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.


At Least Cooper Huckabee Got To Keep His Pants On*

July 7, 2011

I was channel surfing the other day and happened upon a station where the closing credits to the movie Urban Cowboy were rolling.

Perhaps because I can be amused by something as simple as a piece of toast, I watched as the names scrolled across the screen. One caught my eye – Cooper Huckabee.

It was an unusual name and it was nowhere near the top of the cast, but it made me wonder about this fellow as I had never heard of him and Urban Cowboy was released in the early ’80s.

Was this Mr. Huckabee’s fifteen minutes of fame?

I wondered what his life was like during the time the movie was filmed.

Was he a struggling waiter/actor who had finally landed a role in a major motion picture?

Did he make excited phone calls home (maybe some small town in the hinterlands of Iowa) telling family and friends that he had finally made it?

Did his parents breathe a sigh of relief?

Did their disappointment that young Cooper had abandoned a college scholarship or their plans for him to take over the family feed store to pursue an acting career turn to pride?

Did his hometown newspaper do a feature story on him and the mayor give him the key to the city on “Cooper Huckabee Day” as most of the town’s 2,000 residents watched?

Did he believe that this would be the stepping stone to his becoming the next Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino?

Does he regret abandoning the family business now that it is thirty years later and his career hasn’t followed such a star-bound trajectory?

I also wonder about Don McManus.

McManus has appeared in over 80 movies and television programs in mostly bit parts, including an episode of Seinfeld.

He also had a role in The Shawshank Redemption, a movie that is one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of all time.

If you’ve seen the movie, he appears in one of the iconic scenes, one in which Tim Robbins’ character locks himself in the warden’s office and plays an opera recording over the prison loudspeaker. It’s a powerful scene and one in which McManus gets most of his screen time.

Unfortunately, much of that screen time consists of him sitting on a toilet, reading a comic book as he, in his character’s words, “pinches a loaf.”

I wonder if he has mixed emotions about being in such a pivotal scene of such an acclaimed movie with his trousers around his ankles. I wonder if his grandchildren will brag about his cinematic career, pointing to that scene as the highlight of his work.

Maybe my musings concerning these two fellows are rooted in wondering what it’s like to get so close to your wildest dreams only to fall just short of it being everything for which you might have hoped.

I didn’t see Urban Cowboy when it was in the theaters during the summer of 1980 but – though I wasn’t quite interested in music, yet – I do recall hearing several songs from the soundtrack on the radio at the time.

Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart during this week in 1980…

Ali Thomson – Take A Little Rhythm
from Take A Little Rhythm

Ali Thomson is not only from Scotland, but his brother Doug was the bassist for Supertramp.

I remember hearing Take A Little Rhythm often at the pool during the summer of 1980 and it shuffles up periodically on the iPod. Yet, I couldn’t recite to you more than a few words of lyric aside from the titular ones.

I don’t want to know. I just want it to be a laid-back little song that feels like summer to me.

George Benson – Give Me The Night
from The George Benson Collection

Guitarist George Benson cut his teeth performing straight-ahead jazz with organist Jack McDuff as well as performing with the great Miles Davis. In the ’70s and early ’80s, Benson also notched a number of pop hits with songs like This Masquerade, On Broadway, and Turn Your Love Around.

Give Me The Night – written by Rod Temperton who would pen several hits on Michael Jackson’s Thriller – is a silky smooth ode to nightlife with a light disco feel.

Joe Walsh – All Night Long
from Joe Walsh’s Greatest Hits

Like Cooper Huckabee, the laid-back groove of All Night Long appeared in Urban Cowboy.

I should probably delve into Joe Walsh’s ’70s stuff as it seems to be fairly well regarded. I know most of his stuff from the ’80s as my high school buddy Bosco was a fan and, during the latter half of the decade, a college roommate and I were greatly amused with Walsh’s Got Any Gum?

I also recall Glenn Frey, Walsh’s Eagles bandmate, doing commercials for some health club at the time. One popped up late one night while I was watching television with another roommate. The commercial ended and, still staring stupified at the screen, he noted, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

The Pretenders – Stop Your Sobbing
from The Pretenders

From the debut by The Pretenders, the jangling Stop Your Sobbing is a cover of a song written by future paramour of lead singer Chrissie Hynde (Ray Davies) and produced by a man (Nick Lowe) who would later write a song (I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll) alledgedly about the ex-wife of a former co-worker of mine.

