The Eighth Of December

December 8, 2012

There are a lot of music fans today recalling and recounting the details of their lives when they learned that John Lennon had been murdered.

My memories are hazy and uneventful.

December 8, 1980 was a Monday and a lot of folks had the sad news broken to them on Monday Night Football, but I had gone to bed at halftime and missed Howard Cosell’s announcement.

The next morning, I might have heard the news on Good Morning America . The television was undoubtedly tuned to the show as everyone scrambled about preparing for the day.

But, I don’t recall hearing the news of John Lennon’s death from David Hartman or Joan Lunden as I ate a bowl of Cheerios. It might have been because my usual routine that morning was altered with a dental appointment.

I learned of the death of one of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century from the radio station playing in the dentist’s office as I got my teeth cleaned.

I was thirteen and my interest in music was casual. Of course, I knew the music of The Beatles.

(is there anywhere in the world – where there is electricity – where their music isn’t known?)

But, I have to confess, the news had little effect on me.

I was a passive witness not an active participant.

As the years passed and music became a more important part of my life, as I learned the lore of bands and artists that had ruled the world, John Lennon’s death took on more significance.

On December 8, 1990, I was finishing the final classes that semester for a misconceived degree and the world was headed toward the first Gulf War.

MTV had added the video for an updated version of Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance performed by The Peace Choir, which brought together Yoko, Sean Lennon and an array of artists including Peter Gabriel, Iggy Pop, Cyndi Lauper, Little Richard, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, Duff from Guns ‘N Roses, Wendy & Lisa, LL Cool J, Michael McDonald, Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, and numerous others.

That night, walking home from the record store where I worked, I switched my Walkman from the cassette to which I was listening and channel surfed radio stations. The brightness of the moon illuminated the landscape as it poked through fluffy clouds in the night sky.

It was one of those skies that, in the Midwest, you recognize as heavy with snow.

On the radio, the DJ – like DJs all over the world – was noting the passing of a decade since John Lennon’s death and playing songs of the late Beatle.

I trudged back to my apartment and was greeted by my dog. Those minutes after returning home from work or class (or both) often redeemed the day.

Part German shepherd, part Golden Retriever, Coke – a nickname not affiliated with the drink or narcotic – loved water and, even more so, he loved snow.

I walked around the apartment grounds with him that night, probably pondering the idea of ordering a pizza, watching some college hoops, and becoming one with the couch.

Then, both of us looked up as, suddenly, massive flakes – the size of baby birds – began to flutter from the sky.

Coke spent the next hour or more diving into the rapidly accumulating blanket of snow and trying to dodge and/or catch the snow balls I lobbed in his direction

Once inside, it was nearly midnight, I was too drowsy from being out in the crisp air to do much more then throw on some sweats and a baggy sweater that was a size too big. I lit some candles, put on some Beatles, and Coke and I stretched out on the couch and listened as the snow continued to fall.

John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – Give Peace A Chance
from The John Lennon Collection (1982)

The Peace Choir – Give Peace A Chance
from Give Peace A Chance single (1990)

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“It’s Just Time, It’s Not Like It Means Anything”*

November 3, 2012

clocksTonight is the end of Daylight Savings Time, a ritual that is still odd to me.

I grew up in one of two small areas in the US that didn’t kowtow to The Man on the issue of Daylight Savings Time. Aside from some time in Southeast Asia, I was into my twenties before I ever moved a clock forward or set one back. I let time do its thing.

Then, I was suddenly a forced participant in this national game of Hokey Pokey with a chronological twist.

Now, after weeks of adjusting to making the morning commute in the dark, I have to reorient to the dawning sun on the horizon, manhandling my still sleeping retinas as I speed along.

It also adds an added level of complexity to an item that has been a staple in every phone conversation with my mom ever since I left home.

“What time is it there?”

“What time is it there?

(it’s not as though she has to calculate Pi)

Well, the time changed last night.”

(her tone indicates that it is entirely possible that she holds hobgoblins in the night responsible)

“It’s Sunday.”

Mom is not amused. I rehash how time zones work and the unchanging fact that, so long as both of us live where we do, it will always be an hour later there, no matter what hobgoblins might do with the clocks.

But, to quote a line from the movie Some Kind Of Wonderful, directed by the late John Hughes, “It’s just time, it’s not like it means anything.”

There were hundreds of songs with time in the title when I searched the hard drive. Here is a quartet…

Alan Parsons Project – Time
from The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980)

They might have had progressive leanings, but one-time Abbey Road Studios engineer Alan Parsons’ collective also produced some masterful singles. The ultra-wistful Time is an autumn song to me.

