Summer Cometh When The Iceman Goeth

June 23, 2012

As a kid, the NBA championship meant that summer had arrived.

School would have ended a couple weeks before the title series, so staying up until the wee hours watching tape-delayed broadcasts of playoff games on late-night CBS was a seasonal ritual in the early ’80s.

(as was sleeping in ’til mid-morning)

We had an NBA franchise within a short drive, but all of our media was from Cincinnati, across the border and as the city no longer had a team, pro basketball received scant coverage.

With no abiding loyalty to our local team because they were mediocre at best and boring with no superstar, my friends and I were fans of individual players and, by extension, their team.

Everyone loved Dr. J, so the Sixers were popular.

The Lakers had Magic and the Celtics had Larry Bird, our state’s greatest gift to the world, so both of those teams had their loyalists.

I dug, George Gervin, the rail thin, guard for the San Antonio Spurs who was the best pure scorer in the league.

No one was more chilled on the court than the Iceman and one thing he could do…was finger roll.

Unfortunately, Ice would end up on summer vacation before I would. There were a couple seasons during which he managed to get the Spurs to the brink of the finals but no dice.

I’ve been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs this spring and Oklahoma City’s superstar Kevin Durant – Gervin 2.0 – has made me think of watching the Iceman as a kid.

And, as I did as a kid, I’ve been watching this season’s final series.

It’s been compelling and, whether you’re a fan of his or not, if you know basketball at all, you know what an epic romp through the playoffs and championship LeBron James had.

I didn’t stay up late, though, shutting things down most nights during the third, maybe early fourth quarter.

I no longer sleep until mid-day.

And the end of the series is no longer a marker, a sign post noting that for the next ten weeks you were mostly unfettered.

The summer of 1983 began with the Spurs losing in the conference finals. It would be the last time during Gervin’s seasons with the team that they would get so close to a championship.

It would be the last summer that my friends and I would lack driver’s licenses, but it was also the last summer that most of us were unencumbered by jobs.

I have no idea how George Gervin spent that summer, but I spent it with a lot of music. Here are four songs that I was hearing as the summer began in 1983…

Hall & Oates – Family Man
from H2O (1982)

Hall & Oates were in the midst of a ridiculous run of hit singles as the summer began and Family Man hit radio. Dark and paranoid, the song was a bit of a departure for the duo with its edgy guitar and New Wave vibe.

Family Man was a cover of a song by Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame and, despite its darker feel, followed Maneater and One On OneH2O‘s previous hits – into the Top Ten.

The song seems to have been lost in the wake of all of those other hits from Hall & Oates during the early ’80s as I’ve rarely heard it on the radio in the past thirty years.

A Flock Of Seagulls – Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)
from Listen (1983)

1983 was also the year when I began to really build a music collection and few releases were as eagerly awaited by me as Listen, the follow-up to A Flock Of Seagulls’ debut from the year before as I had adopted them as my band. Heavier on its use of electronics than its predecessor, the album initially disappointed me.

I did love the first single, Wishing, which would become the last of the A Flock Of Seagulls’ three Top 40 singles in the US and possibly their finest effort.

The dense, swirling cascade of multi-layered synthesizers and guitar gave the song a wall of sound for the New Wave era feel not surprising given that the band’s best-known song, I Ran (So Far Away), had apparently caught the ear of legendary producer Phil Spector.

The Kinks – State Of Confusion
from State Of Confusion (1983)

Despite the bulk of their success coming before we were born, The Kinks were one of the most popular bands among my friends and our schoolmates. It wasn’t just the classic ’60s stuff, but the newer material from albums like Low Budget and Give The People What They Want.

So, it was a given that 1983′s State Of Confusion would have our attention. It turned out to be popular with a lot of listeners as Come Dancing was the band’s biggest hit in years.

My favorite song from State Of Confusion was the driving title track, a lovely mix of angst and optimism with a mesmerizing chorus.

