Elvis Vs. Rain Man

April 20, 2011

It all began with Paloma wondering about a co-worker at the record store where we met.

A bit of sleuthing and I had stumbled on a cybertrail that included Scandanavian Elvis impersonators, Presley’s optomitrist, a dodgy German politician, and a military general from Southeast Asia.

The bizarre cast of associates of our former associate has left me bumfoozled.

As I examine the sketchy characters in my mind, it almost makes sense. I can imagine this former co-worker getting involved in some scenario resembling a movie by the Coen brothers.

And each time I’ve sat down to write, I wonder how it all might connect.

It’s a mental hiccup that I can’t shake.

But, fortune smiled. I happened across the movie Rain Man on cable the other morning and I remembered an I idea I had.

Eighteen months or so ago, I was inspired by a viewing of the flick as it is set and was filmed in areas near where I had grown up. Rain Man also features a cameo from my favorite childhood radio station – the late, great 97X.

(““97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”)

I decided to remember the station with four random songs from an early ’80s 97X playlist I’d created each time I stumbled across Rain Man on cable.

I thought it might be a semi-regular feature here as I seemed to find the movie while surfing every couple months.

(or so I thought)

And, yet, it’s apparently been a year and a half since such a run-in occurred.

So, as the idea of Elvis impersonators running guns or former co-workers interacting with the leader of some military junta bounce around in my head, here are four random songs I might have heard on 97X, circa ’84, ’85…

The Cure – Let’s Go To Bed
from Greatest Hits

By 1985, I would be well acquainted with The Cure as my buddy Streuss had become damn-near obssessed with the band. At that time, the British act was just beginning to get attention in the States with their album The Head On The Door, but Streuss quickly acquired the rest of their catalog as pricey imports.

I also heard plenty by The Cure on 97X. Let’s Go To Bed wouldn’t make any list I’d make of favorite songs by The Cure (who I do think made a lot of fantastic music), but the surpringly perky track got played incessantly on the station.

Beat Farmers – Happy Boy
from Tales Of The New West

Ninety seconds of pure goofiness, hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba.

X – Burning House of Love
from Beyond And Back: The X Anthology

I want to like L.A. punk legends X.

I really do.

But it hasn’t really happened. I think Exene and John Doe are cool, but the songs that resonate with me are scattered throughout the band’s catelog and tend to be the twangier ones like the stellar Burning House Of Love.

Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come
from In Concert: The Best of Jimmy Cliff

97X was the first place that I think I ever really heard reggae on the radio – Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear…even stuff from Musical Youth that wasn’t Pass The Dutchie.

The station also played Jimmy Cliff’s ebullient The Harder They Come. The song is the title track to the ’70s cult movie with Cliff starring as an aspiring reggae singer.

I saw the movie years ago and honestly have no recollection of whether I liked it or not, but the song is a keeper.

Cover Me

June 19, 2010

These are the times that try men’s souls and cause them to sweat in places I wouldn’t have thought possible.

It’s freakin’ hot and I swear that sweat was beading inside my ears the other day.

Our treehouse sanctuary – most of the second floor of an old house – is a delightful place in the spring and autumn with the many windows open and gentle breezes wafting through the dwelling.

Summer can be a survival test.

(especially a summer as oppressive as this one – technically not even here, yet – has been)

Now, as we live in modern times, we do have refrigerated air, but, having glimpsed a peak at the air-conditioning unit several years ago when it was being repaired, the technology behind it is of the same vintage as the rest of the building.

It was certainly constructed out of surplus bi-plane parts.

The unit does work given its technological limitations, but, once the temperature reaches a threshold of ninety degrees or so (as it has been for the past week), it’s a losing battle and impossible to keep the indoors temperature inside below eighty.

(we hit eighty-three the other day)

It’s sleeping that separates the men from the insomniacs.

And despite the sweltering heat and stifling humidity – it’s a moist heat – I have come to the realization that I cannot sleep without covers.

Perhaps it’s something that goes back to childhood and the need to pull the blankets up to my nose to keep the dangers of the dark at bay.

There’s no doubt that a layer of cloth and/or down provides ample body armor against any kind of mysterious, ravenous creature lurking in the darkness under the bed or in the closet.

The roots of this personal quirk are irrelevant. It’s ingrained.

And I’ve got no shot at sleep unless – no matter how hot it might be – I have some covers.

To celebrate this obsession with covers, it seems appropriate to offer up some cover songs. Scrolling through the iPod, there is no shortage of such tracks, so here are four of them…

Jason & The Scorchers – Take Me Home, Country Roads
from A Blazing Grace

I quite liked John Denver as a tyke (and this was pre-Muppets). The songs were pleasant and his television specials – him traipsing around mountain settings wearing his floppy hat while communing with nature – appealed to my five-year old self.

Truth be told, I still quite like some of his stuff, including the wistful Take Me Home, Country Roads.

Taking that song 180 degrees in the other direction is the hyper-charged take by the beloved cowpunk quartet Jason & The Scorchers. From the opening, it’s quite clear that they’re making the song their own.

Fetchin Bones – Super Freak
from Galaxy 500

Mixing punk, blues, and country into a distinctive sound, North Carolina’s Fetchin Bones were never quite able to break to a wider audience beyond the college rock crowd. It’s two bad because their trio of albums, produced by the noted Don Dixon, are well worth the price of admission and lead singer Hope Nicholls is a force of nature.

Their version of Rick James’ signature song surprised me when it popped up on shuffle on day. I had totally forgotten about it and probably hadn’t heard it in the twenty years or so since I had first purchased Galaxy 500.

Bruce Springsteen – Trapped
from USA For Africa

There was quite a hulaballoo about USA For Africa in 1985. The American entry into the African famine relief effort by musicians spawned the inescapable charity single We Are The World and the full album gathered tracks by some of the biggest acts around at the time.

And, at the time, few acts were experiencing success on the scale of Bruce Springsteen whose Born In The USA was still reeling off radio hits a year after its release. With the public clamoring for anything Springsteen, the Boss’ cover of reggae legend Jimmy Cliff’s Trapped got a lot of airplay and the song would likely make the cut for any Springsteen compilation I’d put together.

The Sugarcubes – Motorcycle Mama
from Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary

In 1989, Elektra Records celebrated their 40th anniversary by gathering an array of then-current acts to cover songs from throughout the label’s illustrious history.

(and likely planting the seeds for the spate of tribute compilations that arrived on a weekly basis during the ’90s – thank you for that, Elektra)

Amongst the tracks on the double album was one by The Sugarcubes who were currently darlings of the college rock scene. The song which they opted to contribute was by the early ’70s duo Sailcat who had notched their lone hit with Motorcycle Mama.

It’s a very cool cover which makes me smile as Bjork belts out the lyrics about hitting the open road with gusto. Oddly enough, Paloma grabbed a copy of Sailcat only album on vinyl one day and it’s not a bad record.