That’s All For Everyone

December 21, 2012

endworldThere’s been a lot of calamity here on Planet Earth of late. Channel surfing is an exercise in slaloming through the carnage of twenty-four hour news networks.

I stopped on The Learning Channel to, you know, learn something other than how soon we’ll all be jobless, money will be worth nothing and everyone will be using jellybeans for currency.

Instead, I got talking heads and CGI graphics obviously designed to frighten the women and children about the Mayan calendar and this day.

Apparently today is when the Mayans return from the dead to snack on people like it’s The Walking Dead.

(OK, that’s not really what these experts were prognosticating, but, ten minutes into the show, I lost interest and started thinking about toast)

Summoning all my strength, I was ready to engage the remote for something less dire that I could ignore. Unfortunately, I was a split second too slow and I was soon sucked into a commercial for Coca-Cola.

Essentially, the clip acknowledged the trouble times with the assurance that, as long as there was Coke, everything would be fine.

So, it appears that all shall be well. And to think, the Mayans might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling cola barons.

Here are four songs that we’ll have to save for later…

Chris Cornell – Preaching The End Of The World
from Euphoria Morning (1999)

Soundgarden was a mixed bag for me. Some of it was simply too sludgy. Chris Cornell’s vocals invariably made things worth the price of admission, though.

Following the dissolution of Soundgarden, but prior to his fronting the remainder of Rage Against The Machine under the moniker Audioslave (and the subsequent reunion of the former), Cornell issued several solo albums leading off with the fine Euphoria Morning.

The sparse Preaching The End Of The World is suitably somber and driven home by Cornell’s powerful pipes.

Nina Gordon – The End Of The World
from Tonight And The Rest Of My Life (2000)

Chicago’s Veruca Salt became alternate rock darlings in the mid-’90s with their cleverly-named debut American Thighs before imploding three years later with the follow-up. The band soldiered on, but Gordon exited.

Her solo debut had a more mature and more mainstream vibe to it. I haven’t listened to it in years, but I seem to recall finding most of it ridiculously catchy.

Gordon’s update of Skeeter Davis’ ’60s weeper makes me think that The Bangles would have had a massive hit with the song during their heyday.

U2 – Until The End Of The World
from Achtung Baby (1991)

I first heard U2 with 1983’s Warand bought Live Under A Blood Red Sky on cassette when it was released that autumn. I’ve remained devoted to the band for three decades and they’re one of the few for whom I own the entire catalog.

(even Pop which might have strained the relationship most)

I talked the buyer in the large record store where I worked into selling me a copy of Achtung Baby three or four days before the street date. By the third listen through, I was certain that U2 had made the best record they ever would.

And Achtung Baby‘s finest moment is arguably Until The End Of The World with Bono wailing about Jesus and Judas while Edge plays a droning solo that would serve quite well for an apocalypse. On the album, the song followed One which made for quite a punch.

R.E.M.- It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
from Document (1987)

Of course.

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Fall Break

October 11, 2012

moody-autumn-skyAs a kid, fall break was an inspired construct. It wasn’t as lengthy as spring break – a mere Thursday and Friday – but it’s placement in the school year was almost flawless.

It fell in the latter half of October, a week or so before Halloween and halfway between the start of the school year and Christmas break. It was far enough into the semester that the hopeless feeling that the school year would never end had set in even if the last warm days of Indian summer were reminders of the summer past.

There are a couple schools I pass on the morning commute to work each day. They all have some kind of message board at the front of the school, marquee letters announcing football games and such.

I’ve started seeing dates for fall breaks.

I keep thinking of the fall break in 1984. It was the first fall break where my friends and I all had licenses. Acquiring a vehicle, though, usually demanded nimble gamesmanship and negotiation with parents or an older sibling if not outright chicanery.

That break, my buddy Kirk showed up with his older brother’s car, a late ’60s Ford which we abused as often as possible.

Another friend, Bosco, was with him, but, as Kirk hadn’t actually gotten consent to have the car, there had been no time to assemble the rest of our usual group.

So, the three of us headed to the city – Cincinnati – and an hour later we were rifling through the racks at a record store.

Bosco, an obsessive fan of The Tubes, was determined to snag a recently released solo album by the band’s front man Fee Waybill.

He found the desired vinyl at a Record Bar from a clerk whom he summarily dubbed “DLR” as the kid had adopted the look of Van Halen’s soon-to-be ex-lead singer.

Bosco led us to the stereo department on the top floor of the mall, peeled peeled open the shrink-wrap and threw the new album onto a turntable for us to preview.

(at least until it was requested that we leave)

I remember vividly the overcast skies – much like today – that day, but it was far warmer than it is here, now, where it feels as though we’ve skipped directly from September to November.

As we headed home late that afternoon, the sun did its best to break through the clouds before issuing a surrender and making way for dusk.

I’m less certain of what music I purchased that day, though I have no doubt that I returned home that evening with several new cassettes.

Here is a quartet of tracks from albums that I very well might have snagged on that break in the autumn of 1984…

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire
from The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

I do know that I purchased The Unforgettable Fire from a clerk in a record store that had been greatly influenced by Cyndi Lauper. She complimented my purchase and I asked her to marry me.

