The Clicker

March 2, 2013

clickerI was watching Pardon The Interruption the other morning before work when I heard Mike Wilbon mention something that – by his reference and my recognition – dated both of us.

The clicker.

The first people that I knew who were capable of dictating commands to the television by merely lifting their fingers would have been my grandparents.

My brother and I were gobsmacked.

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on The Clicker for a spin through the dial.

With half a dozen channels, it was a short trip, but, with the bulky controller in my grubby kid hands, I was momentarily the master of time and space with the ability to vaporize commercials with a shrug and a click.

(and I seem to recall that there was indeed an audible click)

The clicker meant power – sheer unbridled power. My brother and I behaved like jabbering idiots in its presence, coveting it as Gollum did that ring.

Unlike Gollum, there were two of us.

It would end in a brawl which would earn a swift sentence to vacate the house – as it was “too nice to be inside” – and a ban from playing with the remote as, like everything deemed for adults, it was “not a toy.”

It was sometime later in the decade when the parents replaced the television that I had known my most of my life with a new, modern edition that we finally had a remote control (of the non-click variety) in the house.

(what had seemed to be a glimpse into a Jetson-like future a few years earlier was now merely an expected convenience)

I don’t believe that my brother or I were even school-age when we had our first encounter with The Clicker which would make the introduction forty years in the past. Forty years ago, the television, not the radio, had my interest.

(and so it would remain for a half dozen years or so)

Here are four songs that were in the Top 40 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 forty years ago this week…

Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly With His Song
from The Best Of Roberta Flack (1981)

Most of the music I was hearing in 1973 was courtesy of the car radio. So, there are hits from the time that I actually remember hearing and ones with which I would become familiar during the ensuing years as I grew older and music became a part of my life.

Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song is one of the former and, as it was one of the year’s biggest hits, I recall hearing it often. Though it would be toward the end of the decade when I truly became interested in music, there was something about the lovely song that drew me in even in ’73.

Carly Simon – You’re So Vain
from Clouds In My Coffee 1966-1996 (1996)

I once asked a friend’s girlfriend if people ever noted her resemblence to Carly Simon.

She was unfamiliar with the singer, but a couple of days later, the buddy called and informed me that the girlfriend had looked up Carly on the internet; she was none too pleased with my query which is puzzling.

I don’t believe that I knew who Carly Simon was until a few years after You’re So Vain when the singer had a hit with her James Bond theme Nobody Does It Better.

Did the speculation regarding who was You’re So Vain‘s subject begin in 1973 or was that something that developed over the ensuing years?

John Denver – Rocky Mountain High
from John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973)

I seem to recall that Rocky Mountain High also served as a title for one of John Denver’s television specials at the time. I also seem to recall negotiating a cease-bedtime treaty to watch.

There he was – this long-haired fellow in the floppy hat and granny glasses, traipsing around the Rockies, communing with nature, animals, and granola-munching girls in bell-bottomed jeans with long, straight hair…

I was impressed with his style.

And I still dig the wanderlust spirit of Denver’s signature song.

King Harvest – Dancing In The Moonlight
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

It was sometime in autumn of 1972 when I started hearing Dancing In The Moonlight on the radio. The song still changes the atmosphere for me to a crisp October day as it might have been when I was four and would heard the song on the car radio.

It was my favorite song and the first 45 I ever prodded my parents to purchase.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about the song. It is ridiculously catchy and it made me suspicious that I was missing some happening communal event that occurred well after my bedtime.

(I pictured Max and the Wild Things from Where The Wild Things Are having their rumpus under the full moon as the song would play)

I still find the song groovy beyond belief. Is it possible to not be put in a better headspace listening to this song?

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“It’s Me And Fee, Drinking Buddies”*

November 18, 2012

tubesI’ve known plenty of fans with an unshakable, enthusiastic devotion to certain acts. I’ve known Dead Heads.

But, no matter how passionate these folks might be, in twenty-five years plus, no one has struck me as having more unerring passion for a band than a friend from high school.

Bosco loved The Tubes.

Bosco had more than a bit of Spicoli in him, though he attained his carefree demeanor (mostly) without additives and preservatives. There was also some Ferris Bueller in there, too.

