It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.

The Cabin

July 3, 2010

Not long ago, someone asked me to name my favorite place that I’ve ever visited and my brain immediately locked onto faraway places like Dublin, Paris, and Hong Kong.

However, over the past couple weeks, childhood memories have nudged a locale far closer and far less exotic into mind.

Sure, if anyone wants to hook Paloma and me up with round-trip tickets to Dublin, Paris, or Hong Kong, those tickets will be used, but – at this moment, here in the midst of summer – the place I think I’d most like to spend some time is a small cabin, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains in Upper Turkeyfoot Township.

Growing up, most summers would include two weeks spent in Western Pennsylvania, visiting relatives – a trek that lost appeal mere hours after arriving.

However, most summers, as much as a week of that time would be spent at the cabin belonging to a great aunt and uncle. It had been passed down to my aunt from her father who had purchased the rustic outpost not long after World War II.

It was place that was strictly a getaway where my father, his brother, and other relatives had often headed for some hunting during the winter months. Though hardly luxurious, it had considerable charm.

Provisions would be purchased at a small gas station that had a general store in a speck of a town nearby and the stocks would be replenished by periodic return trips.

The cabin was situated near several others on a dirt road that ran parallel to Laurel Hill Creek and up to a state road which passed over a small dam. Other, similar dwellings were spread throughout the area, usually clustered in threes and fours with some larger, more posh getaways sitting alone.

The days would be sunny with highs in the upper 70s or low 80s and little humidity – nothing but pure sunshine that warmed the spirit. My brother and I would head down the stone steps to the creek – which was no more than thirty yards from the cabin – and wade about in the water or fish from a perch on the rocks.

Oftentimes, the two of us would head out with our father and uncle and take a rowboat kept near the dam to do some fishing in the late afternoon or merely to explore the numerous channels.

In the evening, as dusk arrived and dinner digested, the family would sit on the screened-in back porch and the adults would talk or the radio would be tuned in to KDKA and to a Pittsburgh Pirates game.

If it was late enough in the summer, there might be a Steelers preseason game we’d watch through the snowy reception on the television.

When everyone would finally retire for the night, my brother and I would sack out on the couches on the back porch. I’d lie there in the cool, mountain air and stare out through the screen at the stars with the sound of the creek lulling me to sleep.

The last summer that we made the trip to the cabin was in ’82. I was headed to high school that autumn and my brother would do the same a year later. It became more difficult to coordinate schedules to make annual trips back east.

Here are four songs that I remember hearing while scrolling through the radio dial at the cabin during the late summer of ’82…

Asia – Only Time Will Tell
from Asia

Asia’s debut had been in my cassette player for most of the summer of ’82. By the time we made the journey to the mountains that year, Heat Of The Moment had given way to the album’s second single, Only Time Will Tell.

As much as I dug each and every track on Asia, from the first listen, Only Time Will Tell was the song I wanted to play repeatedly.

It was grand, majestic and an epic musical melodrama.

Or, it was overwrought, flaccid and a total sell-out for the band’s storied personnel.

I was fourteen, so it was the former.

John Cougar – Jack & Diane
from American Fool

Johnny Hoosier, as my friends and I called him, had gone from local, Indiana singer to the man with one of the summer’s biggest hits with Hurts So Good.

But I’d only heard Jack & Diane a few times on the radio before we headed out on vacation.

Two weeks later, when we returned home, I was hearing the song a half-dozen times or more a day.

Frank Zappa – Valley Girl
from Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch

I haven’t listened to a lot of Frank Zappa’s music, but I have encountered a few memorable characters that were insane for his work.

I thought that Valley Girl was fun, but the culture, trappings, and slang mocked in the song didn’t really take in the corner of the American midwest where I was growing up.

In fact, it seemed like the song was everywhere for a few days and then the stations I was listening to never played it again. It was as though it had never happened.

Journey – Only Solutions
from Tron soundtrack

As summer ended in ’82, Journey’s Escape had spent a year as one of the best-selling albums in the US. I actually remember hearing Who’s Crying Now for the first time on the drive home on our vacation the previous year.

During that year, there were the big hits – Don’t Stop Believin’, Open Arms, Still They Ride – but I heard almost every track from Escape on the radio at one time or another. They could have put out anything and it would have gotten played.