(it was all a whirlwind and ended with Cyndi answering my proposal with an indifferent shrug)

I arrived home, sprawled out on my bedroom floor with my Walkman, and was promptly confused as the jagged edges which had drawn me to War were now soft like watercolors. There were elements of the past, but I didn’t know what to make of the hints of U2′s future.

But I slowly embraced the more subtle nuances of The Unforgettable Fire.

The title tracks was one of my favorites at the time. Since then, it’s only become more dear to me. Nearly twenty-five years later, I’d consider the song to be four of the finest minutes of their career.

A Flock Of Seagulls – The More You Live, The More You Love
from The Story Of A Young Heart (1984)

In 1984, as U2 was becoming one of my favorite bands, A Flock Of Seagulls, one of my very first favorite bands, was issuing what would be their commercial swansong with The Story Of A Young Heart.

The More You Love, The More You Love got a bit of radio play where I lived and, as MTV had finally reached our part of the world, I do recall seeing the video a handful of times. The song wouldn’t reverse the Liverpool quartet’s fortunes, but it’s actually a very catchy track.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
from Glorious Results Of A Misspent Youth (1984)

Cherry Bomb – originally performed by Jett’s previous band, The Runaways – is about as gloriously elemental as a rock song can be and proof that oftentimes there is no need to reinvent fire.

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.


A Waste Of Gunpowder And Sky*

July 4, 2012

Today’s the Fourth of July
Another June has gone by
And when they light up our town I just think
What a waste of gunpowder and sky

– Aimee Mann

I’m not sure when it happened. It was probably some time in my teens when my cadre of friends included one with pyromaniacal inclinations to such a degree that he and another friend brought home dynamite purchased in Tijuana during spring break.

Things exploding accompanied by colorful flashes, once an annual treat of controlled carnage for the senses, was reduced to a common weekend occurence.

Instead of fireworks being the focal point, the Fourth Of July had become a day of overt demonstrations of patriotism and weathermen assuring viewers that it won’t rain no matter which way the wind was actually blowing.

A friend once accused me of hating America and I can’t say that I’ve ever felt truly patriotic, at least not in some palpable fashion akin to someone who’s had an indescribable religious experience.

I explained that I believed there to be a difference between the concept of America and the execution, a distinction that some self-declared patriots seem to have difficulty in making.

The concept is brilliant, but the execution has become a bit muddled and held hostage by portions of the population with their own agendas.

The patriotism I often observe seems to be underpinned by some zero-sum logic – “you’re either with us or against us.”

To hear some people speak, one would almost believe that the people outside our borders are begrimed and oppressed, shackled and yolked with every breath taken under the ever-watching eyes of the nefarious and the godless.

(some certainly are)

But, I’ve traveled a bit and, surprisingly, there’s an awful lot of people out there in other lands who go about there lives much as we do here in the States.

They shop.

They get drunk and suffer hangovers.

They enjoy their sports.

They sing and dance.

They do good things and they do bad.

They bitch about their government and they bitch about the weather.

They love their children.

They’re not much different from us aside from sometimes wearing unusual hats.

My grandparents emmigrated here from Italy and, at least on one side, I suspect they might have been asked to leave.

If great-grandfather hadn’t been a dodgy character, perhaps I’d be an olive rancher right now, wearing a large, floppy hat and fretting over this year’s crop. I’d be nursing the wounds caused by Italy’s recent failure to win the Euro Cup. These words, written in English, might make no sense to me.

Would my life be better or worse?

It likely would be nothing more than different. I suspect, though, that I’d still believe in the concept behind America. It would merely be accompanied by more pasta and more wine.

It’s the Fourth Of July. Americans will celebrate with fireworks and shows of patriotism that, without ackowledgment of the concept behind the country, will be mostly just gunpowder and sky.

It’s the concept, though, that the true patriots have fought to defend, not a flag (or a flag pin) or the fanfare or even a geographic point on a map – the promise held by a concept that many people in many countries strive to fulfill in ways that might be slightly different but not truly that different at all.

Here are four songs for the day…

Aimee Mann – 4th Of July
from Whatever (1993)

I actually had the opportunity to hear this song several years before it was released on Mann’s solo debut Whatever. An acquaintence had demos of most the album and this track, along with the equally somber Stupid Thing, was a highlight of that record.

Bruce Springsteen – 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
from Live/1975–85 (1986)

Possibly more than any other song in the E Street Band’s catelog, 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) is closely associated with the late Danny Federici, who played accordion on the wistful song.

X – 4th Of July
from See How We Are (1987)

For all of their acclaim and status as punk pioneers, I’ve never enjoyed X as much as I’ve thought I should.

(does everyone have acts that fall into that category?)

However, I’ve always loved 4th Of July, a sketch of urban life from See How We Are.

U2 – 4th Of July
from The Unforgettable Fire (1984)

Having adopted U2 as my band following War and Under A Blood Red Sky, I was eagerly anticipating The Unforgettable Fire in the autumn of 1984. When Pride (In The Name Of Love) hit radio, my anticipation multiplied exponentially.

And then, I purchased the album the week of release and was confused.

Who was this Daniel Lanois and what had he done to my band? Much of the muscle and jagged edges had been replaced by moody, watercolor soundscapes and experiments like 4th Of July.

I was unimpressed.

However, by The Joshua Tree, this evolution made sense and I grew to fully appreciate The Unforgettable Fire. It is the one album in U2′s catalog that sounds better to me now than it did upon its release.