He wasn’t a jock, the most quick-witted, or the most dashing lad in town, but there might not have been a more genuinely liked popular kid in our school as Bosco.

Bosco and some of his friends intersected with a group of mine and during our last two years of high school, I got to know him quite well and we had more than our share of misadventures.

I was with him once when he informed the cop that had pulled him over that he couldn’t give Bosco a ticket because “I have no job, no money and no future.”

(somehow, like a Jedi Mind Trick, it worked)

It’s still easy to picture him – checkerboard Vans, lank blonde hair flopping about, and the perpetually surprised yet drowsy expression he seemed to always have.

Music was the usual chatter. For the isolation of our remote hometown, Bosco had spectacular impressive taste in music. He seemed to have a bent toward literate songwriters – Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, and Mark Knopfler – during a period when these artists were not at their commercial or artists heights in the early ‘80s.

But The Tubes were all his.

He’d make collect calls to the president of their fan club – some chick named Marilyn in California – from the high school lounge during lunch.

He had pictures of him and the band, backstage, after concerts.

(we had no idea such a thing as backstage existed)

“It’s me and Fee,” – he and lead singer Fee Waybill had their arms around each other’s shoulders – “drinking buddies.”

He’d use Spooner – in tribute to the band’s guitarist Bill “Sputnik” Spooner – as a greeting.

“Hey, Spooner…”

He was a fan of the band long before it became an MTV darling with She’s A Beauty. Bosco knew all of their albums years ahead of that time.

It must have been his older brother that turned him on to The Tubes because, aside from reading about them, stuff like Mondo Bondage and White Punks On Dope was not going to be heard on the radio stations in our orbit.

I haven’t spoken to Bosco in twenty-years. The last time I saw him, we were both home from college, and things had changed. It was him, but there was no whimsy. He was focused on his fraternity and business school.

I did a bit of online sleuthing for him awhile back and the results yielded a lot of stuff involving chambers of commerce and zoning ordinances.

I couldn’t help but wonder if he still listens to The Tubes.

Nevertheless, I still listen to The Tubes. Here is a quartet of songs from Fee and friends…

The Tubes – White Punks On Dope
from The Tubes (1975)

At fourteen or fifteen years old, the wry title of White Punks On Dope alone was a source of amusement to us when Bosco was turning us on to The Tubes. It’s a nifty little bit of social commentary that manages to be a catchy stomp of a song that contains the theatrical flair that helped garnered attention for The Tubes.

The Tubes – Talk To Ya Later
from The Completion Backward Principle (1981)

I’ve heard the earlier stuff from The Tubes – courtesy of Bosco – but I was more partial to their more mainstream stuff and that’s pretty much all I own (I’ve kept my eyes open for some used vinyl with which to reacquaint myself with no success thus far).

And though The Completion Backward Principle probably mortified long-time fans of the band’s more outrageous stuff, my friends and I loved it. The slick, new-wave tinged Talk To Ya Later featured Steve Lukather (of Toto) on guitar. Infectious beyond belief, its title became our standard conversation ender for years to come.

The Tubes- She’s A Beauty
from Outside Inside (1983)

She’s A Beauty was the first time I ever heard The Tubes on the radio and the next day at school I immediately reported to Bosco that 96Rock had played the band’s new single. Two months later, the song had become the group’s only Top Ten single in the US.

Outside Inside was one of the big albums for me and my friends during the summer of ’83 (along with The Police’s Synchronicity, which was the album that summer). It’s still a song that I wont skip on the iPod.

The Tubes – Piece By Piece
from Love Bomb (1985)

Love Bomb came out in the spring of ’85, the last full year my friends and I had together before heading to college. Maybe the fact that it came and went with little fanfare might have been an omen that our group of friends was headed the way of the dinosaurs.

I don’t recall it being a bad record, just kind of uneventful. This was surprising as the great Todd Rundgren – someone else who Bosco had turned us onto – produced it. But, like She’s A Beauty and Talk To Ya Later, I can’t skip the crunchy goodness of an earworm that is Piece By Piece.


