Change In The Weather

November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving was the finest of holidays – feasting, football, feasting, and leftovers for midnight feastings.

The calculus of the holiday changed dramatically after leaving for college.

There was still the feasting and football, but it was now a complex puzzle of equations to balance feast, football and familial obligations with the chance to hang out with your high school friends (who were also battling the same logistical issues).

Coordinating getting together was a series of fits and starts. Half a day or more could be blown trying to track down who was in town as we were moving targets.

By by second year of school, I was working in a record store, so the week at home I had the previous Thanksgiving had been whittled down to two, maybe three days.

It made the break a bit of a disjointed, exhausting affair that caused me to miss the comfort of the couch in my apartment back at school.

By Thanksgiving of 1990, I was logging the final few credits needed to graduate before year’s end. Several of my high school friends had already done so earlier that spring and summer, scattering us all to an even greater degree and leaving reunions that holiday with more of us missing in action.

So few of us were going to be around for Thanksgiving – most opting to make a pilgrimage weeks later for Christmas instead – that I didn’t even negotiate for an extra day or two from work.

Instead, the night before Thanksgiving, I actually trekked to Indianapolis with my buddy Streuss to attend a Warren Zevon show.

Oddly enough, the opening act was a guitarist from Louisville whose band, Hopscotch Army, was one of the most popular draws when they’d hit our college town every few weeks or so.

But, as I was used to seeing him clad in camoflage cargo pants and combat boots, a long rat-tail braid sprouting from his shaved pate as his band covered songs by Concrete Blonde, The Smiths, and The Cure, I wasn’t prepared for this solo turn.

Nattily attired in a sports jacket and clean shirt, the combat boots replaced by more formal footware, his style was more in the vein of New Age noodlings.

Even the rat-tail was gone.

Zevon was fantastic, but everything seemed a bit off kilter from even the previous Thanksgiving.

Walking through the still neighborhood following the show, even the weather was off. It was nearly midnight and it was unseasonably mild for late November with the temperature in the low 60s, a light rain falling.

The next morning, I headed home for Thanksgiving while Streuss, who had also gone to high school with me, but whose parents had moved while we were in college, opted to spend the break at school to work on a paper.

I spent the day with the family, did some feasting, watched some football, and returned to school the next morning to work a Friday afternoon shift at the record store.

That night, with my adopted town eerily deserted and campus empty, I stretched out on the couch in my apartment – my roommate still out of town – with my dog beside me.

The two of us munched on leftovers I had brought from home and watched basketball on ESPN.

Thanksgiving was still a fine holiday – the finest, really – and remains so, but that year it seemed to be over before it had even begun.

The transition from the Thanksgivings I had known as a kid had begun.

Here are four songs from albums that we were playing a lot at the record store that Thanksgiving…

Prefab Sprout – Looking For Atlantis
from Jordan: The Comeback

The first time I heard the name Prefab Sprout, it was from my buddy Streuss who briefly had interest in finding a copy of their well-reviewed ’85 album Steve McQueen. I thought the band name incredibly stupid and the album title – retitled Two Wheels Good here in the States – equally so.

I had no interest in even giving them a listen.

Five years later, I got my comeuppance the first time I heard the band with the shimmering Looking For Atlantis and the brilliant, Thomas Dolby-produced Jordan: The Comeback.

It was irresistible.

And, one of the first things I remember of Paloma is, several years later, watching her wander the aisles of the record store where we worked, singing along to Prefab Sprout’s The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Fuckin’ Up
from Ragged Glory

Neil Young was in – even for him – a musically idiocentric way during the early ’80s when I first started listening to music, so I didn’t hear much of his music. I became far more familiar with him when he returned to mainstream prominence with This Note’s For You in ’88 and Freedom a year later.

I had particularly loved the latter and one of my roommates and I would play Ragged Glory every shift that we worked together. We played it for months and I think we had exactly one customer that heard the chorus to the gloriously grungy Fuckin’ Up and objected.

The Posies – Suddenly Mary
from Dear 23

The Posies’ debut had more than a few moments of power pop brilliance, but Suddenly Mary was the song that lodged into brain and burrowed deep after hearing it the first time.

It’s hypnotic – chiming guitars, angelic harmonies, and a wickedly dark tale told within the sunshine of its grooves…

The Sisters of Mercy – More
from Vision Thing

We had a sizeable goth community at school that used to hang out at an immense arcade at one entrance to the campus. Some of the kids pulled it off far better than others.

I felt the same way about the music popular with the goth scene, though a lot of those acts had a profound influence on the sound and style of the time.

There were a handful of songs by The Sisters Of Mercy that I thought were pretty stellar and More is most definitely one of them.

Jim Steinman co-wrote and co-produced the song and, thus, it’s suitably epic – Rock You Like A Hurricane-guitars, gospel-styled backing vocals, and the growl of lead singer Andrew Eldritch.

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Three Of A Perfect Kind

February 8, 2010

I wasn’t sold on the whole iPod thing. Oh, I’d had an mp3 player by 2003 and embraced the small device. It held about 500 songs and I would almost daily change out some tracks while drinking coffee.

But, the iPods were pricier items and seemed to be overkill to me, clashing with my minimalist nature. Then I earned one as a bonus at work and quickly took to having 20,000 or so songs at my fingertips.

