The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2012

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s announcement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Lunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing in the dentist’s office as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I was finishing the final classes that semester for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affiliated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour or more diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, it was nearly midnight, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then throw on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles, and Coke and I stretched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance
from The John Lennon Collection (1982)

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance
from Give Peace A Chance single (1990)

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Random Brushes With Greatness

January 19, 2012

For a decade plus following college, I participated in an extended childhood, existing on the periphery of the music industry, close enough to see behind the curtain, yet not so involved to reap financial rewards that would have sullied the experience.

The time afforded me opportunities to do things and meet people that I would have thought unthinkable as a kid growing up in Sticksville, listening to music and devouring liner notes.

Sometimes I will escape the office and the mind-numbing engagement in capitalistic endeavors to enjoy tobacco.

I’ll set the iPod to shuffle and a song will pop up that will remind me of some cool experience that I’d almost forgotten.

A song by Richard Thompson shuffled up the other day and I suddenly recalled having lunch with the legendary guitarist. Afterwards, he took the small stage at the club and generously performed a handful of songs – including 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – for a dozen or so of us.

How does such a wonderous experience get lost in the shuffle and shoved into some corner of the mental attic?

It might not even have been the most memorable time that I’d spent in that club. Several years earlier, I’d had a chance to see Jeff Buckley perform there and, afterwards, share a drink with us, months before his acclaimed debut was released.

Sometimes I stop when a song reminds me of a chance I’ve had to interact with that artist and tried to imagine what I’d have thought as a fifteen- or sixteen-year old music junkie had I known of what was waiting for me.

We couldn’t even get cable.

So, here are four songs that shuffled up on the iPod for which I was able to draw on some personal experience with the artist…

John Prine – Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody
from Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings (1995)

I hang my head as I confess that I am not as familiar with the catalog of John Prine as I – or as friends who are devotees of the acclaimed singer/songwriter – feel I should be.

I doubt that I knew more than a handful of songs by Prine when, because of my position as a buyer for a large record store, I was invited to his manager’s office to hear the then-forthcoming Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings.

And, joining the half dozen or so of us for the listening session was John Prine.

(among our group was our receiving clerk, a surly malcontent who had been a road manager for several punk bands in the ‘80s, hated everything, and, yet, often told us that there were Prine songs that reduced him to tears)

I still haven’t explored much more of Prine’s catalog than I knew at the time, a situation that for the past fifteen years I have, despite good intentions, failed to rectify.

A Flock of Seagulls – Nightmares
from Listen (1983)

Long ago I recounted the night that I played pinball with the singer of the first band that I claimed as my own.

And, Nightmares is a nifty number by a band that most folks likely only know for I Ran.

Cheap Trick – A Place In France
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

I love Cheap Trick and met them once. For a few brief seconds I thought that it might conclude with me getting my ass kicked by guitarist Rick Neilsen following a discussion of cigarettes and songwriter Diane Warren.

(it ended quite amicably)

As for A Place In France, the song appeared as a previously unreleased track on Cheap Trick’s box set, and though it won’t change your world, it’s a groovy, little rocker and not a bad way to spend four minutes.

The Beatles – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
from Anthology 3 (1996)

OK. I don’t have a story actually involving meeting any of The Beatles, but I’ve had near secondhand encounters.

One involved an English co-worker at a record store who may or may not have been tight with the Fabs – as well as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and The Stones – during the ’60s.

But years before, while in college, my dog’s vet was a friend of Paul McCartney.

(and how a vet in a small, Midwestern town becomes chums with a Beatle is another tale)

During the summer of ’89, McCartney was touring America for the first time in a decade plus following the release of Flowers In The Dirt. Meanwhile, I was studying abroad, ten-thousand miles from home.

And Doc had invited my girlfriend to accompany him to see Paul.

She had recently graduated and intended to decline the offer as she had just started a new job with a high-powered accounting firm.

“You have to go,” I told her from the other side of the world. “You can always get a new job, but this is the chance to meet a Beatle.”

She didn’t go.


Colors

November 2, 2011

Trudging out early this past weekend, I dressed for the morning chill, throwing on comfortable, worn jeans, a heavy, dark blue sweater (which I’m told is actually grey), well broken-in combat boots, and my Belgian army coat.

