The Road To Rose-Hulman

May 1, 2010

At the risk of tempting the weather gods, this spring has actually been a relatively orderly, pleasant shuffle into the summer months instead of the luge ride into the sun – winter to summer – we often get.

The past few days have been perfect and it was a perfect Friday when I set out for Terre Haute with my friends Streuss and Smart. I’ve mentioned Streuss, a high school friend who turned me onto music like Robyn Hitchcock, The Cocteau Twins, and The Cure, numerous times.

Smart, like Streuss, was a twin. His identical twin brother was Dumb.

Actually, both of them were quite intelligent, but Smart was the twin that was a bit more responsible and slightly less carefree, so…

(of course, it was Smart who, on occasion, could be found sleeping in the bushes outside their house after a night of drinking)

Smart hadn’t decided on a college, yet, and was considering Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, near the Indiana/Illinois border.

Streuss and I had known for months where we were headed.

It was our senior year, we were about a month from graduation, and we had already checked out. So, when Smart asked us if we wanted to go on a college visit one Friday morning, there was no hesitation.

Seniors were allowed so many absences for college visits, but they had to be with a parent, so, I’m not sure how we worked around that requirement – we likely didn’t care.

Dumb had missed something like thirty or forty days of school. Smart and the rest of us weren’t so accomplished, but we had spent a lot of time that school year everywhere but school.

So, the three of us set out in the late ’60s, light blue Ford Fairlaine which the twins shared and drove as though they were in pursuit of Mad Max in the Australian outback.

(oddly enough, one of our friends, Curt The Pyro, had been gifted the same car – same year and color – by his older brother Jailbait)

Terre Haute was two hours or so from our hometown. It was more than enough time on that beautiful spring morning – seventy-two degrees, blue skies with a few clouds for contrast – for Streuss and myself to convince Smart that he had to be deranged to even think of attending Rose-Hulman.

Now, Smart’s intention was to major in engineering and Rose-Hulman was regarded as on of the best engineering schools on the planet, but there were extenuating circumstances prompting Streuss and I to offer such contrary council.

Rose-Hulman was an all-male university.

We cruised down the highway at ridiculously high speeds and sorted out Smart’s future. As the song from a year or so later would declare – the future was so bright, we had to wear shades.

Actually, the future was the last thing on our minds that day. It was a beautiful day and we were hanging out while the rest of our friends – including Dumb and Curt The Pyro – were stuck in class.

And we had music.

There were new albums that spring from some of the staples of rock radio in our corner of the world. Bob Seger’s Like A Rock album was out and none of us could have known how sick NFL fans would be of the title song twenty-five years later.

The Stones’ version of Harlem Shuffle was on the radio and its parent album, Dirty Work, would prove to be fairly uninspired.

Van Halen’s first song with Sammy Hagar was on every station. David Lee Roth’s swagger, brains, humor, and sleaze was the soul of Van Halen, but I liked some of the Hagar-era stuff and Why Can’t This Be Love sounded great on the radio.

And Journey.

Journey would release Raised On Radio that spring. Sure, I bought a copy, but things had changed since Escape had been a soundtrack for the passage from junior high to high school.

But Raised On Radio didn’t resonate four years later.

(that’s twenty-eight years for any dogs that might be reading)

We also had a tape deck and we knew how to use it.

Here are four songs from some of the tapes I’m sure we played that day…

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door

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 especially Pornography, which was my favorite.

Big Audio Dynamite – Medicine Show
from This Is Big Audio Dynamite

Though thought of, first and foremost, as a punk band, The Clash incorporated reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, dance and rockabilly into their sound. When Mick Jones was sacked following Combat Rock, he put together Big Audio Dynamite and continued to draw from diverse musical styles adding samples to the equation.

We immediately took to BAD’s intoxicating brew which took the experimental bent of The Clash to a new level. Though commonplace now, the band’s musical stew was strkingly original at the time and, acknowledged or not, served as a template for many of the modern rock acts that found success in the early ’90s.

The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary
from Love

The recorded output of The Cult is a bit uneven to me and, despite its success, I thought the Rick Rubin-produced Electric was an unredeemable disaster aside from the wonderful Love Removal Machine.

However, Love, Electric‘s predecessor, is a classic from the period.

The sleek, supersonic She Sells Sanctuary was perhaps the high point of Love, a near perfect fusion of Billy Duffy’s pyrotechnic guitar work and lead singer Ian Astbury’s otherworldly howl.

The Outfield – Your Love
from Play Deep

Both Smart and Dumb were mental for The Outfield who, at the time, were breaking in the States with the irresistible single Your Love. Urgent and catchy, the song was all over radio that spring.

The British trio would manage to produce a handful of engaging singles over the remainder of the ’80s, but Your Love remains pinned to that spring, that trip, and the twins for me.