Iron Maiden – The Trooper
from Piece Of Mind (1983)

I wasn’t a metalhead and never went through such a phase, but I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden at the time as my buddy Beej’s little brother was obsessed with the band. As we spent a lot of time at his house that summer, we heard a lot of Maiden blaring from Davy’s room.

A year or so later, once we had our driver’s licenses, another buddy, Streuss, would baffle us when he’d toss in a cassette he had made with Men Without Hats on one side and Iron Maiden on the other. I soon developed an appreciation for the band.

Though not as memorable to me as some of their songs, The Trooper is standard-issue Maiden, galloping along at a breakneck pace driven by their twin-lead guitars and Bruce Dickinson’s throaty wail.

It also might be the only song I know with the word musket in it.

Advertisements

Rocky, The Terminator, Dolph And A Wacky Little Guy Named Jong Il

August 14, 2010

So, from what I understand, the action flick The Expendables arrives in theaters this weekend. I know because I’ve been suckered into the commercial on numerous occasions the past few weeks at the first notes of Guns ‘N Roses’ Paradise City.

(I’ve often wondered if it is true that the titular city is a reference to Indianapolis, Indiana)

The first time I saw a commercial, I was surprised as it was made to appear that – aside from bringing together every action star dating back to Johnny Weismuller – the movie featured the testosterone-laden trio of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis.

Assuming that the movie industry is populated by the same jet-fuel geniuses that burned down the music industry, I couldn’t help but picture someone at the studio giddily punching all of the grosses from all of the films by the three into a calculator and, with great glee, declaring, “If we cast them all, we’ll make this much!”

Of course, each time I have seen the commercial since, the Schwarzeneggar/Stallone/Willis triumvirate seems to be less touted and, from what I’ve read, it’s Stallone’s flick with the other two making mere cameos.

I have no plans to see The Expendables, though. I will staunchly argue that the original Rocky was an amazingly inspired bit of filmmaking and numbers II and III retain a certain charm rooted in childhood, but I don’t think I’ve seen one of Stallone’s movies in the theater since Cobra.

(an, admittedly, regrettable decision)

But the release of The Expendables made me realize that the US is missing an opportunity to calm tensions with North Korea.

Reportedly, Kim Jong Il is movie buff and an action movie enthusiast.

And he craves attention.

We call on the aging action stars of the world for a diplomatic mission thus giving them something to do that will still keep them in the limelight.

We send Stallone, Lundgren, Van Damme, Seagal, and whoever else is willing to go to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Il. Dear Leader would undoubtedly be willing to take a meeting with the stars of the movies he loves.

Essentially, we appeal to the egos of the action stars to appeal to the starstruck fandom of a daffy little dictator for a little time out on shenanigans.

A shot to hang with Rambo and Ivan Drago, knowing that the images and stories would be beamed around the world, would scratch Jong Il right where he itches.

He so wants to be a rock star.

He so wants to be cool.

Kim agrees to stop dabbling in nuclear rocket projects and get some sandwiches to his people and Schwarzeneggar and friends agree to spend some time being his buddy – taking him to movie premieres or for walks on the beach, going clubbing, or hitting the links.

We turn the whole thing into a reality show and the ratings go through the roof.

Everybody wins.

In the meantime, here are four songs with heroic implications…

David Bowie – Heroes
from The Singles Collection 1969-1993

It’s classic David Bowie. What more could there really be to say?

The Kinks – Celluloid Heroes
from Everybody’s In Show-Biz

Of course, there’s the downside to fame and notoriety which The Kinks capture wonderfully in the melancholic, wistful Ray Davies-penned Celluloid Heroes.

Foo Fighters – My Hero
from The Colour And The Shape

Sure, I understand the importance of Nirvana as agents of change in the musical landscape, but I’m considerably more likely to pull up something by Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters especially if it’s from 1997’s stellar The Colour And The Shape.

Kiss – A World Without Heroes
from Music From “The Elder”

Aside from a handful of songs, I’ve never been a Kiss fan, but I do find A World Without Heroes to be compelling.

