October

October 2, 2010

Was it just two weeks ago that the air conditioner was humming as summer’s last gasp pushed us into one final round of temperatures in the mid-90s?

(it was – I was there)

But the weather has respected the official onset of autumn as well as the arrival of October.

The air is cool and crisp and the sun is providing just enough warmth to allow us to throw every window in the treehouse open. Humans and animals are delighted as the humans drink their coffee and the animals sleep on the window sills.

Even if the past five months had not been a brutal endurance test pitting us against the sweltering heat and unremitting humidity, October has always been one of my favorite months.

I’m not entirely sure why, but the weather is likely a component as October has usually offered up an interesting and accomodating mix of meteorological conditions that often make the days pleasant and the nights perfect for sleep.

As a kid, October meant that we were deep enough into the school year that the culture shock of being back in school had passed as had the grieving process for the lost days of summer vacation. By the tenth month, most of us had adjusted to the routine of class and afterschool practices.

October meant fall break, those glorious two days that allowed us a chance to bask in every minute of the shortening days.

October also meant that we were reaching the end of the baseball season, culminating with the World Series.

(though my interest in baseball has greatly waned as an adult and, unless I am mistaken, the series has encroached on November)

And the birthdays of both my father and Paloma fall in October, which is rather important as both of them have been essential to the operation.

Personally, I’d be good with dispensing with months like February and September and adding a couple more Octobers.

October is a good egg.

October was also the month that, in 1983, I discovered the freshly minted 97X on the radio dial. It was as momentous a moment for me as the pilgrims discovering Halloween was for candymakers.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

XTC – Dear God
from Skylarking

I was familiar with XTC thanks to 97X and songs like Making Plans For Nigel and Love On A Farmboy’s Wages, but my main exposure to the British act came once I entered college and my buddy Streuss became enthralled with their quirky brand of Beatles-tinged alternative rock. In fact, Skylarking came out at the beginning of my freshman year when I was learning to live without 97X.

Dear God didn’t appear on the original version of the band’s Todd Rundgren-produced masterpiece Skylarking, but was added after the controversial song gained popularity on college rock stations.

“And all the people that you made in your image, see them fighting in the street ’cause they can’t make opinions meet about God.”

The Plimsouls – A Million Miles Away
from Valley Girl soundtrack

Like a lot of folks who weren’t living in Southern California in 1983, the first time that I ever heard The Plimsouls was in the movie Valley Girl. The power-pop band not only had a couple songs on the once difficult to find soundtrack but made a cameo as a band performing in a club.

Somehow, the jangly, kinetic A Million Miles Away was little more than a minor hit at the time.

(that the ridiculously catchy song wasn’t everywhere is inexplicable)

The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard anything else by The Nails, a Colorado band for which Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra was once a roadie, but 97X certainly played the hell out of the quirky 88 Lines About 44 Women back in the day.

Of course, with some of the song’s lyrical content it was destined to never be more than a cult hit.

Psychedelic Furs – The Ghost In You
from All Of This And Nothing

Like The Plimsouls, the British post-punk act Psychedelic Furs had music featured in Valley Girl with the song Love My Way (and would find even greater success when their song Pretty In Pink provided inspiration for the John Hughes movie of the same name).

The Ghost In You would be the first track on the Furs’ 1984 album Mirror Moves and a song that my friend Beej would discover watching WTBS’ Night Tracks late-night video show.

Beej played Mirror Moves into the ground that summer, but I never tired of the lovely and dreamy song (and still haven’t).


And Next…Domino’s Will Split The Atom

September 22, 2010

A headline that Domino’s is, for the first time, having a location near the University Of Dayton that will be open ’round the clock popped from the screen at me.

Pizza at all hours is an idea is so obvious I have to wonder if anyone at the top of the food chain at Domino’s has taken time to calculate the millions (billions?) of dollars in revenue lost by not providing drunken college students an alternative to small, square burgers sold by the dozen.

Imagine the sights you would surely see delivering pizza at four in the morning to college kids in various altered states.

(and Col. Kurtz thought he had witnessed horror in Apocalypse Now)

The concept of pizza being brought to you has to be considered one of mankind’s greatest achievements and, unlike most advances made by the humans, home-delivered pizza is not something that can be weaponized or has military applications.

As wonderful as the concept of pizza available at all hours might be, for several semesters of college I existed in an even more blissful state.

I had a housemate who was a perpetually stoned, unscrupulous manager of a Pizza Hut.

I was a couple years younger than Kirk, but when I moved into the house, I think I had already accrued more credits than he had.

The rest of our housemates were all within a couple semesters of graduating and several that had occupied the house – who had all moved in with Kirk initially – had already done so.

Mostly, he dropped acid like it was Pez, openly discussed the idea of a road trip to Chicago to kill a drifter, and took just enough credits to retain a student parking tag.

(add in pizza and it was a bit like some demented dinner theater)

And there was pizza.

On the nights Kirk worked, it was the closing shift. Half an hour or so before close, one of us would give him a call and make our requests. There were five of us, so he’d arrive home some time after midnight with half a dozen or more pizzas and bags of breadsticks.

And we would feast.

The remnants would clutter the kitchen table for days. The sliding doors to the deck were never locked and friends would come and go, helping themselves to cold leftovers. The empty boxes would eventually end up in the fireplace.

The house was drafty and barely insulated, so those cartons were much needed kindling in the winter.

Yeah, Domino’s might be mediocre pizza, but pizza at any hour of the night is an idea whose time has come.

Here are four songs that I remember from the first few days of autumn in 1988, when it seemed as though there would never again be a day without pizza…

Dreams So Real – Rough Night In Jericho
from Rough Night In Jericho

Dreams So Real were contemporaries of R.E.M. and a part of the ’80s music scene in Athens, Georgia, but I don’t recall being overly familiar with them during that time. I think I might have known their name.

I don’t remember where I heard the song Rough Night In Jericho, either. It might have been in the record store where I was working, but I tend to think it might have been late one night on MTV. It’s relatively straight-ahead rock with a bit of twang to it and a big, dramatic chorus that got my attention at the time.

When In Rome – The Promise
from When In Rome

I knew nothing about When In Rome when The Promise became a hit. I know nothing off the top of my head now except that I believe the act was a British duo. I never even heard another song by them.

But I know The Promise like the back of my hand. It pulsates and it truly sounds like it should have come out in 1983 rather than 1988. I have no trouble hearing this played as an import on 97X alongside Tears For Fears and Echo & The Bunnymen.

And for a band that pretty much vanished into the ether (this was apparently their only album), the song has been surprisingly enduring even popping up at the end of the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
from Twice Upon A Time: The Singles

I wasn’t a fan of everything by Siouxsie & The Banshees, but there was stuff that I thought was brilliant and quite inventive. They’re undeniably one of the iconic acts of modern rock.

Peepshow, on which Peek-A-Boo first appeared, got a lot of play in our record store. Peek-A-Boo was genius – a bizarrely hypnotic pop song comprised of samples, backwards masking, accordion, discordant guitar, and Siouxsie Sioux’ haunting vocals.

Michelle Shocked – Anchorage
from Short Sharp Shocked

There were a number of female acts in ’87/’88 who found mainstream success with their folk-inflected music.

(Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman being the most notable)

There were artists like Michelle Shocked who didn’t become a household names, but did earn love from critics and devoted audiences on a more intimate scale.

One co-worker at the time was rabid about Short Sharp Shocked, playing it often in our store and much to my dismay. It’s sound wasn’t really where I was then, but, twenty years later, I understand the charms of songs like the gentle Anchorage.


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.