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


Dennis Hopper

June 1, 2010

Scrolling through the filmography of Dennis Hopper, I realized that I’ve only seen about half a dozen of his films and that several that would be considered essential aren’t on that list.

I’ve seen Straight To Hell, but I haven’t seen Giant.

I’ve seen Waterworld, but I haven’t seen Blue Velvet.

I’ve seen portions of Easy Rider and, honestly, I can’t say that it moved me.

(maybe, like Woodstock, it helped to have been there)

But, I have been a fan of Apocalypse Now since high school when my buddy Streuss used to cue it up often when we’d all end up hanging out in his den at the end of a Friday night.

Even today, one of my friends and I make attempts to rattle off some of Hopper’s manic verbiage from the flick…

…”One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics.”

That’s insane, man.

And, of course, there’s Hoosiers.

I grew up in Indiana and one of the schools in our conference was the tiny high school that provided the inspiration for Hoosiers.

In college, I attended Indiana University at a time when the basketball team was a perennial contender for the national title (actually winning it at the end of my freshman year).

So, I had a frame of reference when Hoosiers arrived in theaters at Thanksgiving in 1986. It was during the first semester of that freshman year and it was my first time home since starting school.

A handful of high school friends, also home from college, and I headed to Cincinnati one morning like we had done so many times only a year before. And, after roaming the malls and browsing for music, we caught an afternoon showing of Hoosiers.

I don’t know how accurately The Godfather movies portrays the Mafia or if Platoon is more than one man’s take on Vietnam, but I do know that Hoosiers nailed high school hoops in our part of the state.

Hooper scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayel of the town drunk Shooter, attempting to get sober, whose son is on the team.

We too had our town drunk (actually several), Duck. He was a gangly, goofy fellow who moved furtively like Don Knotts. I used to see him around town, particularly at the bowling alley and he’d affably offer a greeting.

Shooter finds redemption as an assistant coach, helping the team win a game when he has them run “the picket fence.”

(I think Duck once bowled a 300)

That Thanksgiving break, when we saw Hoosiers, was one of the last times I think so many of us were together. Over the next few years, our clan got distracted, scattered, and – for the most part – lost touch.

Duck dropped dead in his beloved bowling alley several years later.

And, now, Shooter has staggered off the court for the last time.

I have no doubt that some music was purchased on that Thanksgiving trip, but I have no specific recollection of what albums I might have snagged. Here is a quintet of songs from albums that I did acquire late that autumn…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere

Prior to his turn in The Wall, I was wholly unfamiliar with Bob Geldof and/or The Boomtown Rats. The band’s one, brief brush with US success, I Don’t Like Mondays, hit our shores a few years before music was of much interest to me (not that it likely got any airplay in our region).

By 1986 – post-Band Aid, post-Live Aid – I was well familiar with Geldof and the Rats and had collected most of the band’s catalog.

So, I was eagerly anticipating Geldof’s solo debut, Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere, and subsequently disappointed with most of it. However, I loved the moody plea This Is The World Calling which features Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet, and Lone Justice’s Maria McKee on backing vocals.

Billy Idol – To Be A Lover
from Whiplash Smile

Several of my friends had worn out Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell when it came out our sophomore year of high school. Little did we know that we wouldn’t hear from Idol again ’til we were in college.

That Thanksgiving break, he returned with a rollicking single, To Be A Lover, a cover of a late ’60s hit by soul singer William Bell.

The Pretenders – Don’t Get Me Wrong
from Get Close

Like Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders had been on a relately lengthy layoff since 1984’s Learning To Crawl, another record that had been quite popular with us during our sophomore year.

Though it wasn’t quite as strong as Learning To Crawl, Get Close was the last album by The Pretenders that I truly gave a lot of attention. And, leading things off was the energetic, giddy Don’t Get Me Wrong with its video homage to the classic British television series The Avengers.

Lone Justice – Shelter
from Shelter

Lone Justice’s self-titled debut album garnered a ton of rave reviews, but I didn’t hear it when it was released in early 1985. However, with their name still in mind, I snagged a copy of the Little Steven-produced follow-up, Shelter.