My Bloody Valentine – We Have All The Time In The World
from Peace Together (1993)

Peace Together was a compilation, a charity record for some organization promoting peace in Northern Ireland. My first trip to the UK coincided with the Good Friday Peace Accord which happened four years later.

As a kid in the States in the late ’70s/early ’80s, the troubles in Ireland were inscrutible. All I really understood was that a lot of folks were suffering, mostly ordinary people who merely wanted to live their lives. To watch the news, it seemed like an intractable war.

Three decades later, it seems as though that conflict has been mostly resolved. The relative calm in Northern Ireland now might be the lone thing that gives me hope the major conflicts in the world today might also reach some, if not perfect, at least benign resolution.

Culture Club – Time (Clock Of The Heart)
from Kissing To Be Clever (1983)

I have no qualms in declaring an affection for Culture Club. Boy George had a fantastic voice and they had more than a few brilliantly frothy pop songs – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, Church Of The Poison Mind, Victims

They also had some godawful stuff.

(I’ll Tumble 4 Ya immediately comes to mind)

Time (Clock Of The Heart) is one of the former and sounds timeless. When she hears the song, Paloma reacts like I do to bacon.

Matthew Ryan – Time And Time Only
from East Autumn Grin (2000)

I used to take smoke breaks with Ryan when we worked together many years ago. Good times.

It’s been awhile since I heard one of his albums, but I thought his first few releases were pretty compelling collections. The dire Time And Time Only makes Springsteen’s Nebraska sound positively giddy.


The End Of Time As We Knew It

November 9, 2011

So, the clocks have been turned back, an act that still is an odd thing to me as I grew up in one of the few swaths of the US that didn’t acknowledge such antics.

(Paloma is like a ninja somehow resetting all of the numerous timepieces in the treehouse so swiftly, so deftly that I never see her do it, but the feat is accomplished by the time I awake)

As the citizens of my hometown were ignoring the changing of the times in autumn, 1984, my friends and I had all reached our sixteenth birthdays and, thus, all had our drivers licenses for the first time.

The end of Daylight Savings Time did not go completely unnoticed. Most of the radio and television stations we received were broadcast out of Southwestern Ohio. The clocks moving back in Cincinnati meant having to stay up later to watch the end of Monday Night Football and hear Dandy Don Meredith croon.

The upside was that we gained an hour to troll the record stores and malls on treks into the city.

During the summer months, by the time one of us procured transportation, it was usually after someone’s parents or older sibling had returned home from work.

(my buddy Beej often loaned himself his brother’s Datsun B210 which we had nicknamed, for reasons unexplained, The Invisible Jet)

We often had to make tactical decisions regarding which record stores to hit in a limited timeframe and the last scheduled stop hinged upon closing times.

Invariably, we would underestimate the time spent elsewhere and these junkets often ended with us hurriedly searching through the aisles of Peaches as clerks eager to close for the night were turning down the lights.

There was no rush like taking a roa trip and returning with new music. Though I was branching out at the time and listening to more alternative rock, I was still tentative when it came to actually parting with the little cash I had. So, I was still tethered to buying more mainstream stuff.

Here are four songs from purchases that autumn…

Julian Lennon – Valotte
from Valotte (1984)

For folks who grew up with The Beatles, it must have been a bit trippy to hear the voice of John Lennon’s son when Valotte arrived and became a big hit. The title track was all over radio that fall and the sparse, lovely song simply sounded like autumn.

Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns
from Girls With Guns (1984)

If you grew up in the Midwest in the late ’70s/early ’80s, there was probably a great likelihood that you owned something by Styx, be it The Grand Illusion, Pieces Of Eight, or Paradise Theater. It seemed half the kids in our high school had a well-worn t-shirt commemorating one Styx tour or another.

For me, Styx was my first concert experience and, though I quickly soured on the band with Kilroy Was Here, the punchy title track to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s first solo album caught my ear at the time and was enough to lure me in.

Toto – Stranger In Town
from Isolation (1984)

I’d worn out the cassette of Toto’s mega-selling Toto IV that I’d purchased from the Columbia Record & Tape Club. The band was hardly reinventing fire, but to a kid just discovering pop music, it was a thoroughly engaging collection of pop/rock that clicked with me even beyond the hits like Rosanna and Africa.

Isolation arrived a good two years after Toto IV. It was a lengthy gap between records for the time. Toto had changed and so had I, but I totally dug the mysterious vibe of Stranger In Town, which – based on how quickly the album vanished – must have put me in the minority.

Big Country – Steeltown
from Steeltown (1984)

Though just a year after becoming a sensation in the US with In A Big Country, Steeltown was greeted with a yawn in the States. It got excellent reviews and deservedly so as, even without a hit, it’s a better album than their debut.

The title track has a thunderous cadence reminiscent of In A Big Country. It’s bone-rattling.