Sorting Out September*

September 6, 2012

Though it’s still quite summer during the day, the morning commute through the backroads has been one with less light and a slight chill in the air.

The chill is unmistakeably September.

As a kid, September meant that – like it or not – you were entrenched in the school year. Summer wasn’t coming back for months and months and months…

But, we would still try to squeeze as much time outside as possible, playing some hoops or football in someone’s yard until the dark ended the festivities earlier and earlier each night.

Of course, there was something about sleeping with the windows open in September. Following the heat of summer, the cool air induced drowsiness so effortlessly and completely that Pfizer or Merck would drown kittens to be able to replicate it in pill form.

Some Septembers, the night would be accompanied by the hum of machinary harvesting the crop late into the evening in the cornfield across the road. If that wasn’t the case, there was always the whisper from the interstate a mile or so down that same road.

It was a pleasant way to be lulled to dream.

And, September was a month for spectacular visuals, especially in our rural, Midwestern town.

September now brings the annual re-examination of the events that kickstarted this whole Orwellian misadventure known as The War On Terror.

And, since I no longer live in the Midwest, I haven’t gotten the full-blown autumn experience in two decades. There’s still color, but the season is far less defined.

Yeah, September is a mixed bag, man.

Perusing the files, there wasn’t much in the way of September songs that moved me. When in doubt, head for the ’80s, so here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s chart for the first week of September, 1980 – some I remember from the time, others whose acquaintence I’d make later…

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again
from Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack (1980)

I keep threatening – much to Paloma’s dismay – to cast a write-in vote for The Red-Headed Stranger in this November’s presidential election.

(and wouldn’t On The Road Again make a fine campaign song? – run, Willie, run)

Genesis – Turn It On Again
from Duke (1980)

From …And Then There Were Three… – with the wonderful Follow You Follow Me – through 1983’s self-titled album, Genesis deftly balanced their progressive past with the band’s more pop future.

Listening to the driving Turn It On Again for the first time in some time, I realize how cool of a sound Genesis had during those years.

Split Enz – I Got You
from True Colours (1980)

When Paloma and I started buying vinyl a few years ago, there was an initial burst of excitement. Paloma, in a fit of her enthusiasm which I adore, purchased ten albums by Split Enz knowing no more than a handful of songs by the Kiwi act.

It was a decision she regretted – “The members of Split Enz don’t even have as many Split Enz albums as we do.” – but the playfully creepy I Got You is still a classic from the period.

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
from Back In Black (1980)

Did people at the time realize what a perfect rock song that AC/DC had given the world with You Shook Me All Night Long?

It’s still an arresting three and a half minutes of bravado, lust, and adrenaline.

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Was (Not Was)…Was

January 5, 2011

Paloma recently mentioned a musician – a portly, mustacheod fellow and one quarter of an iconic band of the late ’60s – and I reacted with the disdain akin to that Kramer and Newman had for baseball great Keith Hernandez.

I had to remind her that several of us had unpleasant encounters with this legend at the record store where we worked and met in the ’90s.

(in one memorable incident, our jazz buyer – a burly cat in a beret – followed this character to the bookstore next door and verbally smacked him for his rude treatment to one of our clerks)

This particular record store was very large – close to 20,000 square feet – and it wasn’t uncommon to see celebrities.

I vividly recall staring out at the sales floor, bleary-eyed, early one Saturday morning and asking a puzzled co-worker, “Is that Peter Jennings?”

Al Gore, Liza Minelli, and Lauren Bacall came through while I was there as well as a lengthy list of musicians, producers and session players. It was hardly surprising to see someone like Peter Frampton, Jon Bon Jovi, or Rob Zombie browsing through the racks.

The Drunken Frenchman would often point out less recognizible luminairies like Robert Fripp, Albert Lee or session saxophonist Jim Horn.

“He’s probably got George Harrison’s phone number in his back pocket,” he said to me as he gave Horn a respectful, knowing nod from behind the counter where we stood.

Both staff and patrons usually left the celebrities in our midst alone. Often, there would be little recognition unless it was courted.

One lead singer of a successful band opted to park his limo outside the entrance in a no parking zone and had two mountains serving as bodyguards keep the aisles adjacent to the one in which he was shopping cleared.

It drew attention, but the sad thing is that I overheard more than a few customers whispering to each other and obviously having no idea who was causing the commotion.

More often than not, though, the brushes with greatness I experienced were pleasant ones and more in line with one of my first such encounters.

I hadn’t been working at the store for more than a few weeks and, though I’d seen a couple famous folk, my mind was still inclined to think that I was seeing the doppelganger of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson rather than the genuine article.

It was near our midnight close and we had already doused most of the lights. I was working in the store’s cassette department, mostly just hanging out behind the counter, chatting with a manager when a guy in a denim jacket with a mop of bushy, unruly hair and dark glasses walked into the department.

“Is that Don Was?” I asked.

This manager usually worked in the video department, listened to essentially nothing but Frank Zappa, and had a justifiable hatred of mailmen.

“Go ask him,” he suggested.

So, I did something I rarely did during my years at that store and approached him as he was browsing through the country music section.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you look just like Don Was?”

He stopped and stared at me for a moment – long enough for me to think that I’d made a poor decision. Then, with a sudden motion, he stuck out his hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

He was quite gracious and when I asked what he was working on, he told me that he’d just finished working on an album with Willie Nelson.

(the album would prove to be Nelson’s well-received Across The Borderline from ’93)

Then, in a memory that becomes more endearing as time passes, the musician/producer began to tell me how he was speaking with Brian Wilson about a project.

It was still Don Was behind the dark glasses and he was still naturally cool, but as he spoke about the legendary Beach Boy, it was obvious that he was stoked, as stoked as some goofy twenty-something kid working in a record store might be to meet Don Was.