It allows me to pull up a playlist of early ’80s pop or ’70s light rock to keep things calm on the morning commute. And it provides a means of escape from work for short bursts during the day.

I manage to grab a handful of smoke breaks and I throw the headphones on as soon as I reach the elevator. Depending on the songs that shuffle up, I might be able to hear almost three songs before returning to my assigned spot.

I usually skip songs until I settle on one. Of course, it is my music, so I am quite fond of most of the stuff in there, but whatever pops up in the limited time span of a cigarette isn’t always the song I want or need.

So I surf.

But, sometimes, the first three songs that play are exactly what I want to hear at the moment. It’s like dropping a token into a slot machine and hitting three…what are the good ones? Cherries? Gold bars? Koalas?

Well, whatever pays out, I hit today. Three songs, not necessarily related in any obvious way, that made me smile as I enjoyed twelve minutes of blessed solitude…

Wall Of Voodoo – Mexican Radio
from Call Of The West

I’ve always loved Wall Of Voodoo as a band name. It simply speaks to me.

As for the band, it’s too bad that Wall Of Voodoo is only known to most listeners for Mexican Radio. The quirky song is an undeniable ’80s classic, but their first couple records are worth seeking out (and, to my delight, I happened across several last autumn on vinyl).

The Posies – Dream All Day
from Frosting On The Beater

In college, I received a promotional CD that was a sampling of Geffen acts and amongst the tracks were a pair from The Posies including the gorgeous Suddenly Mary. I fell in love with their flawless power pop immediately.

Through the years I haven’t always kept up with the band, but I have snagged a few of their releases and they haven’t failed me, yet. Frosting On The Beater arrived in the wake of grunge and as mainstream radio was beginning to embrace more modern rock acts. Dream All Day got some radio play, but the band criminally remained underappreciated.

John Hiatt – Shredding The Document
from Walk On

When I am at my work, it would be impossible for me to spit in any direction and not hit someone. Inmates have more space.

This claustrophobic situation makes those smoke breaks – and some music – such a glorious escape.

And being within earshot of so many folks who feel compelled to constantly perform makes Shredding The Document by the very talented John Hiatt a bit of gallows humor to me.

(and the closing lines where he “reveals” what his father said is a brilliant payoff)


Going Postal: How I Intend To Thrive In A Post-Apocalyptic World

April 21, 2008

The drumbeat that we, as a species, are reaching the closing credits keeps getting louder and whether we are or not is anyone’s guess. I, for one, am now able to face such a proposition with a new-found sense of contentment and a plan for success in a brave new world which doesn’t rely on AdSense earnings.

I have seen The Postman.

I had seen a bit of Kevin Costner’s magnum opus years ago and had no intention of ever seeing more, but it was late and the pickings were slim. “I know that Tom Petty’s in it,” I said to Paloma, shrugging, trying to feign a semblance of optimism. It was some of the best acting of the evening.

I have now seen it, though, and I am richer for the experience. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it’s set sometime in the near future and there has been some disaster that has left civilization in ruins with pockets of refugees and a quasi-military strongman who is trying to consolidate power. I’m not sure what the disaster was as Paloma and I were going full-freakin’ Mystery Science Theater on the flick. There was some comment about drought, but everything seemed pretty lush and well-watered to me.

Enter Costner, a drifter with a penchant for Shakespeare, who takes refuge in a mail truck during a thunderstorm and dons the dead carrier’s garb. With nothing more than a bag of mail, a USPS jacket, and a rather snazzy cap, he becomes The Man. Actually, he becomes The Postman.

Coming upon an enclave of survivors, Costner is soon more popular than Jessica Lange when she was rescued by that oil tanker full of roughnecks in the ’76 version of King Kong. He gets soup. He gets a bath. They throw some party which gives reason to believe that bad jam bands will indeed survive the apocalypse. He gets hooked up with a fetching, young village lass.

The Postman is livin’ la vida loca and there doesn’t appear to be a dog in sight.

Sure, it’s not all seashells and balloons. There is that strongman to contend with who doesn’t like the fact that The Postman is giving the punters hope that the United States is being reformed. There’s also the sheriff of the village who is suspicious of The Postman’s credentials. Of course, said sheriff is actually Mr. Kruger from Kruger Industrial Smoothing (this will make sense to Seinfeld fans), so George Costanza and the legacy of The Human Fund has obviously made him cynical toward do-gooders.

The Postman must also contend with cavernous plot holes, inane dialogue, and acting that would mar a good sock-puppet production. So, hey, he does have his hands full, but he also has soup, a hot soak, and a nubile companion.

He also gets to hang with Tom Petty, who is the major of Bridge City. As my girlfriend reminded me, Petty also has had a recurring role on King Of The Hill and, like that part, in The Postman he essentially seems to be playing Tom Petty. However, he gives a tour de force performance because, no matter how gifted an actor – DeNiro, Pacino, or whomever you might fancy – no one plays Tom Petty like Tom Petty.

Forget stockpiling bottled water or canned hams. I intend to thrive after armageddon using the lessons I’ve learned from Kevin Costner, I’m off to find a mail carrier’s jacket or a patch of the US Postal Service which I might affix to my Belgian army coat.

David Baerwald – The Postman

Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters

PJ Harvey – The Letter

The Posies – Love Letter Boxes