King Kong, Hippie Empowerment And The Towers*

September 11, 2012

King%20Kong%201976%20poster%201
Happening across the movie King Kong on cable the other night, something occurred to me – it might have been the most influential movie of my childhood.

I’d seen the original version watching it on the late, late show when I slept over at a friend’s house in second grade. Not long after, the hype began for the remake.

It was nothing compared to the hullabaloo for some movies now – no cable, no internet – but it seemed to begin a year before and the scope and duration was something I’d never seen at the ripe old age of eight.

I vividly recall a poster in our small-town theater of Kong, astride the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center with a Santa Claus hat perched on his noggin’.

The tagline read “Guess who’s coming for Christmas?”

I knew that it would be months after the national release before it would arrive in our town. That poster should have shown him wearing a leprechaun’s hat and clutching a bottle of Guinness.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn a lesson in patience. My dad was kind enough to drive me and several friends into the city to see the movie during our Christmas break.

I did learn a lot of other things. I learned that oil company board rooms were populated by the ruthless, the kind of men who might twirl their moustaches as a train headed down tracks to which a distressed damsel was detained.

Of course, Charles Grodin as a petroleum executive had far more panache than the corporate officers I know. They burp up banalities like “sweet spot,” “drill down,” and “bring to bear.”

Grodin uttered things like “If that island doesn’t produce huge, I’ll be wiping windshields,” “Sweet Jesus! Dear Rockefeller!” and “It’s some nutty religion – a priest gets dressed up like an ape and gets laid.”

(you don’t get such rich fare in a business meeting)

The lush island scenery and the underlying message of the movie certainly made me receptive to an environmental consciousness in a way that a Native American crying over litter in a television commercial couldn’t.

As much as Christopher Cross, viewing King Kong likely fueled in me the desire to travel. I haven’t been to Indonesia – from where Grodin and company began their voyage – but I have been to Borneo and, in Malaysia, some friends and I scaled hundreds of steps, monkeys roaming about us, to reach some cave.

Jessica Lange was fetching enough as Dwan, but blondes have never held me as entranced as they apparently do most males of the species.

(although I have been known to be drawn to vacuous girls with unusual names and a flair for the dramatic, so she must have made some impression)

King Kong was also the first movie I think I ever saw with Jeff Bridges whom I’d argue might be the most underrated actor of his generation.

Not only was Bridges the dashing man of action in the flick, he was a hippie.

(of course, at eight, any guy with long hair was a hippie to me)

It was Bridges, as a long-haired paleontologist from Princeton, who taught me that a guy with long hair could grow up to be a paleontologist from Princeton, able to tangle with large apes and woo Jessica Lange.

Years later, in my twenties and en route to London, I first visited New York City and saw the Twin Towers.

I’ve seen some things in my time.

I’ve been to Bangkok.

There are few things that have left me as jaw-droopingly stupefied as standing in front of those buildings. For me, it inspired the same sense of wonder as seeing King Kong in the theater as a kid.

It was during the first few days of 1977 that I saw King Kong. I hadn’t discovered music, yet, but there was a lot of music on Billboard’s chart in early January of that year that would someday be quite familiar to me…

Elton John – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
from Blue Moves (1976)

I can’t claim to have intimate knowledge of Elton John’s entire catalog as it does encompass four decades. I do know his extensive string of hits and I own a number of the classic albums, though, and I’d have to choose the wistful Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word as my favorite of his ballads.

Boston – More Than A Feeling
from Boston (1976)

For some reason, even though it was apparently a hit in the winter months, I think of More Than A Feeling as a summer song. Although I’m not rabid about the song, it does conjure up a good vibe for me and I’ve never quite understood the venom reserved for Boston.

Also, I find it amusing that Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit echoes the song.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Blinded By The Light
from The Roaring Silence (1976)

When I saw Blinded By The Light on the chart, I realized something – this song was likely my first exposure to Bruce Springsteen’s music.

10cc – The Things We Do For Love
from Deceptive Bends (1976)

Since Paloma and I started collecting vinyl a little over a year ago, we’ve snagged several 10cc albums and they’ve been a revelation of musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.