“I’ve got meat juice on my haunches…”

August 19, 2012

I pay little heed to television commercials that do not include bacon. Hell, most of the time I have no idea what they’re even wanting me to buy.

However, there are rare occasions when I am stopped in my tracks, riveted by some marketer’s attempt to get into my head and into my pockets, and, recently, it was hearing one, simple phrase that got my attention…

“I’ve got meat juice on my haunches.”

I looked up from the computer.

(how could I not?)

And what was displayed in high-definition for my wondering eyes to see but a man dressed as a centaur at a renaissance fair and – by the beard of Zeus – he did indeed have meat juice on his haunches.

I was gobsmacked with amusement.

It was far better than my lone, previous renaissance fair experience. I had been duped into attending by a promise of giant turkey legs and hippie chicks pretending to be medieval wenches.

It was a bust. Yeah, there were giant turkey legs but there was something that psyched me out to have each and every wench whose path I crossed hit me with a “m’lord.”

(I was some long-haired, ’90s slacker dressed like a Pearl Jam roadie, not Henry VIII)

The angst of this centaur, though, was the result of a structurally unsound paper plate and gravity leaving the feast which he was about to shove into his gaping maw sullying his horse costume.

(turkey leg, centaur dude, turkey leg)

And I’m riveted when the damned commercial comes on which, thus far, hasn’t been often. It’s that damned centaur’s lament, delivered with irritable resignation, that cracks me up.

In the corporate world, each morning in the office is to run a gauntlet of inquiries as to one’s well-being. Some of the queries are sincere, but, for the most part, it’s a reflexive thing, an obligation meant to be polite and little more.

“How are you?” is asked repeatedly and a soundbite of positivity is expected lest an inquisition begins.

I like the idea of “I’ve got meat juice on my haunches” entering the lexicon as an acceptable reply that conveys “I’m having a rough day and I’d rather not discuss it” and I think that centaur might be able to make it happen.

During the early summer of ’98, I spent a couple weeks wandering through the UK with the same buddy that dragged me to my only renaissance fair and another friend.

Here are four songs that I heard often on that trip…

Texas – Say What You Want
from White On Blonde (1997)

I had heard a couple songs by Texas when their first album came out while I was in college in the late ’80s and was non-plussed. And while the Scottish band led by Sharleen Spiteri had great success in the UK, there was no breakthrough for the them in the States.

Though White On Blonde had been released a year before I arrived in the UK, the album of frothy, blue-eyed soul was a mammoth seller and the hits from the album were still on the stations we’d tune in on our rental car’s radio.

Julian Lennon – Day After Day
from Photograph Smile (1998)

Julian Lennon had burst onto the music scene with his debut Valotte in late 1984 with several hits and a lot of attention. Then, subsequent releases fizzled with little fanfare.

We were surprised to come across Photograph Smile, Lennon’s first new album in nearly a decade, and purchased a copy. The cassette soon became a staple of that trip, a dozen tracks that found John’s oldest son seeming to embrace the legacy of his father’s band.

The Verve – Lucky Man
from Urban Hymns (1997)

I stumbled across the debut from The Verve in early ’94. It might have been from reading about the British quartet in Q or some other music magazine from the UK which was enthusiastic about the band.

I quickly became a fan of their dense, swirling psychedelic-styled modern rock and lead singer Richard Ashcroft struck me as a near-perfect representation of a rock star with his angular features, tousled hair, and indifferent swagger.

Unfortunately, aside from a brief bit of attention after Nike used the song Bittersweet Symphony from 1997′s Urban Hymns in a commercial, The Verve was generally ignored in the States and the masses missed out on one of the best bands of the ’90s.

Catatonia – Mulder And Scully
from International Velvet (1998)

In 1998, The X-Files was at its peak creatively and commercially, having become an iconic pop culture sensation. The Welsh band Catatonia, and their catchy ode to the series’ main characters, was another discovery of ours on that trip and, for two weeks, we played International Velvet into the ground.

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The Carnival Is Over, Let The Carnival Begin

August 28, 2010

There’s a party semi-raging on the ground floor of our three-story treehouse. Paloma and I are sandwiched between it and a couple of Chinese grad students on the top floor.

We won’t be attending.

(I doubt that the Chinese will either)

It isn’t because of the music, though the organ-driven jam band is hardly a selling point. It’s a lot of noodling and the kindest I could be in describing their efforts is symmetrical.

We won’t be attending because there is nothing left that either of us could accomplish at such a scene.

Both of us managed to eke out a good decade or two more out of behaving like rock stars on tour than folks who were relegated to weekend warrior status by their early twenties.

I think we’re still catching up on sleep we didn’t get in the ’90s.

And, we don’t want to end up as carnies.

As if the universe knew of this impending soiree, I received a rare e-mail this morning from Kelso, one of our friends. We had all worked together at a record store in the mid-’90s and he had news of The Drunken Frenchman, who had also worked with us in the same store.

“He’s working in a traveling carnival as a ride operator,” the friend wrote. “He’s a carny. This gives me great pause.”

Such an outcome isn’t really surprising. There are a finite number of record stores in the world – fewer each day – and, even then, The Frenchman seemed destined to work his way through most of them.

I guess he finally did.

And now he’s a carny.

Of course, with his craggy features, hangdog eyes, and gruff, indifferent exterior and demeanor, The Frenchman is well cast in this role.

Paloma – though never having been fond of The Frenchman – was sympathetic, considering his gig with a shudder.

“He gets fresh air,” I offered.

Any of us from that time could have ended up as carnies.

