The Night Stalker

October 30, 2010

As much as I love old horror and sci-fi flicks, Halloween is a holiday to which I’ve been surprisingly indifferent.

It might be because I’ve always gotten a bit wigged by attention – good or bad – and few things demand a reaction like dressing up for Halloween. The entire object is attention.

And candy.

Candy is something to which I’m also surprisingly indifferent.

As kids, candy was not as forbidden to us as it was to Tim Burton’s Willie Wonka, but it wasn’t the building blocks of the food pyramid as it was for some of my friends growing up.

Candy procured on Halloween was doled out by our mom like rations to POWs. After a few weeks things either went stale or we lost interest, distracted by the impending Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

If I’d truly been edgy and hip, in 1974 I would have gone out for Halloween as Carl Kolchak, but I didn’t since, well, I was six and decidedly not edgy and unhip.

If you were a kid and watching television in the mid-’70s, you likely knew Kolchak, as portrayed by the great Darren McGavin, to be the rumpled Chicago reporter investigating the paramormal on Friday nights in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Kolchak was always wandering dark alleys or dimly-lit tunnels, pursuing that week’s vampire, voodoo legend or clan of reanimated prehistoric primates.

Compelling stuff to a kid.

(one of those kids being Chris Carter who amassed a small fortune with The X-Files two decades later)

By the following spring The Night Stalker had ended its lone season on the air. It would be the early ’80s before I’d come across Cark Kolchak again and, then, it was for a period of time that one of the networks showed reruns well after midnight.

In the years since, I’ve only seen the rare episode here and there. Though the effects – just good enough to help me suspend imagination at six – now seem rather shoddy, The Night Stalker definitely had a vibe that still works.

And Darren McGavin was perfect as Kolchak.

Of course, the late actor would become a holiday institution as The Old Man in A Christmas Story.

But, it’s Halloween. So, here are four songs, chosen randomly, that might make the cut if it was possible for me to send a mixtape back through time for Kolchak…

The Replacements – Rock ‘n’ Roll Ghost
from Don’t Tell A Soul

The Replacements got a lot of flack when Don’t Tell A Soul was released in ’89, with more than a few fans/critics/hipsters accusing the band of selling out. Maybe I have a soft spot for the album – it was the first album I’d owned by the group – but, though it is more polished than past releases, I dug it.

Though The Replacements earned much attention for drunken antics and raucous rackets of songs, there was a quieter, melancholic side of them that was equally as impressive.

Poe – Haunted
from Haunted

Paloma and I spent a lot of time listening to Poe’s 1995 debut Hello. I don’t think that she was nearly as fond of it as I was.

The music was a supple fusion of alternative rock and folk elements with atmospheric and hypnotic electronics. I thought that Poe was going to be a superstar.

She didn’t reach such heights and, though Hello got some notice, I thought that the album got lost in the glut of female artists at the time.

The dense, swirling Haunted is the title track of her second and, thus far, last album which came out a decade ago. It was a worthy successor to Hello, but it caused barely a ripple.

Apparently Poe spent ten years feuding with her record label, attempting to extricate herself from them, which is unfortunate.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Voice Of The Beehive – Monsters And Angels
from Honey Lingers

I’m not sure if I could picture Kolchak racing through the streets of Chicago in his convertible with Monsters And Angels blaring from the stereo, but it’s a delightful song.

Formed in London by two sisters from California who were the daughters of Four Preps singer Bruce Belland, Voice Of The Beehive was a college rock favorite with their ’86 debut Let It Bee.

I was out of college when the follow-up, Honey Lingers, was released and working at a record label where my boss – who was usually quite prescient in such matters – predicted that Monsters And Angels would be their mainstream breakthrough.

(it wasn’t)

Though it does suffer from some of the glossy production of the time, the song is candy. The song shimmers and has a towering chorus with a girl group vibe for a modern age.

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Bye Bye, 97X?

March 27, 2010

I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83.

Suddenly my musical universe expanded to include acts like Talking Heads, XTC, and Aztec Camera. These less than mainstream bands and artists wandered into the room and sat down next to Journey, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran like strangers entering some cantina in a dusty border town.

Everyone held their breath, expecting trouble.

It seem only a matter of time ’til someone looked at someone else the wrong way, a bottle was broken and wielded as a shiv, and the entire affair ended in a saloon-trashing melee.

I quickly realized that I could listen to Hall & Oates and Siouxsie & The Banshees and it was good. 97X introduced me to numerous acts that would become staples of my listening habit over the ensuing decades.