Though the title track got a lot of airplay, the album was a disappointment to those that had championed their earlier effort, criticized for being slick and over-produced. True, there is a late ’80s sheen to Shelter and less rockabilly influence, but lead singer Maria McKee possessed one of the finer set of pipes of the period and, though it isn’t as raw and immediate, the song (and album) are still worth checking out.


Who Wouldn’t Want To Live In A Treehouse?

May 29, 2010

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo of late surrounding the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back with one of the cable stations showing the original trilogy of Star Wars flicks last weekend.

I must have been one of the few people that didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back in the theater.

(at least among we humans who were present in 1980)

I saw Star Wars in the theater, but, when The Empire Strikes Back the masses descended on every multi-plex like locust. The nearest city for us to see the movie was an hour away and, on the few attempts that some friends and I made to see it, all showings were sold out.

The movie eventually arrived in our hometown theater, but, I don’t think I saw it there, either.

I honestly don’t remember where I saw it.

As for the final film in the trilogy – I didn’t even get around to seeing Return Of The Jedi when it was released in the late spring of ’83. In fact, I don’t think I saw it until it was re-released to theaters in the late ’90s.

Though I didn’t see that finale at the time, I do remember the angst caused by the Ewoks, the tribe of teddy bears that lived in the forest and helped the heroes bitchslap the empire.

The Ewoks were met with the kind of harsh disapproval usually reserved for those who club baby seals or toss dwarves.

“I hated them,” Paloma said flatly when I noted how poorly received the Ewoks had been.

As they frolicked across the screen, I understood why the masses were none too fond of these furry creatures.

The Ewoks do seem to have been designed with merchandising in mind and they were a bit precious.

However, the Ewoks were also quite resourceful, scrappy, and lived in a pretty cool village of treehouses.

And no one could accuse the Ewoks of not being green – no coastlines marinating in oil on Endor.

“So, you come across a homeless Ewok on the walk to work tomorrow, and you don’t bring it home?” I ask.

“It would upset the cats.”

(I still think that, hated or not, that Ewok would be coming to our treehouse – domestic harmony be damned)

Checking back over the music that was out during this time in 1983 – when the world was learning to hate Ewoks – there was some cool stuff. I was still listening to Top 40, but the album rock stations were an increasingly popular destination and friends were also turning me on to new music.

Here are four songs from then…

David Bowie – China Girl
from Let’s Dance

Did I even know any of David Bowie’s music at the time of Let’s Dance‘s release?

I suspect I didn’t.

Not that I wasn’t aware of Bowie. I vividly recall browsing through albums – years before I really became interested in music – and being intrigued by the cover art for albums like Diamond Dogs and Lodger.

But Let’s Dance would prove to be inescapable in ’83 and, while it was the title song that was the first single and most successful track, I much preferred the mesmerizing and mysterious China Girl that I was hearing on the album rock stations.

Tears For Fears – Change
from The Hurting

My friends and I wouldn’t acquire our driver’s licenses until the end of ’83 or early ’84, so, as the Ewoks were causing such consternation, we were more distressed by our lack of mobility.

Being stuck in our small town was underscored by the occasional visit of my friend Beej’s uncle from Cincinnati. The fellow had an enviable collection of New Wave albums, EPs, and twelve-inch singles by artists we often wouldn’t hear of until months later (or sometimes not at all).

I vividly remember Uncle Dave turning us onto Tears For Fears’ debut and I’m still puzzled as I recall him describing the duo as similar to Culture Club to us.

Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
from Killer On The Rampage

Personally, there are few songs – if any – that I so completely and absolutely associate with summer as Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue.

Maybe it’s because it seemed to come out of nowhere as the season arrived in ’83 or because it seemed to be playing constantly – on every station almost regardless of format – throughout that summer before vanishing as we headed back to school.

Peter Gabriel – I Go Swimming
from Plays Live

I knew Peter Gabriel when he released his Plays Live set in ’83. He was the unusual singer that had implored us to “shock the monkey” during the previous winter.

As for everything else in Gabriel’s catalog – be it his work with Genesis or his previous solo efforts – I wouldn’t catch up for several more years.

But WEBN and 96Rock played the hell out of I Go Swimming and there was something about the song that resonated with me. Little did I know at the time how much of a Gabriel fan I would one day be.