Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test*

February 12, 2012

Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me “Cracker Vacuum.”

(it was later translated into Chinese as the far more sonically palatable Bin Gone Kon).

Munchies-inspired nicknames aside, crackers are delightful and the addition of cheese was a great moment in humankind. My enjoyment of this combination has been tempered of late by my concern that – based on knowledge gleaned from numerous viewings of Blade Runner – I might be a replicant.

I didn’t see the sci-fi classic in the theater, but, rather, a few years after its 1982 release. Bladerunner was a favorite of my buddy Streuss and he introduced the movie to a half dozen of us.

It was late on a Friday night and we’d returned from a trek into Cincinnati to roam the malls and record stores. Streuss fired up the VCR as we lounged about on the furniture in his family’s den like lemurs in trees.

I had no expectations, knowing little about the movie aside from Harrison Ford playing the titular character.

Maybe it was the late hour, but I was non-plussed.

Oh, the visuals were stunning – even watching it now, Blade Runner looks like it could have been filmed tomorrow – but it was ponderous and leisurely paced.

Harrison Ford was Han Solo. He was Indiana Jones. He was a Man Of Action trapped in a movie where the action was sporadic and – despite having dispatched Imperial stormtroopers and Nazis – Ford was continually in danger of being rended limb from limb by replicants.

(years later and after repeated viewings, I recognized the utter brilliance of the movie and found the questions the film raised about consciousness and humanity were mind-bending)

Throughout the film, Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos, leaves origami animals for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard and these items – combined with the unicorn footage added for the director’s cut – strengthen the argument that Deckard is a replicant as the unicorn memory is one programmed into all replicants who are unaware that they are synthetic creatures.

(Paloma and I are in opposing camps on whether Deckard is a replicant)

This debate has caused me to question a memory that I have which, though forty years old, remains vivid. On a family vacation, I was allowed to stay up quite late with my uncle; we watched a movie about cartoon cats in Paris and ate cheese and crackers.

I fear this memory couldn’t have happened.

The movie had to have been The Aristocats – is there another cartoon about cats in Paris? – but this was years before VCRs and cable television. Would they have shown such a movie on network television following the late news?

Then there is the inconsistency of this memory with the daily routine of my uncle which was like clockwork – on the river fishing at dawn, an afternoon draining bottles of Iron City at the Moose Lodge, and asleep in his recliner shortly after dinner.

I don’t remember ever seeing the man awake after dark let alone eating cheese and crackers.

I’m left to wonder if the memory is my “unicorn sequence,” one that everyone possesses.

Perhaps Edward James Olmos is someday going to leave a foil, origami Triscuit at my doorstep.

Or maybe a Ritz.

It must have been early 1984 when Streuss introduced us to the gritty future awaiting us in Blade Runner. At the time, I was listening to the alternative rock of the newly minted 97X as much as possible.

Here are four songs I might have heard on 97X twenty-eight Februarys ago…

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for whom Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

The Cure – The Lovecats
from Japanese Whispers (1983)

The Lovecats is downright jaunty (particularly Robert Smith’s vocals which have an almost feline quality) – jaunty not being a description which I would have thought appropo to most of The Cure’s music.

That is until I mentally went back over their catalog and realized, to my surprise, that they have more moments of jaunt than you might think.

XTC – Love On A Farmboy’s Wages
from Mummer (1983)

I thought XTC to be an odd name when I came across it in one of my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, I noticed their album English Settlement on the Rolling Stone charts.

A year or so later, I would become familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages.

But I mostly knew XTC’s music through my buddy Streuss who became enthralled with their quirky style of alternative rock far earlier than most of the kids I knew in college who loved the band.

Howard Jones – New Song
from Human’s Lib (1984)

One of the things I dug most about 97X was hearing songs months and months before they’d break in the States. One of those such songs was Howard Jones’ New Song which had been a success in the UK in the autumn of ’83 as 97X had just taken to the airwaves and six months prior to it reaching the Top 40 in the US.

Jones would have a handful of hits during the next three or four years and they’d mostly be of the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic variety. Mostly I was meh toward them, but, at the time, I did find the bouncy, elastic, and unremittingly optimistic New Song to be captivating.

*reprised, remixed, and reposted after I stumbled upon Blade Runner on cable the other night

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The Union Jack

January 12, 2012

“You look different,” Paloma said.

As I had done nothing new with my hair, I countered her comment with a quizzical, gape-jawed stare.

“You’re standing up.”

It was true. I was vertical as opposed to the horizontal posture I had been prone to adopt for much of the past week as the result of sharing my immune system with some miserable, little bug.

And several times during the week, too enfeebled with fever to do more than slump on the couch, too weary from coughing fits to even turn my head toward the television, I stared straight ahead to the wall where I’d zone out in the pattern of the large Union Jack flag hanging there.

The flag has been with me for a long, long time, acquired during one of the many high school treks into Cincinnati with friends to roam through the malls searching for girls, music, and Orange Julius.

It was about this time of year, a couple weeks after the new year that a handful of us were on such a venture.

It was frigid outside and, inside, there were “sidewalk” sales during which the stores would take the crap that they hadn’t been able to unload at Christmas weeks earlier and piled the wares onto tables at discounted prices.

Outside one of the storefronts, I found my buddy Streuss, in his hand he clutched a Union Jack.

“You’re buying a British flag?”

“Five bucks, man. I’m hanging it up in my bedroom.”

England was some faraway land and I don’t recall much Brittania in my life as a kid.

A television station out of Dayton would air Benny Hill reruns late on Saturday nights. My neighbor Will and I would watch the hijinks through the snowy reception on the Magnavox in his family’s den.

