The Road (There And Back)

November 27, 2011

As a kid, the family usually made at least one trek annually to visit relatives in Western Pennsylvania.

To mitigate the need to navigate traffic, we would often set off on these trips in the wee hours of the night, getting the first couple hours in before the sunrise.

It was thrilling to be up in the middle of the night, at an hour whose existence was wholly unknown to me at the time.

As my younger brother and our mother would be asleep in the backseat, I was accorded shotgun, road atlas perched in my lap and serving as navigator for our father.

I assumed the responsibility of the task with deadly seriousness and a certain belief that any failure on my part might result in us being lost forever, though little navigation was truly needed and the position was essentially honorary.

Thirtysome years later, it’s simply good to that Paloma and I have made our Thanksgiving trek with no difficulties and are safely back in the treehouse with the animals.

Here are four road songs (out of the numerous ones residing on the harddrive)…

John Fogerty – The Old Man Down The Road
from Centerfield (1985)

I was a junior in high school when John Fogerty released his first new music since before I had even begun the educational process. I was hardly enamored with Centerfield or the handful of tracks that were getting airplay, but the album and Fogerty’s comeback was inescapable (especially as my buddy Beej loved the record).

For me, it was a bit too twangy for my tastes at the time, though now I have a much greater appreciation and affection for the ex-Creedence singer’s bayou brew. And, Paloma and I came across a fellow in a roadside McDonald’s that certainly would have been well cast as the titular character.

Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere
from Little Creatures (1985)

As John Fogerty was making a comeback in 1985, art-rockers Talking Heads were making a belated arrival, notching the most commercially successful album of their almost-decade long career with Little Creatures. Sure, the quartet had a major radio hit two years earlier with the übercool Burning Down The House and, though nothing on Little Creatures matched that success, the album had several songs that got a lot of airplay.

One of those songs was the skittish march Road To Nowhere which I heard a lot on 97X that spring and was accompanied by an expectedly eye-catching video that MTV played incessantly.

Steve Earle – Six Days On The Road
from Essential Steve Earle (1993)

Paloma and I didn’t spend six days on the road – two was more than enough for us – so we didn’t quite reach the level of weariness that the protagonist felt in the song that was a major hit for country singer Dave Dudley in 1963.

Nearly a quarter century later, Steve Earle contributed his version of the song to John Hughes’ movie Planes, Trains And Automobiles, a flick that has become a holiday perennial.

Eddie Vedder with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – The Long Road
from Dead Man Walking soundtrack (1996)

Traveling through the Midwest, Paloma and I heard a similar rotation of artists and songs on the (mostly) classic rock stations we’d pull up on the radio. And, there amongst ’70s warhorses like Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Skynyrd was – over and over again – Pearl Jam.

(much to Paloma’s chagrin)

Personally, it reminded me of how much of Pearl Jam’s catalog I have enjoyed over the years. The band certainly has had its detractors (aside from Paloma), but there’s always been something about the grunge icons that has struck me as geniune.

And, over the years, lead singer Eddie Vedder has, like several other members of the band, stepped out on his own as he did in 1996 when he collaborated with the late Pakastani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for the lovely, mournful The Long Road for the soundtrack to the movie Dead Man Walking.

Advertisements

Big Fish*

May 8, 2011

How far is it from a relatively obscure, failed ‘70s feature film by an Oscar-winning director to a thirty-foot, fiberglass catfish?

Thirty-five miles.

Paloma and I have taken advantage of the fact that, here in the 21st century, people will deliver movies to your doorstep because we enjoy movies and…well…going to a theater requires leaving the couch and venturing into an often rude, zombie wasteland.

I’ve been delving into grainy movie memories from my childhood (several of which I’ve mentioned of late). One which I wanted to check out was Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame) and starring Roy Scheider, who was fresh off the boat from his fishing excursion in Jaws.

I’d been fascinated by the poster for Sorcerer as a kid and the viewer comments on The Internet Movie Database touted it as an underappreciated gem.

The story revolved around four dodgy characters from various locales around the globe that end up hiding out in some South American village. Through a chain of events, they become mercenaries, driving two trucks laden with nitroglycerin through the jungle at great peril.

(Paloma was intrigued by this concept as a potential career opportunity)

Inspired by the viewing of Sorcerer, I decided that we should take a trek of our own, sans nitroglycerin, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where a restaurant boasted their catfish to be the finest in the state.

Paloma, ever supportive of my random whims – and won over by my assertion that such a place would certainly have pie – agreed to the venture, so long as I knew where we were going.

