Suicide Hill

December 15, 2010

Like a good portion of the States, our region was smacked with the first snowstorm of the season.

The cover of white that we awoke to this morning, though, had largely disappeared by the time I faced the evening’s rush hour hell. Nothing makes the trip as potentially as treacherous as when a wintery mix is added to the commute.

Yeah, the cast of Ice Road Truckers might brave the elements, but they don’t do it with thousands of other vehicles driven by oh-so attentive folks who – aside from a couple days a year – have little experience with such conditions.

I exited the interstate and headed home along a frontage road, From the road, I could see several kids were making use of the conditions and gravity, hurtling down a good-sized hill on various crafts.

Though it’s fortunate for me that we get little snow and it’s rarely on the ground for more than a few days, it’s the children who suffer. The snow on that hill already had wide swaths that was revealed the grass.

Those kids were sledding on borrowed time.

Growing up in the Midwest, me and my friends could usually expect ample oppotunities to hit the slopes each winter.

Several of us lived along a country road that bisected a subdivision and farmland. As soon as there was snow, we would jump the fence across the road and drag our sleds up a small hill.

If there was enough snow, we would eventually create rudimentry bobsled runs, piling the snow and creating a half pipe. If the weather held, over the course of a week or so, the run would pack – smooth and slick – and become more delightfully lethal.

As we grew older, we would head for Suicide Hill with most of the other kids in our hometown. From the top, we’d stare down at the state road in the distance. The busy road posed no danger as it was unreachable, separated from us by a drop into a small creek.

To get to the bottom, you navigated a path that took you between the 11th and 18th holes on a golf course. And, if you managed to make the run cleanly – avoiding trees and such – you still had to contend with that water hazard.

We lived for the rare spectacle of someone plunging into the drink.

As Christmas approached in 1980, my friends and I were halfway through our middle year of junior high. It was beginning to dawn on us that it might be better to be inside on winter days – somewhere where there might be music and girls – then outside risking hypothermia.

But, in December of ’80, Suicide Hill was still a siren’s song to which we had to respond. Music was still mostly incidental to me, but, over the next six months or so, I’d be hooked.

Here are four songs that were on the chart in Billboard thirty years ago…

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart
from The River

Hungry Heart most likely served as my introduction to The Boss. The River was his current release in late 1980 and, though I was just discovering radio, I was familiar with this song as well as Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, and the title track.

It would take more time for my young ears to embrace the stark brilliance of the follow-up Nebraska , but I was on board for the long haul.

Blondie – The Tide Is High
from Autoamerican

Blondie was one band that had caught my attention in 1980. Songs like Heart Of Glass and Call Me were such mammoth hits that you would have had to have made an effort to not hear them at the time even if, like me, the radio was nothing more than an occasional companion.

(lead singer Debbie Harry also gave the band a visual component that did not go unnoticed)

I vividly remember hearing the breezy, island groove of The Tide Is High blasting from the radio when someone’s older sister gave us a ride home after one of those afternoons spent sledding. It was a wonderful antidote to the winter weather then and it still is.

The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime
from Dumb Waiters

I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the lone US hit by The Korgis on the radio. I certainly don’t recall hearing it thirty years ago when it was a hit.

The first time I do know I heard Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime was when The Dream Academy covered the song in the late ’80s. And, I also heard Beck perform a version of it on the soundtrack to the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind before I heard the original.

There really was no need for the song to be covered, though. The Korgis’ version is lovely – wispy and fragile – and flawless.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All
from Super Trooper

ABBA and T. Rex occupy a similar niche in my music world. I could probably distill both to a dozen songs (most of which I never tire of), but I own way more of both acts’ work than I truly need.

That said, The Winner Takes It All is a shimmering tower of melancholy and Agnetha really belts it to the back row.

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Meet The Korgis

September 6, 2008

During the past twenty-five years, I’ve probably owned more than six thousand CDs and, at last count, Paloma and I have accumulated nearly eight hundred albums in a mere two months or so.

Throw in a handful of jobs somewhat related to the music industry and I’ve had the chance to hear or at least familiarize myself with a lot of bands. It’s rare (or it used to be rare) for me not to have even heard or read of a name. And somehow The Korgis evaded me.

Anyone who does know the name likely does so from the autumn of 1980 when they had their only US hit with the song Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime. I missed it at the time – I was about a year from becoming interested in music – and I don’t recall ever hearing the song on the radio in the past twenty-eight years.

The first time I ever heard the song at all was in the summer of 1988 when The Dream Academy covered it on their second album. I knew that they hadn’t written it, but I wasn’t aware that it had been a hit song for another band.

Beck sang a version of Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime on the soundtrack to the movie Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and, at some point, I ended up with a copy of The Korgis’ original.

So, I was excited to grab their album Dumb Waiters on vinyl and it’s been a delightful discovery. So much so that I was pleasantly surprised to find The Korgis’ debut album not long after. They’re one of those bands that – similar to more recent acts like Crowded House or the underappreciated Jellyfish – don’t reinvent classic pop but certainly, through their own eccentricities, make it sound new.

From a bit of perusing the Internet and the scant details on the band, it seems like a lot of people might have missed out on The Korgis as well.

The Korgis – Young ‘n’ Russian
Maybe there’s a reason The Korgis found so little success in the States. Could their debut single’s cover and (obviously) its title led folks in the heartland to believe that they were Communists? I mean, it was 1979 and the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire (although I don’t think Reagan gave them that pet name until several years later). My friend The Drunken Frenchman often, over drinks, yearned for such simpler times.

Anyhow, I hear a bit of The Cars in this one and The Cars’ debut had come out the year before that of The Korgis.

The Korgis – I Just Can’t Help It
Now here is The Korgis I’ve come to love – lush, dreamy, and some of the most saccharine-sweet sentiments this side of The Carpenters. And somehow, they manage to fit tracks like this one, effortlessly, with ones like Mount Everest Sings the Blues, a jaunty number whose lyrics detail the grievances of Mount Everest sung from the mountain’s perspective.

The Korgis – If I Had You

If I Had You immediately made me think of John Lennon’s #9 Dream. And, again, their lyrics are as gauzy as the music. The cover for the single is rather intriguing.

According to the Wikipedia entry, the song hit #12 in the UK, so somebody must have been listening.

The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime

My introduction to The Korgis and likely yours, too, Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime is a lovely song, wispy and fragile. There’s something both whimsical and melancholic about the artwork for the 45.