The Drummer On The Couch

March 29, 2012

I spoke with a college buddy last week. He had called days earlier to inform me that a young drummer friend of his was moving to town.

I’m old enough to know better than to let him follow me home.

Years ago, I spent twelve months or so managing a band.

(and actually managed to get a label to offer them a deal)

Not long after meeting them, the drummer crashed on the couch in the house where I was living. Within a couple weeks, he was living on that couch.

It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. He coughed up a third of the rent.

He could have the couch. I had a mammoth room – the biggest in the place – and a hundred dollars more a month to spend at the watering holes.

Cooper was an asset. I could depend on him to diffuse tensions within the band with his antics.

At home, he could be a source of entertainment. I returned late one night after closing one of our local haunts. I slumped down down on one of the couches in our living room. Coop was sitting there with another roommate whom we had dubbed The Chinaman, watching a rerun of The X Files.

I soon noticed the smell of something burning.

“Yeah, those are probably ready,” Coop noted to The Chinaman, shuffling off to the kitchen.

I followed and watched as he pulled a tray of Pillsbury rolls from the oven, charred beyond reasonable – even drunken – edibility.

“You’re not going to eat those? Are you?”

The Chinaman looked at me as though I was crazy as he and Coop headed to the front porch with the busquits and a couple of wedges.

“Where the hell did you get golf clubs?”

The two were standing in the front yard, illuminated by the glow of the street light and the odd car. Mostly the neighborhood was still.

“Fore!” Coop bellowed as he chipped one of the briquettes and we watched it arc lazily into a neighbor’s yard across the street.

One by one, the two of them took turns until a dozen or so freshly-roasted Pillsbury rolls had landed on the green. Apparently this neighbor had invoked their ire and this was their vengeance.

It became a late-night ritual, though we soon opted for using foodstuff that had already spoiled.

Here are four songs featuring drummers I dig…

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)

I don’t often notice drummers, but I’ve come to realize that the ones that do seem to catch my attention are propulsive and primal which is exactly how I’d describe Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain.

(coincidentally, the drummer on my couch claimed to have known Chamberlain back in Chicago)

As for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Paloma and I spent countless hours listening to the double album during the autumn of ’95 and, from the first time I heard it, Tonight, Tonight was among my favorite tracks.

(though it’s still strange to hear it on the Major League Baseball playoff commercials)

The Who – Baba O’Riley
from Who’s Next (1971)

And, if you want propulsive and primal, you want Keith Moon.

(yes, Won’t Get Fooled Again better fit the bill, but I prefer Baba O’Riley)

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live (1994)

I suspect part of my affection for Manu Katché is his name which is lots of fun to say.

(Manu Katché, Manu Katché, Manu Katché)

However, I do quite like Manu’s mystic rhythms which seem perfectly suited for the songs of Peter Gabriel. Coop once spent twenty minutes pointing out Katché’s prowess on video to me and, given a bit of insight, I was duly impressed.

(and I’m thinking our next addition to the menagerie might be named Manu Katché)

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures (1981)

There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity.

A ticket, t-shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less twenty-five years ago than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.

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The Union Jack

January 12, 2012

“You look different,” Paloma said.

As I had done nothing new with my hair, I countered her comment with a quizzical, gape-jawed stare.

“You’re standing up.”

It was true. I was vertical as opposed to the horizontal posture I had been prone to adopt for much of the past week as the result of sharing my immune system with some miserable, little bug.

And several times during the week, too enfeebled with fever to do more than slump on the couch, too weary from coughing fits to even turn my head toward the television, I stared straight ahead to the wall where I’d zone out in the pattern of the large Union Jack flag hanging there.

The flag has been with me for a long, long time, acquired during one of the many high school treks into Cincinnati with friends to roam through the malls searching for girls, music, and Orange Julius.

It was about this time of year, a couple weeks after the new year that a handful of us were on such a venture.

It was frigid outside and, inside, there were “sidewalk” sales during which the stores would take the crap that they hadn’t been able to unload at Christmas weeks earlier and piled the wares onto tables at discounted prices.

Outside one of the storefronts, I found my buddy Streuss, in his hand he clutched a Union Jack.

