Walking On The Moon (Or Not)

March 2, 2011

I don’t dance.

It’s something I’ve never done for fun, fame or financial gain.

I’ve never felt inclined.

Though I didn’t grow up in that town in Footloose, there wasn’t much dancing in my hometown. I slow danced at prom one year, but I only recall one or two dances being held during four years of high school.

Mostly kids just gathered informally in some farmer’s field past the outskirts of town with a few kegs procured by older students (who’d make the trek to the state where eighteen was legal) with ‘EBN or 96 Rock blaring from someone’s car stereo.

I don’t remember much dancing.

One Friday afternoon in school, my buddy Beej proposed that we head into Cincinnati that evening.

A trip to The City was an offer that could not be refused. We weren’t old enough to do much more than be mall rats, but – in 1984, growing up in a town with two red lights – the mall was an oasis of civilization.

A trip to The City meant shopping for music.

The catch was that – as neither of us had cars and, in fact had only had drivers licenses for a few months – we would be tagging along with his brother, Junior.

Junior was a senior, a tall, gangly basketball player and mathematical genius whose behavior might have been mistaken, at times, as autistic.

(he now works for the military)

Beej and I were headed to Cincinnati for music, but Junior had a different agenda. For some reason, inexplicable to either Beej or myself, Junior wanted to learn to moonwalk.

It wasn’t as though Junior even listened to Michael Jackson.

And that is how the three of us ended up at some small dance studio in a dingy strip mall in a dodgy part of Cincinnati one Friday night, attending a Michael Jackson dance class at the height of Thriller‘s radio blitzkrieg.

I remember nothing from the class aside from standing off to the side, reading (and rereading) the Hot 100 from a page that had been ripped from Billboard magazine and taped to the wall.

There were half a dozen record stores that wouldn’t be open for much longer and I was stuck like a hostage in a dance studio in a skeezy neighborhood with the clock ticking.

If I recall, we had time to hit Peaches.

I know without doubt that I never saw Junior moonwalk.

Here are four songs that I recall from the beginning of March, 1984 when Beej, Junior, and I made that trip…

Big Country – Fields Of Fire
from The Crossing

Sometimes lost in the attention given to the effects-laden guitars of Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, was that the band had a formidable rhythm section. Bassist Tony Butler has played with The Pretenders, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend

Drummer Mark Brzezicki has an equally impressive array of credits. He also had one of the largest wingspans of any human I’ve ever seen (or so it seemed). Seeing him play live was mesmerizing – like watching the Hindu goddess Kali behind a drum kit.

The thunderous Fields Of Fire was the follow-up single to In A Big Country and one that a lot of people missed.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
from Totally ’80s

Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a cute chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits.

Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth in the lyrics to the perky song.

Oddly enough, I first heard the song when I discovered 97X in the fall of ’83 and that alternative station was also the first place I heard another German singer, Peter Schilling. Additionally, 97X was playing several German versions of Peter Gabriel songs like Schock Den Affen and Spiel Ohne Grenzen.

The Pretenders – Show Me
from Learning To Crawl

I didn’t know much more then Brass In Pocket and Back On The Chain Gang when Learning To Crawl was released in early ’84, but the album was a favorite of Beej’s at the time.

It was a fantastic record even beyond the hits. As we were listening to radio stations from Cincinnati, the Ohio-centric My City Was Gone was played often, 2000 Miles has become a modern-rock Christmas standard, and I’ve always dug the rollicking Thumbelina.

But there’s something about the celestial feel of the jangly Show Me that’s always made the song a favorite.

And when I hear a track from Learning To Crawl, I can’t help but picture the album cover and how shifty the character closest to the top – it’s either Malcolm Foster or Robbie McIntosh – appears to be.

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from Into The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard their first hits Love On Your Side and Lies. The songs were initially pleasant but soon became annoying and grating.

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid, hypnotic, and lush.

(and it still sounds pretty stellar)

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It Wasn’t A Nakamichi Dragon, But It Was Mine

March 13, 2010

I’m not sure when Spring Break became an event, but it was beginning to take on a life of its own by the time I reached high school in the early ’80s.

It was an underwhelming stretch on the calender for most of us in southern Indiana. Sure, it was time off school which was a wonderful thing, but there were no junkets to Ft. Lauderdale or Cancun for most of us.

There were a handful of kids from more affluent families (or families feigning affluence) who trekked off to more sunny locales, but, for the majority of my classmates, Spring Break was something people in teen movies – or, a few years later, MTV – experienced.

Instead, I remember a lot of rain. It seemed to always rain during that week in mid-March, but, coming out of winter in the Midwest, rain meant that it was too warm to snow and that was enough to put most folks in a hopeful mood (even when it was a cold, stinging rain).

Despite the uncooperative meteorological conditions, there were a couple Spring Breaks which were memorable to me, maybe none more than 1984.

When I had first become interested in music three or four years earlier, I staked claim to an old, boxy tabletop radio with big dials and a front panel whose grill was becoming detached. I’d dug it up in our basement where it had likely languished since the early ’70s.

Sometime over the next year or two, I’d gotten a tape recorder and begun to purchase albums on cassette. However, mostly I was taping songs I liked off the radio, placing the built-in mic as close to the radio’s single speaker as possible for maximum fidelity and minimal background noise.

(and, as Any Major Dude will agree, you opted for pause instead of stop)

The next step in audio evolution was a “component.” Though it was almost the size of an actual stereo component, it was essentially a glorified clock radio with a tape deck.

I loved it and my crude radio compilations of Journey, The Police, and Duran Duran had never sounded better.

But, several of my friends were burgeoning audiophiles and were putting together actual rack systems and so, as Spring Break arrived in March of ’84, I was ready to take the first step in entering into this audio arms race.

So, on the first morning of the first day of that break, I headed into Cincinnati with a couple friends and $150 I had saved from a part-time job with the intent to purchase an actual tape deck.

It was, of course, raining.

By that evening, I had contributed to Pioneer’s first quarter profits, purchasing a sleek, silver CT-20 model (with Dolby). It would be toward the end of the summer before I would scrounge up enough cash to add an actual tuner and speakers to the electronic menagerie, so I hooked up the tape deck to the glorified clock radio.

And there was no place on earth that I’d rather have been that Spring Break than sprawled out on my bedroom floor, setting recording levels, dubbing cassettes, and taping songs from the radio.

Here are four songs I distinctly remember taping from various stations as I got to know the tape deck which would be a fixture in my life for the next five or six years…

Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi

Though I’ve never really been a fan aside from a couple songs, I’ve always kind of rooted for Bon Jovi. He seems like a pretty good guy.

She Don’t Know Me got played a lot on 96Rock that Spring (along with Runaway) and it was a catchy reflection on unrequited love at the time. Marc Avsec of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers had written it and it’s not hard to imagine that band doing the song.

(maybe they did a version, but, if they did, I haven’t heard it)

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard the hits from Side Kicks (it had a different title in the UK). I thought Love On Your Side and Lies pleasant at first but soon they were annoyingly hyperactive and grating.

(you know, the kind of song you start to really fall for and then wonder what the hell you heard in it in the first place)

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid and lush. It totally drew me in.

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.

Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
from Lament

I had never heard Ultravox before late winter of 1984, but I had seen their name in my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, Lament was released and I heard Dancing With Tears In My Eyes on the radio (though not very often).

I actually borrowed Lament from a friend. It was the first cassette I ever dubbed – a most momentous personal milestone.

I was a fan. At least for that album. I never really have gotten around to explore the rest of their catalog aside from knowing the songs Vienna and Reap The Wild Wind.