Here are four songs that are merely a sampling of from the vast catalog of songs with involvement from Don Was…

Was (Not Was) – Spy In The House Of Love
from What Up, Dog?

The first time I ever heard Don Was was with his band, Was (Not Was), and their 1983 release Born To Laugh At Tornadoes. The eclectic album featured guest appearances from Ozzy Osbourne, Mitch Ryder, and Mel Tormé, and I used to hear the track Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like A Rubber Ball) often on 97X – the future of rock and roll.

Six years into that future, Was (Not Was) returned with What Up, Dog?, notched a Top Ten hit with Walk The Dinosaur and another Top Twenty hit with the sly, soulful dance pop of Spy In The House Of Love.

Iggy Pop – Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night
from Brick By Brick

Brick By Brick gave punk godfather Iggy Pop his greatest commercial success and even a hit single with Candy, his duet with The B-52s’ Kate Pierson, in 1990. I don’t recall, but I imagine that the record’s polish probably caused some angst for fans of the singer’s earlier work.

I dug it, though, and the album’s closer, Livin’ On The Edge Of The Night is wiry and resilient.

Johnny Clegg – In My African Dream
from In My African Dream

Johnny Clegg has a fascinating and inspiring story, certainly worthy of more than a few scant words here. The interracial make-up of his band Juluka and the politics of their songs put the members in jeopardy simply to perform in their native South Africa during the years of apartheid.

In My African Dream alternates between the slinky, light funk of the verses and a bouyant, optimistic chorus.

Willie Nelson – Graceland
from Across The Borderline

There needs to be a Willie Nelson fantasy resort. Who wouldn’t pay good money to spend a week living like Willie?

Get up early, shower, dress semi-presentably, endure a death-defying commute, and spend nine hours being a drone or get up considerably later, put the hair in pigtails, let someone else pilot the biofuel bus, and inhale.

Not a difficult choice there.


Happy Trails, Dandy Don

December 11, 2010

From the time I was ten until I had turned sixteen, one of the highlights of Monday Night Football was – at some point late in the game with the outcome no longer in doubt – hearing commentator Don Meredith croon, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

So, I was a bit bummed to hear of his death this past week.

I missed the first four seasons during which Meredith was one of the original Monday Night Football announcers. When he returned to the booth in 1977, I was becoming a devoted football fan and – finally – old enough to stay up to watch each week with greater frequency.

It was a world with a mere three television networks and no such thing as ESPN.

Monday Night Football was an event.

In junior high, Monday morning was spent discussing the previous day’s games, but, by afternoon, the conversation between (and sometimes during) classes was often about that evening’s Monday Night Football match-up.

Thus, on Tuesday, the banter amongst me and my friends was regarding Monday night’s events.

And, more weeks than not, the antics of Howard Cosell and Don Meredith would prove to be as compelling to us as the game.

(especially the latter)

We had been too young to see Meredith quarterback the Dallas Cowboys of the ’60s, but we delighted in the affable Texan and his folksy needling of Cosell. He was a constant presence in our lives during those early years of the ’80s be it announcing the games or selling Lipton tea.

Oh, as a fan of the game, I eventually learned more about Meredith’s place in its history which included him under center for the Cowboys when they lost the fabled Ice Bowl – and a trip to the Super Bowl – to the Green Bay Packers in ’67.

Then, following the 1984 season, Meredith was gone, leaving Monday Night Football and retiring to New Mexico.

“Meredith was the guy who sang in huddles, read Hemingway, shot mid-70s in golf and strummed and sipped with Willie Nelson,” wrote Brad Townsend from the Dallas Morning News in a fantastic piece on the man in retirement.

Another sportswriter noted that, though a lot of football fans might have hated the Dallas Cowboys, he knew of no one that wasn’t a fan of Don Meredith.

Happy trails, Dandy Don.

Here are four cowboy songs for the man known as the original Dallas Cowboy…

Kirsty MacColl – Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim
from Galore

The late, great Kirsty MacColl never was able to attain more than a fringe following in the States and her best-known song here would be Tracey Ullman’s cover of MacColl’s They Don’t Know which the comedienne took into the Top Ten in 1984.

It’s unfortunate that MacColl isn’t better known as she not only possessed a lovely voice, but her material was quirky, ecclectic, and usually catchy as anything out there. The lilting Don’t Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim added a bit of south of the border twang as MacColl lays down the law with an uncommitted paramour.

Willie Nelson – Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
from The Essential Willie Nelson

There needs to be a Willie Nelson fantasy resort. Who wouldn’t pay good money to spend a week living like Willie?

Get up early, shower, dress semi-presentably, endure a death-defying commute, and spend nine hours being a drone or get up considerably later, put the hair in pigtails, let someone else pilot the biofuel bus, and inhale.

Not a difficult choice there.

Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy
from I Wanna Be A Cowboy

My friends and I were greatly amused when we first heard I Wanna Be A Cowboy during the winter of our senior year of high school. It popped up now and then on the rock station we’d be listening to as we hung out on weekend nights, searching for something to do.

Then, the song was everywhere and it grew a bit tiresome.

However, listening to it again after rarely hearing it over the past twenty-five years, it’s easy to understand how we were charmed by the quirky techno-pop track that touted the joys of riding the range on a horse named Trigger (of course).

Kitchens Of Distinction – Cowboys And Aliens
from Cowboys And Aliens

The British trio Kitchens Of Distinction released a quartet of albums filled with dense, swirling walls of guitar often drenched in reverb before splitting after their swan song Cowboys And Aliens in 1995.

Paloma and I spent plenty of hours listening to both the band’s The Death Of Cool and Cowboys And Aliens. The title track of the latter expressing a longing for extraterrestrials to whisk the less accepted of this world to a more caring place.