“You’re buying a British flag?”

“Five bucks, man. I’m hanging it up in my bedroom.”

England was some faraway land and I don’t recall much Brittania in my life as a kid.

A television station out of Dayton would air Benny Hill reruns late on Saturday nights. My neighbor Will and I would watch the hijinks through the snowy reception on the Magnavox in his family’s den.

In junior high school, I might have actually thought England was little more than slapstick, double entendres, and scattily-clad women.

But I soon discovered music and, especially in the early ’80s, there was plenty of it arriving in America from England. Even before I ventured far from Top 40 and mainstream rock radio, I was hearing The Police, Human League, The Fixx, A Flock Of Seagulls, Duran Duran…

And, of course there was the previous twenty years of exports from the British isle with whom I would become increasingly familiar.

I grabbed the remaining flag from the table. It was only five bucks, marked down from sixty-five (which would have been like twelve-thousand dollars in today’s dollars).

It was too good a deal to pass up.

And, for the past twenty-five years, that Union Jack has been hanging on the wall wherever I’ve lived.

Perusing the Billboard charts from twenty-five years ago, there were more than a few acts hailing from the U.K. Here are four that I recall…

Pete Townshend – Give Blood
from White City: A Novel (1985)

Had I been ten years older, I might well have associated the Union Jack with The Who, but the first truly iconic use of the British flag that I noted was when Def Leppard exploded onto the scene in ’83 with Pyromania.

Coincidentally, at the time I bought my Union Jack, Who guitarist Pete Townshend had recently released White City. These days, I’d probably favor All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, but White City is pretty stellar (aside from the hit Face The Face) and the bracing Give Blood – with David Gilmour making an appearence – was a favorite.

Roger Daltrey – Under A Raging Moon
from Under A Raging Moon (1985)

And, coincidentally, Who lead singer Roger Daltrey had also recently released a solo album that, like Townshend’s, got some attention.

There were a few songs written by Bryan Adams (and his writing partner Jim Vallance) and much of Under A Raging Moon was rather uninspired, but it did include After The Fire, a fantastic track penned by Townshend.

The title track to Under A Raging Moon, a tribute to The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon, was notable for Daltrey’s ferocious vocals and the line-up of guest drummers – Martin Chambers, Roger Taylor, Cozy Powell, Stewart Copeland, Zak Starkey, Carl Palmer, and Mark Brzezicki – that perform on it.

Queen – One Vision
from A Kind Of Magic (1986)

Queen had peaked in America with The Game, which was released while I was in junior high and the stuff that followed from the legendary band – ’82’s Hot Space and ’84’s The Works – were largely ignored.

But the band remained popular with me and several friends and we were stoked when One Vision arrived in late ’85. It was on the soundtrack to some action flick whose name escapes me (and I’m too lazy to look up), one of several soundtracks in the ’80s that featured Queen’s music.

One Vision sounded great on the car radio that winter when we all spent a lot of time in the car together, usually going nowhere in particular, and the result was often everyone joining in on Freddie Mercury’s closing request for fried chicken.

The Cure – Close To Me
from The Head On The Door (1985)

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 which made me intimately familiar with much of their catalog before the band broke to the masses.


December 25, 1982

December 24, 2011

I happened to be reading a comparison of the worst holiday seasons based on a number of economic factors since the Great Depression and, according to this study, 1982 was the bleakest Christmas of the past eighty years.

At the time, I was fourteen and blissfully unaffected by unemployment rates that exceeded those of recent vintage. Our small town was home to the headquarters for two industry-leading corporations. There were six very wealthy families, six poor ones, and everyone else resided solidly in the middle class.

(really, there once was a socio-economic stratum called the middle class in America)

I had been one of a dozen or so kids in the first computer class offered at our high school that autumn and, as I recall, was hoping that I might be getting the 1982 equivilant of a PC that Christmas.

There would be no computer – a device still primarily available to only NASA engineers and James Bond villains – that Christmas morning.

Instead, a pool table made for a surprising consolation prize.

It was secondhand but that mattered little and, in truth, added to the charm as there were peculiarities to the table – dead spots and slight slopes – that rewarded experience. Putting the eight ball into the side pocket was akin to reading the green on a golf course.

