Children Of The Corn

April 18, 2012

Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction was released in late summer of 1987, months before I started my sophomore year of college and a year before Sweet Child O’ Mine became a smash.

I started working in a record store that autumn and, not surprisingly, most of the music to which I was listening was more likely to be seen in video form on MTV’s 120 Minutes, not Headbangers Ball.

My introduction to Guns N’ Roses came from our manager who would blare Appetite as soon as the store would close. I dug the sonic adrenaline rush of the opening Welcome To The Jungle, but I dismissed the band as just another pile of hair.

By the following autumn – with Sweet Child O’ Mine‘s breakthrough – Guns N’ Roses had reached the masses.

(our manager had fled town after supposedly embezzling store funds)

In the spring of ’89, with Appetite For Destruction still selling enough to be in the Top Ten, the EP G N’ R Lies was released and I became a fan.

For the next half-dozen years or so, Guns N’ Roses were a staple of the pop culture landscape, much of the time for something lead singer Axl Rose had done, like start a riot.

(or hadn’t, like show for a concert)

Despite all of the nonsense, I couldn’t help but pull for Axl throughout the years.

Perhaps he was some spoiled, megalomanical brat.

Perhaps he was simply misunderstood.

But, he was a fellow Hoosier.

I could picture Axl as some small-town ne’er-do-well who might have hung out with my childhood buddy Will’s older brother.

And I couldn’t see the opening of the video for Welcome To The Jungle – Axl, a long-haired Midwestern punk stepping off a Greyhound in seedy mid-’80s Hollywood – and not think of a college housemate, a long-haired Midwestern punk and fifth-year senior working the closing shift at a Pizza Hut, at the time.

Axl was some guy I might have known who had made it out and was in the biggest band in the world.

As Axl and Guns N’ Roses were first taking the world by storm, I had never been more than a few hundred miles from home.

Most of the kids with whom I had grown up, most of the kids with whom Axl had grown up could likely make such a claim. The outside world was just that.

Our world was corn and basketball.

I love both, but there was a lot of corn, fields of the stuff in all directions – no matter where you live – in much of the state.

(there was just so…much…corn…)

It can make a kid growing up there a bit touched.

Sitting on the couch, blowing off class and watching MTV, seeing Axl shriek a love song to the daughter of one of the Everly Brothers as he shimmied with the mic stand…it seemed strange to think that he was once one of us.

It’s still hard not to pull for him.

Here are four songs from acts with Indiana connections…

The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back
from Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969)

I probably first knew of The Jackson 5 through their Saturday morning cartoon and likely didn’t realize that Michael and his siblings were from Gary, Indiana – no more than a couple hours away.

There’s really nothing to write about the ebullient pop/soul/bubblegum classic I Want You Back that hasn’t been said, but it’s still amazing to think that it’s a ten-year old singing the song.

Van Halen – Runnin’ With The Devil
from Van Halen (1978)

Yes, David Lee Roth is a Hoosier.

Indiana 1, California 0

Blind Melon – Galaxie
from Soup (1995)

I might have been one of the few people at the time that didn’t reach a point where Blind Melon’s No Rain and the “Bee Girl” would provoke visceral, involuntary rage. I still find the song winsome and charming.

Their follow-up album, Soup, received good notices, but was struggling to replicate its predecessor’s success when charismatic lead singer Shannon Hoon overdosed in late October, 1995.

As a fellow Hoosier, I felt especially bummed out at the news.

Galaxie, supposedly inspired by Hoon’s car, alternated between a melody that shifted from jittery to almost ethereal and back again with an effortlessness that draws me in each time I hear it.

Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds – Shuffle It All
from Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds (1992)

Debates about who does or doesn’t constitute Guns N’ Roses aside, guitarist and co-founder Izzy Stradlin was arguably the most musically indispensible member of the band.

Stradlin walked away from Guns N’ Roses not long after the release of Use Your Illusion in the autumn of ’91. Stradlin’s self-titled release with his band Ju Ju Hounds – with appearances from Ron Wood and Nicky Hopkins – was a favorite with the staff of the record store where I was working.

And, Ian McLagan adds Hammond on the laid-back and groovy Shuffle It All.

Diamond Dave And Me

June 5, 2010

After doing eighteen months wearing a paper hat at McDonald’s – learning to respond and react like a lab rat to the beeps, buzzers, and lights that told me when to pull the burgers from the grill – I felt that the institution had little more to offer me.