Here’s hoping he finds love with the bearded lady.

It really wouldn’t surprise me.

Here are four songs from fifteen years ago when all four of us – Paloma, Kelso, The Frenchman, and me – were still part of the carnival…

The Verve – On My Own
from A Northern Soul

The Verve just simply wasn’t meant to happen in the States (at least not on the scale of success the band achieved in the UK). First, they were forced by the record label to change their name here to The Verve UK.

Then, in 1998, driven by its use in a Nike commercial, the group notched a mammoth global hit including in the US with Bittersweet Symphony only to see the Stones take all of the royalties in a controversy over a brief sample.

At the time, I thought that The Verve was one of the great rock bands on the planet and – listening again to their scant three albums from the ’90s – I still feel the same.

Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
from The Bends

Though it was released earlier in the year, The Bends was an album that was still in constant play for me in August of ’95. The album failed to generate the enthusiasm that Creep had a year earlier from their debut Pablo Honey, but it was immediately apparent after one listen that Radiohead was a force with which to be reckoned.

Sometime in August or September, I caught the band opening for R.E.M. and told the friends I was with that – though I wasn’t sure when it would happen – we had just seen a band that would in the near future be the biggest band on the planet.

(it would happen two years later with the release of OK Computer)

As for the soaring, atmospheric Fake Plastic Trees – it’s quite simply one of the most gorgeous and compelling songs of that decade.

Natalie Merchant – Carnival
from Tigerlily

Ms. Merchant had just embarked on her solo career with Tigerlily following a lengthy and successful run fronting 10,000 Maniacs. Her former group had been a staple on college radio in the late ’80s and Tigerlily brought Merchant to a whole new audience.

That album and the slightly funky Carnival wasn’t much of a departure from her work with 10,000 Maniacs except for being a bit more polished and arriving at a time when mainstream radio was embracing artists once relegated to alternative outlets.

However, my enduring memory from that time is seeing Merchant on a bill with World Party at an outdoor venue with Paloma and the ten minutes during which she interrupted her set to save a moth that had made its way on stage.

Tricky – Ponderosa
from Maxinquaye

Once a member of pioneering trip-hop act Massive Attack, Tricky became a critically-acclaimed force in his own right with the release of Maxinquaye. It was impossible to ignore the clattering, hypnotic rhythm of tracks like Ponderosa.


33,215

June 12, 2010

A couple weeks ago, I accepted the fact that it was time to replace the iPod.

After watching me mull it over for a few days, Paloma encouraged me to purchase a new device.

And I did opt for space, enough space to file most of all of the music I’ve gathered and have it at my fingertips.

The new iPod shows that there are 33,215 tracks loaded into it. The total is off by approximately 2,500 or so as there are 250 or so sides of albums ripped from vinyl and stored as a single track.

(laziness prompted me to rip each track individually when Paloma and I started buying vinyl two years ago)

Supposedly, it is 98 days of music.

It would require – give or take – one year to listen to all of it, provided I put in a 40-hour work week.

(I hashed out the math while having a smoke at my actual job)

I hold in my hands a small universe of music, yet I lack the power to gather enough time to listen to it all.

And, as Burgess Meredith learned in that acclaimed episode of The Twilight Zone, even time isn’t always enough.

So, here are four random tracks from the new iPod…

The Verve – Slide Away
from A Storm In Heaven

I’m not sure how I stumbled across the debut from The Verve in early ’94. It might have been from reading about the British quartet in Q or some other music magazine from the UK which was enthusiastic about the band.

I quickly became a fan of their dense, swirling psychedelic-styled modern rock and lead singer Richard Ashcroft struck me as a near-perfect representation of a rock star with his angular features, tousled hair, and indifferent swagger.

Unfortunately, aside from a brief bit of attention after Nike used the song Bittersweet Symphony from 1997’s Urban Hymns in a commercial, The Verve was generally ignored in the States and the masses missed out on one of the best bands of the ’90s.

The Equals – Just Me And You
from First Among Equals: The Greatest Hits

Sometime in the mid-’90s, I received a copy of a two-CD collection of The Equals as a promo. At the time, I had never heard the band’s lone US hit from the late ’60s, Baby Come Back, or even knew that it was their song Police On My Back that The Clash had covered a decade or so later on their epic Sandinista!

However, I had heard Casey Kasem mention repeatedly during the summer of ’83 that Eddy Grant, who was rockin’ down to Electric Avenue, had originally been in The Equals. It’s Grant who wrote and sings lead on the soulful, mid-tempo Just Me And You.

Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground
from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I

And up pops one of those “tracks” which is actually a full album side – in this case, side three of the great Stevie Wonder’s 1982 two-album compilation Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I. In addition to the leadoff song – the shimmying funk of Higher Ground – that side also featured Sir Duke, Master Blaster (Jammin’), Boogie On Reggae Woman, and That Girl.

That single side alone would have made for an impressive career for most artists.

David Gray – Please Forgive Me
from White Ladder

Channel-surfing late one night, I stumbled across a video that immediately stopped me in my tracks. The frenetic images of a bustling city street matched the hyperactive twitch of the arresting melody. Above the cityscape a non-descript fellow sat playing a piano that seemingly hovered in mid-air.

At the end of the video, the tag identified the artist as David Gray. The name seemed familiar and, as I searched the memory banks, I realized that I had actually seen Gray, opening for Shawn Colvin a good six years earlier. I even owned an early album of his that I had filed and forgotten.

In 1999, a lot of people owned a copy of White Ladder (and rightfully so).