So, I suppose it wasn’t surprising that stations would jump on Only Solutions, a song that the band contributed to the soundtrack to the movie Tron. The flick was cutting edge at the time, but, for all the hype, it was a bit of a flop. I didn’t see it when it was in the theater and I don’t recall any of my friends seeing it either.

But I liked Only Solutions. Though it wasn’t quite as good as the best stuff from Escape, it was new stuff from Journey and that was good enough for me.

An Oasis Called Pizza Hut

July 7, 2009

There was no such thing as air conditioning when I was a kid. It existed, but we didn’t have it – not in our house, not in our school, not in the family car.

The last situation made for tense times on six-hour drives to Western Pennsylvania for vacation each summer.

Perched on the couch the other night, the drone of the central air was comforting, lulling me into a drowsy state. I was still coherent enough to have a personal revelation during a television commercial.

As a kid, Pizza Hut was nirvana.

Sure, it’s mediocre pizza, but how many times have you run across pizza that was truly inedible – especially as a kid?

(I could probably count mine on one had)

My hometown had Pizza Haus as the one establishment singularly devoted to purveying pie. It wasn’t bad but hardly the place you rave to friends about years later in one of those mindless discussions that occur shortly after one in the morning at some bar.

It was pizza. It was greasy. It was ours.

(and a place where we enjoyed heckling the town drunks)

The nearest Pizza Hut was twenty minutes away in a thriving megalopolis of ten thousand best known for the tree which grew from the roof of the courthouse.

Times were catatonic.

But there was a Pizza Hut. It was air-conditioned and dimly lit. There was pizza. And, once I was in high school and my friends and I could procure transportation (usually without prior consent of our biological guardians) and escape there, the juke box was of great importance, too.

Those treks rarely ended without souvenirs. One friend had a dozen of those red, plastic glasses at home (I believe he told his mom that they were free with a purchase). We once even made off with a pan pizza pan which another friend’s father was surprised to find in his trunk.

As much as those antics were important in keeping my friends and I occupied, it was those family vacations during which the familiar architecture of Pizza Hut was salvation – a brief respite from hunger, heat, and the drudgery of the road.

The (usually) annual pilgrimage that occurred in 1981 was memorable to me as radio was a new interest and, thus, a new way to pass the time with an eye scanning the horizon for that familiar red roof.

Some of the songs I recall hearing on that trip…

Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
from Mistaken Identity

I wasn’t exactly taken at the time with Kim Carnes’ mysterious, new-wave tinged take on this Jackie DeShannon song. That was unfortunate because it was simply inescapable that summer.

Over the years, it’s grown on me considerably and I dig the raspy vocals of Carnes.. And, in a brush with semi-greatness, I once bumped into her at Kroger’s. She was hidden behind a large pair of sunglasses, but it was definitely her buying a carton of eggs.

Jim Steinman – Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through
from Bad For Good

I like Meat Loaf. He seems like an affable, eager-to-please fellow whom you could depend on in a jam. I think I’d like to be his neighbor

The reason I mention Meat Loaf is because it was singing the songs of Jim Steinman that brought him to global fame. Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through was on Steinman’s lone solo album, released during the long wait for Meat Loaf to follow-up Bat Out Of Hell.

It’s gloriously bombastic. If you’re going to go big, you might as well go Spectorian.

Journey – Who’s Crying Now
from Escape

I distinctly remember hearing Who’s Crying Now for the first time on that vacation and, by the time it finished, I was already surfing the radio dial in hopes of hearing it again.

I wouldn’t even hazard to guess how many times I heard it during that two-week stretch. I am certain that it must have been enough times that had my family bludgeoned me to death with the lid from the cooler and left me for dead on the side of the interstate somewhere in West Virginia, they would have been acquitted.

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, Foreigner 4 is a fantastic, straight-ahead rock record and I never really understood the critical angst over their records up through this one. Of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner on the radio was omnipresent.

Sheena Easton – For Your Eyes Only
from For Your Eyes Only soundtrack

I confess that the only James Bond movie that I have ever seen is A View To A Kill (it’s a rather shameful admission, I suppose). I like James Bond, but, if he was a neighbor of me and Meat Loaf, I can’t imagine he’d let us use his pool or go bowling with us.

Anyhow, Sheena Easton was a bit too unremittingly perky for me, but I did/do like For Your Eyes Only. Blondie actually was supposed to do the theme to the James Bond flick of the same name, and I like their song, too (even though it is an entirely different song).