Very Tall Humans And Light Rock In The Night

December 4, 2010

As a kid in Indiana, the town gym was packed for our high school’s basketball games.

The streets of our town were even more deserted on winter nights if Indiana or Purdue had a game on television.

And yet, though there was an NBA team in Indianapolis – a mere hour or so away – I don’t remember anyone really even knowing if the Indiana Pacers had a game most nights.

This was during the late ’70s and Bird and Magic hadn’t yet raised the profile of the NBA. My friends I were fans and the weekly game on CBS was must-see viewing, but we were fans of certain players and each of us adopted the team of our favorite as ours.

No one I knew claimed to be a Pacers fan.

(I loved the great George Gervin, so I followed – as much as I could in a pre-cable/pre-internet world – the San Antonio Spurs)

One of my first memories of the Pacers was a telethon held on the independent television station to help the team sell tickets and ensure it didn’t fold.

The team’s name was dreadfully uninspired and there was no compelling superstar.

(I have proposed to a friend that, should I acquire great wealth, I would purchase the team and rename it the Indiana Children Of The Corn)

Sometimes on weekend nights during the season, I’d catch the last quarter of a game on the same independent channel before watching Nightmare Theater.

I’d be sprawled out on the couch, watching the Pacers lose again,and be grateful I was on the couch awaiting a bad horror flick and not braving the frigid winter elements to be at the game.

But it was on such a night, in early December 1981, that I ventured to Market Square Arena to see a Pacers game. One of our neighbors had an uncle in his mid-twenties who offered to take several of us to a game.

Jay had played hoops in high school. He had height at 6’5″ or so, but he had the athleticism of a tree.

(we were impressed by the height, though)

I truly remember no details of the game aside from the fact that Indiana played the Detroit Pistons. This was a couple seasons before Detroit’s run of great teams in the ’80s and their recent history had been as pitiful as the Pacers.

I think I mostly just stared down at the court with a sense of awe. Seeing NBA players live had an element of scale that television couldn’t capture.

A few clicks and I learn that the game took place on December 4, 1981, a Friday night, and Indiana won 105-95. It was their third win in a row.

Maybe that night is a tipping point at which music was beginning to hold as much interest to me as sports. Though my memories of the game are minimal, I vividly remember the ride home. It was late, there was a light mix of sleet and snow falling, and I could barely keep my eyes open as we drove through the night.

And the radio was on, tuned to a light rock station out of Indianapolis whose call letters I can’t recall.

Here are four songs that I vividly remember hearing on that ride home…

Dan Fogelberg – Leader Of The Band
from The Innocent Age

I’ve noted before that it seems that each and every used record store I visit has plenty of Dan Fogelberg vinyl in the bins. Apparently not everyone held onto them, but the bearded troubadour sold a lot of albums in his day.

And he also had a lot of radio hits during the late ’70s and early ’80s most of which I was fairly ambivilant toward. I always enjoyed hearing the now seasonal staple Same Auld Lang Syne (especially at the holidays) and Run For The Roses will get played as long as they run the Kentucky Derby.

But of all of Fogelberg’s work with which I am familiar, it’s hard not to be drawn into the singer’s gentle ode to his father,

Paul Davis – Cool Night
from Cool Night

I was surprised when I first saw the man who gave voice to the late ’70s light rock classic I Go Crazy – he looked like a long lost Allman Brother who should be raising some hell rather than delivering melancholic ruminations on a love affair gone sideways.

Of course, Paloma and I’ve pondered Paul Davis in the past.

Rod Stewart – Young Turks
from Tonight I’m Yours

By the late ’70s/early ’80s, Rod The Mod was still having hits and selling records, but his adoption of elements from the disco craze of the time on songs like Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? and Passion had alienated some long-time fans even as it earned him new ones.

Young Turks found Stewart chasing trends again, giving the song a synthesized, New Wave vibe, but I always dug the song which chronicled the tale of Billy, Patty, and their ten-pound baby boy.

Sneaker – More Than Just The Two Of Us
from Sneaker

The group Sneaker not only took their name from a Steely Dan song (Bad Sneakers), but longtime Steely Dan (as well as Doobie Brother) guitarist produced the band’s self-titled debut.

I snagged a copy of the album trolling for vinyl and it’s definitely got that laid-back, shuffling sound so typical of Southern California pop acts of the period. Their lone hit, though, was the airy ballad More Than Just The Two Of Us that is so wispy it makes Air Supply sound heavy.