Reception for 97X was often dodgy and, once I left for college, I was forced to leave the station behind. I wouldn’t really reacquaint myself with the WOXY until a decade later when I would do so via the station’s internet broadcast.

Though highly regarded as it was one of the first modern rock stations in the US, 97X struggled to remain on the air throughout the years, recently relocating from Ohio to Austin, Texas.

During the past year or so, I had made more time to check in and, though my intention was to seek out newer music, invariably, I would stream the station’s vintage broadcast, beaming myself back to the mid- to late-’80s when it was all new to me.

But, it appears that 97X is no more. The plugged was pulled on the station earlier this past week.

(if we had the funds, Paloma and I could purchase the station and headquarter it in Samoa)

97X has cheated the hangman on several occasions over the past quarter century. Maybe it will again. But, if it doesn’t, here are four random songs that I know I heard back before the station and I parted company and I headed off to college…

Tears For Fears – Pale Shelter
from The Hurting

In the summer of ’83, my friend Beej and I would get apprised on up-and-coming bands from his uncle, who possessed an unfathomable collection of New Wave acts on vinyl, many of them imports that had yet to reach our shores. Tears For Fears was an act thay came highly recommended.

It would be two more years before the duo would break in the States – I still recall hearing Everybody Wants To Rule The World for the first time on the radio show Rock Over London – but 97X was playing several songs from their debut that autumn.

One of them was the shimmering Pale Shelter.

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Like Tears For Fears, Scotland’s Simple Minds found mainstream success in the US in the spring of ’85 when Don’t You (Forget About Me) etched itself into the collective consciosness of a generation. The group had begun shedding some its more art-rock tendencies a year earlier with Sparkle In The Rain, which included Waterfront.

I heard Waterfront often on 97X and it certainly appealed to me as a U2 fan. The throbbing, hypnotic track would appear post-Don’t You on Simple Minds’ live release in ’87.

The Replacements – Bastards Of Young
from Tim

When I arrived at college in 1986, The Replacements seemed to be the poster children for modern rock at our school. Maybe it was because like us (and unlike other strong contenders like R.E.M. and The Pixies), the disheveled quartet was comprised of Midwesterners.

(maybe it was because they drank a lot)

Thanks to 97X, I was familiar with the band and songs like Kiss Me On The Bus, Waitress In The Sky, and the anthemic Bastards Of Young which suited our youthful, directionless enthusiasm in a brave, new world free from parental dominion.

Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw

Despite all the acclaim it received upon its release, I had never listened to Marshall Crenshaw’s debut until Paloma and I snagged a copy on vinyl. Of course, I knew his hit Someday, Someway and I knew Cynical Girl from 97X, but the classic pop from which Crenshaw was influenced, and so wonderfully recreated, sounded “dated” alongside the New Wave stuff I was smitten with at the time.

Cynical Girl is a favorite of Paloma’s and it’s fabulously jangly.

(of course, there’s really not a bad track on the entire album)


Et Tu, Cheerios?

September 8, 2008

Details and small things fascinate me. This allows me to space out for twenty minutes pondering breakfast cereals, specifically Cheerios.

I love Cheerios. Their simplicity is a thing of wonder to me and I find them to be the most diplomatic of all breakfast cereals. If I were a head of state, I would serve Cheerios at all state functions (but those thoughts are for another time).

I do have to consider the possibility that Cheerios is following the slippery path trail blazed by the folks who make Pop Tarts.

Not long ago, I noted how Pop Tarts started out as something that at least pretended to be somewhat good for you only to introduce flavors like Cake Batter with Double Chocolate Frosting and Pepperoni.

Now I find that there are Frosted Cheerios – tiny o’s of super-sugarized goodness. Has Cheerios sold out?

They are magically delicious, but I doubt they are as effective at lowering cholesterol, helping your heart, or making your bowels move with the precision of a Swiss clock as classic Cheerios.

I’ve also seen boxes of Fruit Cheerios which seems to be some cereal identity theft thing with Fruit Loops as the victim. And Fruit Loops which – if I recall – were pretty much sugar and colored dye probably wouldn’t be considered nutritional.

So much for a healthy breakfast. Soon, we’ll be topping our heaping bowls of Frosted Cheerios with piping hot chocolate pudding instead of milk.

I have no songs with Cheerios (or cereal, for that matter) in the title. A search for breakfast yielded a half dozen tracks – two of which I’ve already posted. The quintet which remained have not one song of which I am readily acquainted, so proceed at your own risk.

The Replacements – Beer For Breakfast

Van Halen – Up For Breakfast

Bijou Phillips- Breakfast

Stretch Princess – Breakfast For Champions