(the cues added a new, combative twist to the inevitible conflicts that would arise between my brother and I)

1982 was also the first Christmas that I wanted music as a gift and I do know that I received several cassettes including the debut releases by A Flock Of Seagulls and Men At Work, both of which had made a splash since the beginning of the school year.

And, six songs – half of them unknown to me – debuted on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart the week of Christmas, 1982…

Unipop – What If (I Said I Love You)
from Unilove (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 8 weeks on chart)

There’s little out there on the internet about Unipop and their lone brush with musical success. The group was a husband and wife duo who were labelmates of Bertie Higgins, providing backup vocals on his hit Key Largo.

As for What If…I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with the file or if the song is supposed to sound like The Chipmunks performing some non-descript rock ballad from the ’50s.

Michael Stanley Band – Take The Time
from MSB (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #81, 5 weeks on chart)

Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening, but I don’t recall ever hearing Take The Time.

The song is a mid-tempo, soulful take on the economic malaise gripping the country, especially in the Rust Belt, and the need to pull together through tough times. The song would make little more than a ripple, but, a year later, the band would reach the Top 40 with the punchy, anthemic My Town.

Tyrone Davis – Are You Serious
from Tyrone Davis (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #57, 6 weeks on chart)

All-Music Guide describes Tyrone Davis as “the king of romantic Chicago soul” and, despite the fact that the singer had a lengthy string of R&B chart hits in the ’60s and ’70s, I can’t say that I’m familiar with him aside from seeing the name in record store bins.

The smooth Are You Serious finds Davis crooning the title as a question as to the intentions of his lady. It’s pleasant enough and well executed if not exactly something that blows my hair back, though it must have struck a chord with someone as it became Davis’ final Top Ten hit on the R&B charts.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Forever
from Men Without Women (1982)
(debuted #81, peaked #63, 9 weeks on chart)

I knew a few songs by Bruce Springteen in 1982, but I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t have named anyone from the E Street Band, so I wouldn’t have known that Steve Van Zandt and I know that I didn’t hear Forever at the time.

(I had progressed in my music listening enough that I did purchase Little Steven’s next release, Voice Of America, when it arrived on the heels of Springsteen’s Born In The USA two years later)

Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of Van Zandt’s oeuvre and even listened to his satellite radio show a few times. I’m familiar enough to known of his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll era music and tireless efforts to pay homage to the past.

The punchy, horn-driven Forever fuses his garage band rock sound with an unmistakeable, classic Motown vibe.

The Who – Eminence Front
from It’s Hard (1982)
(debuted #80, peaked #68, 6 weeks on chart)

While I was listening to my Men At Work and A Flock Of Seagulls cassettes during Christmas ’82, The Who were embarking on their farewell tour, having recently released It’s Hard.

I couldn’t have cared less and it would be a couple more years before I would.

Though I haven’t listened to It’s Hard in some time and it’s hardly a classic, there are a couple stellar tracks on that intended swan song including the slinky, shimmering, quasi-funky Eminence Front.

Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #3, 23 weeks on chart)

Twenty-nine years ago, if anyone knew the name Duran Duran it was likely as a character from the campy, late ’60s sci-fi flick Barbarella, but that was about to change. I wouldn’t hear of the band until a neighbor down the street brought them to our attention shortly before Hungry Like The Wolf broke into the Top 40 in the first months of 1983.

It’s odd to think of a world without Duran Duran as Simon LeBon and company have been a part of the musical landscape from almost the beginning of my interest in music. I was entranced with the kinetic and mysterious Hungry Like The Wolf from the first time I heard the laugh of LeBon’s girlfriend that opens the song.

By the following spring, Hungry Like The Wolf was a smash complete with an iconic video, Duran Duran was a sensation some were comparing to The Beatles, and most of us owned a copy of Rio. Rio would be the peak of my interest in Duran Duran, though I would like scattered songs by Duran Duran throughout their ’80s heyday and I’d argue that their latter-day hit Ordinary World was their finest moment.

But it all began inauspiciously enough with Hungry Like The Wolf debuting on the Billboard charts that Christmas in 1982 and the song has deservedly become a classic of the time.