(leading to my assessment, halfway somewhere, that “we should be going west…or maybe south.”)

Thirty-five miles from our front door, there it was, a giant fiberglass catfish, perched majestically atop the roof of a roadside shack, proclaiming to all passers-by, here be catfish!

In the end, the catfish was serviceable, the Mississippi mud pie was, in the words of Paloma, “divine,” the thirty-foot catfish sign was the most life-like thirty-foot catfish sign I’ve ever seen, and Sorcerer was gritty, suspenseful, slightly surreal and well worth the walk to the mailbox.

There’s a lot of stuff under the sea. Here are four songs titled after some of the things that might be found in the briny deep…

The Other Two – Tasty Fish
from The Other Two & You

New Order were college radio darlings when I was in school and a lot of my friends loved the band. I was much more a casual listener.

In 1993, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris – half of New Order – released an album as The Other Two. I liked it enough to file it away, but I couldn’t have named a song by the duo until Tasty Fish popped up.

It’s totally charming electro-pop, a pulsating, shimmering three minutes or so that would have been enough for me to hold onto the album to be rediscovered one day.

The B-52’s – Rock Lobster
from The B-52’s

I know that I wasn’t familiar with Rock Lobster in ’79. I can’t imagine that I heard the song until 97X went on the air four years later.

Then, Rock Lobster was a staple for the station and a burst of fun from the radio when it would come up.

Hooverphonic – Tuna
from Blue Wonder Power Milk

Like a lot of people, I was mesmerized the first time I heard A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular by the electronica/trip hop of the Belgian band Hooverphonic. It was a hypnotic listening experience.

Unfortunately, that album as well as Blue Wonder Power Milk and The Magnificent Tree didn’t make the transfer from harddrive to iPos explaining why I hadn’t heard the band in awhile.

Chilly, stately, and dreamy, Tuna, like most of Hooverphonic’s oeuvre, is perfect music to drift away to while listening on headphones.

Heart – Barracuda
from Greatest Hits

Though Heart might have had a lull in the early ’80s, the band remained popular on radio stations in our part of the Midwest. Then, the band notched a string of massive hits and platinum-selling albums in the mid-’80s that took the band to new heights.

I quite liked some of those latter ’80s hits, but I preferred Heart’s less-varnished ’70s stuff. The ubiquitousness of that later period made it easy to forget how much raw energy the band possessed.

Barracuda – driven by Ann Wilson’s piercing banshee wail – was as fierce as a band could hope to be.


Egypt

February 2, 2011

I’ve noticed that less than half of the things I begin to scribble end up posted here.

Most of these discarded efforts don’t get beyond a few lines and sometimes there is nothing more than a few cryptic words that meant something momentarily important to me.

(for Seinfeld fans, it’s a “flaming globes of Sigmond!” moment)

Then, there are times when something gets lodged in my head like some cranial hairball that just won’t dislodge. No matter how much I might attempt to zig or zag my thoughts to a different subject, they return to that word, phrase, or idea and there’s no moving on until it’s addressed.

The past few days, each time I’ve sat down to scrawl something, the events in Egypt bob to the surface. Most of the reading I’ve done this past week has been done following the Egyptian revolution and I’ve watched plenty of the televised coverage.

I feel comfortable enough to discuss the subject and I know Mohamed ElBaradei from Omar Suleiman and would have no trouble finding Alexandria on a map, but the simple fact is we won’t know how this plays out ’til we get there.

So, I keep thinking of a waterlogged afternoon while I was living in London in the late ’90s. Sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for the deluge to subside, I struck up a conversation with three kids, students, also waiting out the downpour.

The three could have been college kids on a campus in the States – they had the garb and pop culture savvy – but the trio was from Egypt.

I couldn’t have spoken with them for more than fifteen minutes and I couldn’t tell you what we discussed as it was nothing more than rainy day, coffee shop small talk.

But I do remember their thoughts on the US as if the conversation was yesterday. Though they had issues with the meddling of the American government in various countries including their own homeland, there was nothing but affection for the American people.

It seemed important to them that I understood this sentiment and it was reiterated several times.

The rain ended, one of them bummed a smoke, and we parted ways.

And as I watch the throngs of people in footage from Tahrir Square, I can’t help but wonder if any of those three kids might be there.

Patti Smith – People Have The Power
from Dream Of Life

“People have the power
The power to dream
To rule
To wrestle the world from fools.”