That must mean something.

*reconfigured from a July 22, 2008 post while my head heals


Thank You For The Music, Mona

September 30, 2010

As I entered seventh grade, the decade of the ’80s was less than ten months old and music was something in which I had minimal interest.

On the first day of school that September, I learned that I had been assigned a new teacher for my homeroom class.

She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five, a young blonde female in a school in which half of the teachers were nuns.

Really, really old nuns.

Our town was small and the kids in my seventh grade class were kids I had known since we’d started school. We had never had a teacher like Mrs. Winston – so young and so blonde.

It’s no surprise that the guys in our class took slack-jawed note of her, but so did the girls. She could have stepped from the glossy cover of a magazine.

She looked like the The Beach Boys’ California Girls sounds.

She’d wear a green sweater dress with knee-high, tan boots and little make-up.

She was a natural beauty.

I’m not sure where Mona was from, but, if I recall her voice, there was a slight drawl that makes me think Texas would be a good guess. And she was married to an attorney.

My male classmates and I were reaching an age at which hormones were taking the first hostages. Our locker room now sounded like a locker room.

The merits of the girls in our class were often discussed, but as most of us had no experience with those of the double-x chromosomes, much of the banter was merely speculative.

And though less-accessible women such as Cheryl Tiegs, the actresses on Three’s Company, or the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders might also enter into our conversations, Mona never did.

Maybe it was because she was so geniunely kind and, unlike most adults we knew, treated us kids as intelligent beings.

Maybe it was because she was so casual and real.

Though my classmates and I were well aware of Mona’s beauty, I don’t recall any of us viewing her with anything more than respectful awe.

But, for more than her aesthetic virtues, Mona was memorable for providing fuel for the small flicker of interest I had in music.

As September morphed into October, more and more recesses were spent stuck inside as a grey rain fell outside. Mona brought in a turntable and encouraged us to bring in our albums. So, as we were all scattered throughout the classroom during those rained-out recesses, there was constant jockeying to play DJ.

I owned little music at the time – a couple albums that had been gifts, maybe a dozen 45s – but as I played tabletop football with friends, I was hearing Queen’s The Game, AC/DC’s Back In Black, and The Cars’ Panorama.

Most of the albums played were current and most had a song or two that had been hits. Though I didn’t know much music, I wasn’t totally in the weeds.

Soon, being trapped indoors at lunch wasn’t such a bummer and, for the first time, I was actively listening to music.

By the time the school year ended, I was hooked.

Mona – her taste in music was light rock. So, here are a quartet of songs from some of the albums she brought in for those recess listening sessions from thirty autumns ago…

Christopher Cross – Sailing
from Christopher Cross

I don’t think I would take the plunge and – like some five million other people in the States – buy a copy of Christopher Cross until months later (perhaps with money received at Christmas), but Sailing had been the song of the summer and I couldn’t hear it enough.

Ride Like The The Wind, Sailing, and a couple more hits that I’d heard on the radio led me to purchase the cassette, but the fact that it was a favorite of Mona’s no doubt added to the album’s cachet for me.

Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List
from Voices

Although Kiss On My List wouldn’t become a hit (and a massive one at that) until the following spring, I recall that the song was the one that Mona referred to her as her favorite when she played it for us in the fall of ’80.

From the stutter-step opening, Kiss On My List hooks me when I hear it. It’s lighthearted, playful, and has a fantastic chorus.

Air Supply – Every Woman In The World
from Lost In Love

Like Christopher Cross, Australia’s Air Supply arrived on the scene in 1980 and had already notched a couple of huge radio hits with Lost In Love and All Out Of Love by the time we were closing in on autumn.

I liked the group. The songs were breezy and light and, at the age of twelve, I assumed that these Aussies had love figured out since it was the subject of every song. I’m sure that I surmised their music could offer me valuable insight into charming the ladies.

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

On the other side of the Australian coin…Back In Black wasn’t an album that Mona brought in, but she didn’t keep us from playing it when one of my classmates dropped it onto the turntable.

I’m not so sure that she dug the album, but millions of the other humans did.

(and, like Air Supply, AC/DC had advice for us about the ladies)

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.