast moved on to Rudy with sports.

We turned to each other and stared. To borrow from the late, great Bill Hicks – our expressions were like two dogs that had been shown a card trick.

Here is a quartet of songs inspired by real-life murderers…

The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays
from The Fine Art Of Surfacing (1979)

San Diego teenager Brenda Spencer shot two adults, killing them, and wounded eight children from her bedroom window in 1979. Her explanation for her deeds was “I don’t like Mondays.”

For The Boomtown Rats, the song was on its way to becoming their American breakthrough when the Spencer family threatened legal action and the label stopped promoting the song.

Thirty years later, the wickedly dark and totally catchy almost hit is rightfully regarded to be a classic from the period.

Die Toten Hosen – Gary Gilmore’s Eyes
from Learning English, Lesson One (1991)

The Dead Pants – that’s the English translation of German punk band Die Toten Hosen’s name.

That was enough to make me snag a promo copy of Learning English, Lesson One one day at work. I was glad I did as it was more fun than killin’ strangers.

Killin’ strangers is what led to Giilmore being executed in a well-publicized affair in the mid-’70s. He requested that his eyes be donated for transplant.

Gary Gilmore’s Eyes is a cover of The Adverts’ original from the late ’70s.

Concrete Blonde – Jonestown
from Mexican Moon (1992)

I was in junior high when the Jonestown massacre occured and over 900 people, at the urging of Jim Jones, drank cyanide-laced Kool Aid. I remember the vivid images in Newsweek magazine and the television mini-series that had me and my friends tripping the next day at school.

I think it was one of my first what-the-@#$%! (international division) moments in my life.

As for Concrete Blonde, I always mentally shortlist them as one of the acts of the late ’80s/early ’90s that deserved a bigger audience.

Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
from Nebraska (1982)

In 1982, I mostly knew Bruce Springsteen for the user-friendly The River from two years earlier. I was bumfoozled when I heard the stark Nebraska.

I was in college when Springsteen released the mammoth Live/1975–85. If you weren’t there, I assure you that the hype surrounding the five-album set was considerable.

Hearing some of the songs live prompted me to really spend some time with Nebraska.

(I quickly understood the praise heaped on it over the years)

Nebraska‘s title song was inspired by the two-month killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the ’50s.

Those events also inspired the 1973 movie Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. I remember Badlands airing on prime-time television with those parental warnings that only served to make the movie a must-see event to a kid.


The A-Team

January 29, 2013

AI got sucked into The A-Team on cable.

Three hours later, I had watched about an hour and a half more of the exploits of Hannibal Smith and friends in movie form than I had ever watched of the television series.

As I was a kid at the time The A-Team initially aired, I was well aware of it. It was enormously popular for awhile and I imagine I undoubtedly checked it out for ten or fifteen minutes on a Tuesday night.

(with five, six channels and no cable, the viewing options were limited)

I was fifteen when The A-Team arrived. I think I essentially shrugged it off as simplistic.

And Mr. T…I remember the first kid in our neighborhood that had made it into The City to catch the previous summer’s blockbuster Rocky III. The next morning, we gathered as usual for a pick-up baseball game.

It was June and the sun beat down on us. It was already hot.

The lot of us were sprawled out on the grass, sweltering, breakfast digesting as Alvin recounted to us the plot of Rocky III and we hung on every word.

He was a generally quiet kid but he verbally jitterbugged as he excitedly got the first few moments out.

And he stopped.

He seemed crazy from the heat, like some addled prospector wandered in from the desert telling tales, as he slowly told of the beast that was Rocky’s opponent, Clubber Lang as played by Mr. T.

Clubber had a Mohawk.

Clubber mostly growled.

Clubber was unstoppable.

His destruction of Rocky for the heavyweight title was done with a stunning savage efficiency.

When we all finally got to see Rocky III – it arrived in our small town’s theater pretty quickly – we might have been rooting for Rocky, but we were in awe of Clubber.

Clubber was soon overshadowed by Mr. T. It seemed he was everywhere – talk shows, magazines, commercials.

Clubber had been a frightening creation. Mr. T soon began to grate on my nerves.

I was also spending more time listening to music during the years that The A-Team originally aired and the show wouldn’t have had enough appeal to pull me from doing so.

As for the movie, it was a decent popcorn flick unburdened by preconceptions or childhood memory.

The A-Team debuted almost thirty years ago to the day. Here are four songs from albums that were also arriving that week in 1983…

Eurythmics – Love Is A Stranger
from Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)

By the time Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) was released, several singles had been issued and failed to gain traction. In the States, it took until summer, but the title track finally clicked and gave the Eurythmics a breakthrough hit that topped the charts.

Sweet Dreams might be better remembered, but I’ve always preferred the chilly Love Is A Stranger.

Todd Rundgren – Drive
from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (1983)

Todd Rundgren’s commercial peak had expired about five years before I was listening to music. However, my friends and I were exposed to the music of Runt – both past and present – through our buddy Bosco. He was a Rundgren fanatic and each new release from the man was an event.

According to the internet, The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect was a contractual obligation album and considered a throwaway, but I’ve remained quite found of the set.

(though I need never, ever again to hear Bang The Drum All Day – ever)

And I do love the clanging call to action, Drive. It makes me want to go to work tomorrow, burn down my office building, load Paloma and the animals into The Jeepster, and do as the title suggests.

Journey – Send Her My Love
from Frontiers (1983)

Journey’s follow-up to the iconic Escape was the most eagerly anticipated album of my young life in January, 1983. Separate Ways arrived as Frontiers‘ first single and it quickly became a Top Ten hit.

And, a week or so before the full album arrived in stores, I stayed up to tape Frontiers when it was played on Frog’s Midnight Album, which aired nightly on WEBN.

I played that copy of Frontiers incessantly until I made it into Cincinnati and to a record store to purchase an actual cassette. Even as I listened to it repeatedly into the summer, I could hear it as a calculated attempt to replicate Escape.

However, the haunted Send Her My Love would have been a worthy addition to Frontiers’ predecessor.

Red Rider – Human Race
from Neruda (1983)

Canadian band Red Rider never got much love here in the States. They’d get a smattering of airplay on our album rock stations and the moody Lunatic Fringe was deservedly a staple (even if I doubt most listeners could have named the band performing it).

I seem to recall hearing the sparse, eerie Human Race occasionally that spring and it’s a compelling mix of straight-ahead rock with a slight New Wave vibe.