In junior high school, I might have actually thought England was little more than slapstick, double entendres, and scattily-clad women.

But I soon discovered music and, especially in the early ’80s, there was plenty of it arriving in America from England. Even before I ventured far from Top 40 and mainstream rock radio, I was hearing The Police, Human League, The Fixx, A Flock Of Seagulls, Duran Duran…

And, of course there was the previous twenty years of exports from the British isle with whom I would become increasingly familiar.

I grabbed the remaining flag from the table. It was only five bucks, marked down from sixty-five (which would have been like twelve-thousand dollars in today’s dollars).

It was too good a deal to pass up.

And, for the past twenty-five years, that Union Jack has been hanging on the wall wherever I’ve lived.

Perusing the Billboard charts from twenty-five years ago, there were more than a few acts hailing from the U.K. Here are four that I recall…

Pete Townshend – Give Blood
from White City: A Novel (1985)

Had I been ten years older, I might well have associated the Union Jack with The Who, but the first truly iconic use of the British flag that I noted was when Def Leppard exploded onto the scene in ’83 with Pyromania.

Coincidentally, at the time I bought my Union Jack, Who guitarist Pete Townshend had recently released White City. These days, I’d probably favor All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, but White City is pretty stellar (aside from the hit Face The Face) and the bracing Give Blood – with David Gilmour making an appearence – was a favorite.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon
from Under A Raging Moon (1985)

And, coincidentally, Who lead singer Roger Daltrey had also recently released a solo album that, like Townshend’s, got some attention.

There were a few songs written by Bryan Adams (and his writing partner Jim Vallance) and much of Under A Raging Moon was rather uninspired, but it did include After The Fire, a fantastic track penned by Townshend.

The title track to Under A Raging Moon, a tribute to The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon, was notable for Daltrey’s ferocious vocals and the line-up of guest drummers – Martin Chambers, Roger Taylor, Cozy Powell, Stewart Copeland, Zak Starkey, Carl Palmer, and Mark Brzezicki – that perform on it.

Queen – One Vision
from A Kind Of Magic (1986)

Queen had peaked in America with The Game, which was released while I was in junior high and the stuff that followed from the legendary band – ’82’s Hot Space and ’84’s The Works – were largely ignored.

But the band remained popular with me and several friends and we were stoked when One Vision arrived in late ’85. It was on the soundtrack to some action flick whose name escapes me (and I’m too lazy to look up), one of several soundtracks in the ’80s that featured Queen’s music.

One Vision sounded great on the car radio that winter when we all spent a lot of time in the car together, usually going nowhere in particular, and the result was often everyone joining in on Freddie Mercury’s closing request for fried chicken.

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door (1985)

Streuss had discovered The Cure with The Head On The Door, most likely via the memorable video for the perky – at least musically – Close To Me. He was soon catching up on their earlier albums which made me intimately familiar with much of their catalog before the band broke to the masses.


Elvis Vs. Rain Man

April 20, 2011

It all began with Paloma wondering about a co-worker at the record store where we met.

A bit of sleuthing and I had stumbled on a cybertrail that included Scandanavian Elvis impersonators, Presley’s optomitrist, a dodgy German politician, and a military general from Southeast Asia.

The bizarre cast of associates of our former associate has left me bumfoozled.

As I examine the sketchy characters in my mind, it almost makes sense. I can imagine this former co-worker getting involved in some scenario resembling a movie by the Coen brothers.

And each time I’ve sat down to write, I wonder how it all might connect.

It’s a mental hiccup that I can’t shake.

But, fortune smiled. I happened across the movie Rain Man on cable the other morning and I remembered an I idea I had.

Eighteen months or so ago, I was inspired by a viewing of the flick as it is set and was filmed in areas near where I had grown up. Rain Man also features a cameo from my favorite childhood radio station – the late, great 97X.

(““97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”)

I decided to remember the station with four random songs from an early ’80s 97X playlist I’d created each time I stumbled across Rain Man on cable.

I thought it might be a semi-regular feature here as I seemed to find the movie while surfing every couple months.

(or so I thought)

And, yet, it’s apparently been a year and a half since such a run-in occurred.

So, as the idea of Elvis impersonators running guns or former co-workers interacting with the leader of some military junta bounce around in my head, here are four random songs I might have heard on 97X, circa ’84, ’85…

The Cure – Let’s Go To Bed
from Greatest Hits

By 1985, I would be well acquainted with The Cure as my buddy Streuss had become damn-near obssessed with the band. At that time, the British act was just beginning to get attention in the States with their album The Head On The Door, but Streuss quickly acquired the rest of their catalog as pricey imports.

I also heard plenty by The Cure on 97X. Let’s Go To Bed wouldn’t make any list I’d make of favorite songs by The Cure (who I do think made a lot of fantastic music), but the surpringly perky track got played incessantly on the station.

Beat Farmers – Happy Boy
from Tales Of The New West

Ninety seconds of pure goofiness, hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba.

X – Burning House of Love
from Beyond And Back: The X Anthology

I want to like L.A. punk legends X.

I really do.

But it hasn’t really happened. I think Exene and John Doe are cool, but the songs that resonate with me are scattered throughout the band’s catelog and tend to be the twangier ones like the stellar Burning House Of Love.

Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come
from In Concert: The Best of Jimmy Cliff

97X was the first place that I think I ever really heard reggae on the radio – Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear…even stuff from Musical Youth that wasn’t Pass The Dutchie.

The station also played Jimmy Cliff’s ebullient The Harder They Come. The song is the title track to the ’70s cult movie with Cliff starring as an aspiring reggae singer.

I saw the movie years ago and honestly have no recollection of whether I liked it or not, but the song is a keeper.