I didn’t wear a tie, mainly because I don’t own one and the concept puzzles me.

Paloma, who once worked in a fairly posh department store, was pointing out ties on a television program the other day. She wanted me to guess their costs and, each time, my reply was reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man.

“About a hundred dollars.”

To my surprise, I wasn’t far off.

One hundred dollars? For a tie? I could be a land baron in South America for one hundred dollars.

(are other countries still accepting U.S. currency?)

I asked Paloma the purpose that ties serve and was informed that they offer men a way to accessorize.

So, I’m going to choke myself with this cloth noose so that I might have something to bring out the color of my shirt? Who was the sadistic bastard that believed this was a necessity?

If there truly was a need for men to accessorize, why not nail polish? It’s far simpler and non-constrictive.

And colors – I’m not colorblind (I took the test), but Paloma reminds me that the sweater which I mentioned earlier (and have owned for years) is, in fact, not dark blue, but grey.

(if I squint, I see her point)

Of course, it’s probably not grey but slate or something. I suggested to her that colors should have names that are more informative to the average person (or at least entertaining).

What’s a taupe? Is it some kind of fish that is found only near some reef off the coast of Micronesia?

(and are Micronesians really small?)

However, she didn’t seem to think that the color names I suggested were marketable.

I don’t know. I think Pond Scum, Cocoa Puff, Hypothermia, and Open Wound have a certain descriptive quality that taupe lacks.

As for my Belgian Army coat – why do they even have an army?

I’ve never been to Belgium, but I imagine the Belgians to be polite, civilized folks who never squabble (like Flemish-speaking Canadians). Maybe it is to protect the waffles.

I do love waffles, so, perhaps I should enlist. I have one of the coats (it’s green, I think) and I probably wouldn’t have to wear a tie.

Here are four colorful songs…

Aimee Mann – Red Vines
from Bachelor No. 2, or the last remains of the dodo (2000)

Though I loved Voices Carry, ‘Til Tuesday’s Top Ten title hit from their 1985 debut album, I truly came to embrace the band on their next record, Welcome Home. By 1988, the band was essentially down to lead singer Aimee Man on the brilliant swanson Everything’s Different Now.

The group had lost most of their audience, but I eagerly awaited Mann’s solo career which arrived in 1993 with Whatever and was a devoted fan up through Lost In Space almost a decade later.

(I simply never took the time to check out the last few albums)

But the forty or so tracks I own almost always blow me away when one of them shuffles up. Hearing the gorgeous, wistful, melancholic Red Vines is likely going to send me on a ‘Til Tuesday/Aimee Mann listening bender.

(and I couldn’t agree more with this ode to Mann’s greatness from over at the stellar Bottom Of The Glass.

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine
from Revolver (1966)

The Beatles are very, very good.

I’ve come to believe that their existence might be proof of the divine in the universe and that it’s possible that no entity in the history of mankind has brought more joy and happiness to more people than The Beatles.

Tarnation – An Awful Shade Of Blue
from Mirador (1997)

Somehow, with no effort, I came to own a pair of the three albums that the San Francisco, alt-country band Tarnation released. No doubt I snagged them as promos, liked them enough to file away, and promptly forgot about them.

After listening to An Awful Shade Of Blue, I need to revisit them as the song wowed me.

The group issued one album through 4AD and, if you were listening to college radio in the ’80s, you had an idea what to expect when you heard an act signed to the label. An Awful Shade Of Blue features the ethereal vocals of Paula Frazer and a twangy sound that would be ideal for a spaghetti Western.

Hole – Violet
from Live Through This (1994)

I had no interest in Hole in 1994. The sheer drama of Courtney Love exhausted me to the point of disinterest.

But I loved the band’s chainsaw-guitar cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman and, then, Hole released Celebrity Skin, their belated, 1998 follow-up to Live Through This, and I was won over.

The album – what I imagine ’70s Cheap Trick might have sounded like had they been a ’90s alternative rock band fronted by a feral frontwoman – is still one of my favorites from the decade.

Celebrity Skin prompted me to give Live Through This a more openminded listen and, though I still prefer the follow-up, the bracing Violet is a corker of a tune.