(probably as it sounds so out of place compared to the band’s catalog)

In a bid to reverse declining album sales and gain some artistic credibility, Kiss reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, who was coming off of the massive success of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for a record that was intended to be a soundtrack to a movie that was never made.

Though it did garner some positive reviews, the album baffled long-time fans and bombed. The sparse, spacey A World Without Heroes is atmospheric, but it’s not surprising that it wasn’t embraced by the group’s fans.

I recall seeing Kiss perform the downbeat song along with a couple others from Music From “The Elder” on the late-night comedy show Fridays not long after the album’s release.


Familiar Strangers In My Head

March 31, 2010

For a good thirty years, I didn’t dream.

Well, that’s not actually true because we all dream, but, for thirty years, I rarely remembered my dreams.

I dreamed plenty up until I was five or six, so I was familiar with the concept, but I wasn’t aware of my participation.

One friend expressed concern that this quirk in my nocturnal wiring might indicate that I was a sociopath.

I thought it was the insomnia.

These days, I sleep better and, on occasion, I will have a dream that lives on past its use date. This morning, I woke from a dream in which I was wandering a ridiculously crowded shopping mall with Pizza, one of our cats, perched on my shoulders.

Paloma was shopping for a sweater and I was navigating the crowd, searching for a soft pretzel place.

I would rather not be in a mall and – knowing Pizza as I do – I suspect she wouldn’t be very happy, either.

On the other hand, both of us would enjoy a soft pretzel, so, you know, that part was a keeper.

But, as I wandered through that mall, skittish pet on my shoulders, there were faces that looked familiar but not as people I know (as far as I know) from this side of sleep.

There was a woman who almost ran us down outside the Orange Julius. She had a fur coat, large sunglasses, and channeled Anne Bancroft.

I think that she appeared in a dream months ago as a Waffle House waitress.

There was a nervous fellow standing outside a drug store. He was dressed like he worked in Mission Control Center for NASA in the early ’70s and sported a moustache that would have made Rollie Fingers weep.

I think he might have been a fellow patron in the Waffle House dream.

I now suspect that my subconscious has a stable of character actors and is using them as extras in my dreams.

Here is a quartet of stranger songs (mostly because nothing else seemed to fit)…

Heather Nova – Talking To Strangers
from Live From The Milky Way

I first stumbled across Heather Nova in the ’93 with her live EP Blow and was captivated by the ethereal vocals of the singer which soar and swoop.

If you’d asked me at the time, I would have predicted big things for the singer who spent a good deal of her childhood living on a sailboat in the Carribean with her family. It didn’t happen -maybe she just got lost in the Lilith Fair shuffle – but Talking To Strangers is a wonderful introduction to Nova.

The Kinks – Strangers
from Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One

When searching for songs for this post, this track by The Kinks popped up and I couldn’t place it. Listening to it, it sounded so familiar but not. I think it must have lodged into my head from the numerous times a friend played Lola Versus Powerman And The Moneygoround, Part One years ago.

But, I’m certainly glad that I reaquainted myself with Strangers. It’s a lovely song, written and sung by Dave Davies, and apparently about Davies’ feelings about the state of the band and his relationship with brother Ray.

Rick Springfield – Don’t Talk To Strangers
from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet

I had no problem placing Rick Springfield’s Don’t Talk To Strangers. Radio became an integrel part of my life right around the time that the television heartthrob from Australia was everywhere with Jessie’s Girl and I’ve Done Everything For You.

The paranoid and poppy Don’t Talk To Strangers continued Springfield’s success and it was inescapable during the summer of ’82. Sure it was almost Pavlovian to dismiss the songs as lightweight and I’ve never been more than a casual, occasional fan, but I rarely skip Springfield’s songs when they pop up on shuffle.

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

On the other hand, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were immediately and obviously cool on arrival.

Sweet Dreams might have been bigger, but I’ve always liked the chilly Love Is A Stranger more (partly, I’d guess, because it didn’t get played into the ground at the time).