The Colonel

March 17, 2010

Growing up in a basketball-mad state and half an hour away from the school that inspired the movie Hoosiers, this time of year meant the culmination of the hoops season with the state-wide tournament.

In fact, Sports Illustrated devoted a feature story to my high school’s team during the last open tournament in ’97. That team had been ranked third in the state and, with the tournament being divvied into classes the following season (a highly contentious and unfortunate decision), the team from my hometown had become the darlings of fans statewide who hoped for one more run from a small school at the state title.

Fifteen years earlier, I was in junior high and the high school team replaced a beloved coach that had won a couple sectional titles. The new coach was greeted with the same open arms and small-town hospitality that Gene Hackman found in Hickory. But, he won and soon all was right with the world.

My freshman year, the team was loaded, led by a small forward who could have played Division I ball, opted for a smaller, Division III school and was an honorable mention All-American.

(dude was also a state-champion high jumper)

We lost two games all season.

Two.

Both games were to team from a school five times our size who had made several, recent trips to the Final Four. The first time was on their court, by a point, during the regular season.

The second time was on their court, by a point, with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen on the line.

The team which beat us went on to win the state title.

It was a fun trip to experience up close and it locked in the once-suspect coach as entenched. Two years later, I had the coach for a teacher – geometry class.

My buddy Bosco quickly dubbed him The Colonel – “Bobby Knight’s called The General, so…”

I’m not sure if it was an homage or a dig

(with Bosco, it was sometimes hard to tell)

Despite the drowsy hour – it was first period – we looked forward to The Colonel’s class. Bosco would often side-track the preceedings by bringing up the idea of dating The Colonel’s oldest daughter, a freshman.

Bosco was far more Spiccoli than scoundrel, so The Colonel played along and the two would good-naturedly banter. The Colonel often countered our antics by immortalizing us on his exams as stick figures with identifying characteristics (my stick figure had long hair, Bosco’s sported checkerboard Vans, another friend had oversized glasses, etc.).

The Colonel, like many of our teachers, was often subjected to having his house pelted with eggs on the weekends by disgruntled students. I’d see Bosco in school on Monday morning. He lived across the street from The Colonel and he’d tell of coming home in the early morning hours to find him in his yard.

“He was in his robe, hosing egg off his siding. He shook his fist at me.”

“Really?”

“No. He’s The Colonel, man. He waved.”

The Colonel was a good teacher. He seemed to enjoy it and, more so than most of our teachers, he seemed to remember that, though we were almost adult-sized, we were still kids.

I think he still was, too.

Here are some of the songs I remember during that run by The Colonel’s team in March of ’83…

Def Leppard – Photograph
from Pyromania

There are few acts that seemed to explode overnight to the degree that the Leps did with Pyromania. I’m thinking that I might have heard Bringin’ On The Heartache from their previous album, but, if I did, it wasn’t a song that got more than a smattering of airplay.

But Photograph launched like a rocket. It was as though I heard it for the first time and – twenty minutes later – the song (and Union Jack t-shirts and shorts) were everywhere. It was just one of those songs that seemed so obvious that it would be mammoth and it still sounds stellar.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
from Long After Dark

I was non-plussed by You Got Lucky (though the video was pretty cool at the time), but there was something rough and tumble about Change Of Heart that I found far more appealing. I’d argue that the song is one of Petty’s most underrated hits.

Saga – Wind Him Up
from Worlds Apart

I know that they’ve released a lot of albums during their career, but the Canadian band Saga didn’t have much success here in the US. No doubt best known for On The Loose, I much preferred the follow-up, Wind Him Up.

And, it was always fun for us to mimic lead singer Michael Sadler saying, “No luck today.”

Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On
from Something’s Going On

I’m sure that, initially, I had no idea that the voice on I Know There’s Something Going On belonged to one of the women from ABBA. And, I doubt at the time that I recognized the drumming on the song to be Phil Collins (although I’d soon become familiar with the cavernous sound that was his trademark).

Instead, I loved the thunderous sound and omnious vibe of the song. And, in retrospect, it’s odd to think of Frida’s lone hit getting played on the rock stations playing Petty, Saga, and Def Leppard that would have never touched ABBA.

As Bosco would have no doubt said, it was a one-eighty.