As school ended in late May in 1986, I ended up with a new gig, working for a Fortune 500 company that employed the lion’s share of my hometown’s population. I was part of the maintenence crew.

I’d snagged the job because the department’s head was the father of one of my girlfriend’s friends. No more being cooped up in a sweltering kitchen, clad in polyester pants and an apron, marinating in a mixture of sweat and grease.

Yes, I would spend the summer outside, but it was a shock to the system to learn that I’d be reporting at 6:30 each morning, an hour that I no longer recognized during summer months.

The day would begin with the ten or so of us that made up the department meeting in our subterranean bunker as our boss, my high school classmate’s father, briefed us on mundane things like safety, reminding us that we were to wear “trousers” and not shorts.

Then, we’d head out. Most of the department had actual maintenence duties – tasks involving wrenches, screwdrivers, and such.

My partner and I were responsible for the grounds.

As our town was so small, I knew everyone in the department even though most of the guys were twice my age or more. My partner happened to be an older brother of two good friends, Smart and Dumb, twins that I had known since I was six.

Diamond Dave, as we called him, had just graduated from college, having spent eight years earning a degree in engineering.

Dave had adopted a slacker attitude a good half decade before such a thing became fashionable. He was a man ahead of his time.

We got along famously.

We’d load up our pickup with the tools of our temporary trade – weedeaters, lawn mowers, mulch – and Dave would squeal the tires as we pulled away from the garage, much to the chagrin of our co-workers and boss.

For the rest of the day, we were on our own, with each day of the week devoted to a different portion of the company’s vast properties in a different area of town.

Thursday was my favorite day as it was spent at the company’s small airport located out in the country amidst nothing but farmland for as far as the eye could see. It was on those isolated country roads en route that Dave taught me to drive a stickshift.

There were few employees at the airport – which consisted of a few buildings, a large hangar, and two runways – and the mowing was easy – long, straight strips of green that afforded lengthy periods of daydreaming.

It was hot and it was tiring work, but we were young and, for Dave and I, it was nothing more than a summer gig. I was headed to college in August; Dave would be hired for a job in his field with the same company soon after.

We’d speed down those narrow backroads, fields of corn and soybean all around, with hardly a care in the world. Drive the truck, mow some grass, maybe paint a fence or two, and make money.

Some of the money was stashed for school and some would end up being spent hanging out with friends – including Dave’s brothers – that evening or weekend.

It might have been the best job I’ve ever had.

The radio in our truck had dodgy reception, but we were able to pull in a couple of rock stations. Here are four songs that we were hearing that summer…

GTR – When The Heart Rules The Mind
from GTR

Four years earlier, I’d worn out my cassette of Asia’s self-titled debut. By 1986, the group had released two anemic follow-up albums and my tastes were moving in an entirely different direction.

Still, I was curious when former Asia (and Yes) guitarist Steve Howe joined with original Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett to form GTR. The first single, When The Heart Rules The Mind, hit radio and was enough to get me to purchase the full album (which I think I listened to a few times and filed away).

Icehouse – No Promises
from Measure For Measure

I knew Australia’s Icehouse from hearing their song Icehouse on 97X. Of course, while I would have much preferred listening to 97X as Dave and I went about our day, there was no way of pulling in my favorite station.

However, No Promises got a bit of airplay on one of the stations we could get and the dreamy, hypnotic track was one that I was always happy to hear. It reminded me of This Is Not America, the collaboration between David Bowie and Pat Metheney from a year earlier.

John Eddie – Jungle Boy
from John Eddie

Goofy and raucous, Jungle Boy was made for blaring from the radio on a hot, summer day. In some alternate universe, I imagine the inhabitants are sick of hearing Jungle Boy at sporting events and Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll (part 2) is largely forgotten.

David Lee Roth – Yankee Rose
from Eat ‘Em And Smile

While I was toiling in the sun with Diamond Dave during the summer of ’86, the other Diamond Dave was in tribal gear, demanding a jelly doughnut from a convenience store clerk, in the opening of the video for Yankee Rose.

Though Roth had notched a couple solo hits from his Crazy From The Heat EP from the previous summer, Yankee Rose served as his first release since actually exiting Van Halen. Meanwhile, Van Halen had released their first record since replacing Roth several months earlier.

Both albums were successful, but things would never be the same.