Holding Auditions In My Head For A Potential Imaginary Friend*

August 24, 2011

As I often remind Paloma, my childhood was spent in the hinterlands of the Midwest, right past where the flat Earth ends, amidst a lot of corn. Its charm is far more apparent given time and distance.

Paloma has heard me recount tales of my years in the wild. There was no MTV because there was no cable. And new music was not easily attainable. Life was often accentuated by imagination out of necessity and, yet, I never had an imaginary friend.

The last item came to my attention the other night when I happened across my copy of The Essential Calvin And Hobbes. The comic strip, which ran for a decade or so beginning in the mid ‘80s was drawn by Bill Watterson, whose been quite reclusive and rarely (never?) has licensed the use of the characters.

Calvin was a hyperactive and imaginative six-year old tyke; his constant partner-in-crime was a stuffed tiger, Hobbes who was as real to Calvin as anyone else. I can’t do them justice in writing, suffice to say it’s good stuff.

Reacquainting myself with the duo, I wondered if I had missed an important childhood trinket, so I held an audition in my head for such a sidekick.

The name Captain Erving popped into my head. I’m thinking it must be some subconscious homage to the great Dr. J, so I kind of like it. And, for some reason (perhaps some subliminal, nautical influence due to repeated viewings of Jaws), I envision Captain Erving, my potential imaginary friend, as a lobster.

It does seem like a lot of responsibility, though, this imaginary friend business. And, I’d much rather have a dog.

I have nothing in my head right now, so here are four songs about the contents of other people’s heads…

The 6ths (featuring Georgia Hubley) – Movies in My Head
from Wasps’ Nests

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Electric Light Orchestra – Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
from Strange Magic: The Best of Electric Light Orchestra

Though ELO had no shortage of hits with upbeat stuff, Jeff Lynne and company were equally adept when they opted to slow things down as on the lovely ballad Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, which became the group’s first major single in the States.

The Cars – Got A Lot On My Head
from Candy-O

I think that I could pick random track after random track from the catalog of The Cars and I’d hit something that would make happy most of the time.

There’s a lot of classic stuff there and the rest is, at the very least, usually a lot of fun like Got A Lot On My Head.

Shonen Knife – Tomato Head
from Rock Animals

From the country that gave us Godzilla, the all-female trio Shonen Knife were darlings of the alternative rock world in the ’80s. I heard songs here and there and was charmed by their zany brand of garage band pop, but never enough to own anything

I did snag a promo of 1993’s Rock Animals which featured the blissfully enigmatic (and slightly menacing) Tomato Head.

There was also a nifty little 3D reproduction of the album cover enclosed in some of the CDs like a Crackerjack prize.

Aliens, Monks And The Kumbaya Moment

October 6, 2010

I stumbled down a rabbit hole in cyberspace the other day. One moment I was reading the comments on an article posted on Newsweek‘s site; the next I was searching for information on one of the commentator’s claims.

The comment referenced speculation about what would happen in 2012.

According to a piece in the India Daily from six years ago, Tibetan monks expect aliens to arrive in 2012 , clink the heads of the humans together like Moe did the other Stooges and get us to quit engaging in jackassery.

There are also folks that believe aliens have bases in the Himilayas.

It’s entirely possible I suppose.

It seems that every religion on the planet has followers that are militantly enthusiastic, but, if there are militant Buddhists, I haven’t heard about them.

Traveling in Thailand, I often saw Buddhist monks, clad in their bright orange robes. It was not uncommon to come across one of them sitting in prayer or meditation in the middle of the sidewalk as the flow of pedestrians gave a respectful berth.

After travelling however many thousands of light years to some strange world, who wouldn’t opt to attempt communication with the beings that seem to be calm, cool, and collected?

(as opposed to the ones behaving like poop-flinging monkeys)

It makes total sense that Buddhist monks would be sought out by the aliens.

As someone that is still transfixed when I happen upon Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, I hope that this forthcoming alien experience resembles the one in that movie.

The visitors arrive with a lightshow that dazzles the humans with the ultimate – and peaceful – display of shock and awe.

Then, Buddhist monks make the introductions.

The bobble-headed, child-like aliens are a global sensation.

Children love them.

Adults are charmed by them.

Madonna makes an embarassing attempt to adopt one.

The world’s leaders are called to the mothership for a trip to the galactic principal’s office and everyone on planet Earth gets a whole lot more humble.

(given the situation in Tibet, I’d think the Chinese would feel rather awkward)

And everyone lives happily ever after.

Yeah. It all makes sense.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind arrived in theaters in mid-November, 1977. Thirty-three years ago, I was nine-years old and eagerly anticipating the film’s release. I had minimal interest in music, but here is a quartet of songs that were on Billboard‘s charts during this week in 1977…

Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

ELO is one of those bands that is always welcome to shuffle up on the iPod. I can’t say that I’m familiar with much beyond their hits (though there were plenty of those for the band in the ’70s).

I know that the group gets slagged some for being some pale imitation of The Beatles, but, if you’re going to imitate an act, you could do far worse, yes? And Telephone Line is simply gorgeous and angelic.

The Carpenters – Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
from Gold: 35th Anniversary Edition

I’ve loved The Carpenters since hearing them on the radio during their ridiculous string of hits in the early ’70s. The radio wasn’t on too often in our household, but it was usually on in the car and, if it was on, there was rarely a long wait to hear something from the duo.

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft is a cover of a song by Klaatu (who, like ELO, had their own connection to The Beatles).

This song has really grown on me over the years. I don’t really recall hearing it back in the day, but it has a wonderfully spacey vibe, an odd, yet endearingly jaunty midsection and, as always, Karen’s voice makes it worth the price of admission.

(and, it happens to suit the subject at hand well)

Styx – Come Sail Away
from The Grand Illusion

I’ve noted that Styx – on their infamous Kilroy Was Here tour – was my first concert.

But years before, my buddy Beej’s older brother had The Grand Illusion on eight-track and I was fascinated by the cover. We’d hang out in Beej’s basement and blast the album until parental supervision intervened.

(and, like The Carpenters’ song, this one also fits this post’s themes)

Foreigner – Cold As Ice
from Foreigner

Foreigner’s debut album also has a link to an older brother. Lynn, lived in our neighborhood with Evan, who was roughly the same age as me and my other friends. Sometimes we’d shoot hoops at their house.

As I think back to then, Lynn kind of resembled a young Axl Rose and, pondering him from thirty-years of experience, was undoubtedly a stoner. He drove a black Trans-Am and he’d tear through the neighborhood, Foreigner blaring from the eight-track player in the car.

(would a stoner have listened to Foreigner in 1977?)

Though the group received little love from critics, Foreigner put out some great songs, peaking with the mega-selling Foreigner 4 in ’81. The dramatic Cold As Ice has all of the things – a nifty balance between guitar and keyboards, soaring vocals, and immediately memorable choruses – that made Foreigner a high school staple.

Sharona Would Have To Wait

February 16, 2010

During the summer of 1979, I was still a couple of years from being a teenager, so it was one of the final years where summer meant no responsibilities.

The subdivision outside our small town where we lived was still sparsely populated and there were no more than eight or nine kids roughly the age of me and my brother. It was a forbidden trek into town on our bikes, but it was one we sometimes opted to make.

But it was a lengthy trip for us and though the lure of getting to hang out more with our classmates had sway, as our town was so small, there was an almost absolute certainty of running into a number of folks who spoke to your parents on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.

Usually, we hung out in the neighborhood or roamed the many wooded areas. Because we weren’t quite old enough to be focused on girls – not that there were many our ages in our subdivision – baseball was the constant.

Most mornings, we would be out on our makeshift field by mid-morning and would play until things ground to a halt because, a) of an argument over a call, or, b) our ball would be lost in the soybean field which bordered the third base line.

(there was also an outcome c where someone intentionally hit the ball into a neighbor’s strawberry patch down the first base line which allowed us to gorge on strawberries under the pretense of searching for the ball)

Tempers usually flared more quickly when we would, invariably, reconvene after lunch before wilting in the oppressive heat and humidity of early afternoon. The games we’d put together after dinner, when the early evening provided some respite from the heat, usually fared better and we’d often play until dark.

For us, there wasn’t much interest in music. Sometimes someone might have a transistor radio, but usually our only soundtrack was au natural. That’s why it wasn’t until I returned to school in late August that I caught the buzz that had been building for months surrounding The Knack and their monstrous single My Sharona.

So, for the most part, I missed the mania surrounding the band. By the end of the following summer, baseball was struggling to retain its hold on us, as both girls and music were becoming increasingly important. And The Knack had already flamed out, partially snuffed out by an inevitible backlash to the massive success of My Sharona.

The Knack would break up after releasing Round Trip in 1981 and though they’d reunite and issue a handful of albums over the next two decades, there was no recapturing that lightning in a bottle.

And, over the weekend, word spread that The Knack’s lead singer and founder Doug Fieger has passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

According to Billboard magazine, My Sharona reached the top of the US pop chart the final week of August in 1979 – just as the school year began. It would stay there for six weeks. Here is My Sharona and a trio of other songs on the chart as my friends and I settled in for sixth grade…

The Knack – My Sharona
from Retrospective: The Best of the Knack

Though I don’t really recall hearing My Sharona on the radio, I was well aware of the song. It was on my younger brother’s copy of Chipmunk Punk and a staple of the school band’s performances during high school basketball games that winter. It was simply an unstoppable power pop song.

Though what I know of the band, from their 1992 compilation Retrospective and, years later, snagging a used vinyl copy of the debut, reveals a band deserving far more than its brief time in the spotlight. It’s also understandable that everything else was swallowed by the wake of My Sharona.

Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

Willie, my best friend in our neighborhood, had older siblings, so there was some music that had been passed down to him – some 45s from an older sister, a Nazereth Hair Of The Dog eight-track.

And he did have a handful of more current singles of his own, including Don’t Bring Me Down which, without fail, ended up on his turntable on the rare summer day when the weather kept us indoors.

Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
from Fickle Heart

Driver’s Seat is one song that I do remember from that summer more than thirty years ago. Though our town was small, we had a rather nice public pool where we spent as many days as we could and, on those days, it seemed I would often hear the wiry, nimble song playing over the loudspeakers.

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution

In late summer of ’79, Journey was still two years away from being a commercial juggernaut with Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids from junior high and high school, the song came on the jukebox. As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed, inert, and mystified by the skittering rush of hormones.