Are There Raisins In This?

December 24, 2010

Due to my non-use of condiments, a friend used to disapprovingly refer to me eating “communist burgers.”

(I appreciate the honesty of a burger that is willing to be presented with little more than cheese and lettuce or maybe some mushrooms and onions)

It’s true that I am often a minimalist with food.

It’s not that I haven’t been willing to take the palatte on a wild ride and toss something new down the gullet.

(haggis comes to mind)

So, I know from experience that I do not like raisins.

And for as long as I can remember – for as long as I’ve known I do not like raisins – people have been trying to get me to ingest them.

In bowls of breakfast flakes, in toast, in cookies, in chocolate…they’re everywhere. I don’t think there’s been a food group whose inhabitants haven’t been used in an attempt to dupe me into eating raisins.

I like grapes.

I have no palatable interest in the shriveled, desiccated carcasses of a once fine fruit and reject the raisin on not only principle but taste.

Yet they’re so ubiquitous I have to wonder if there is some sinister plot behind this reign of raisins.

(and who might be doing the plotting? – the government? the International Monetary Fund? aliens?)

And, at this time of the year, when baked goods are all the rage and Paloma is spending more time in the kitchen than Paula Deen, it is necessary for me to be more vigilant than usual.

I’ve drawn a line in the vineyard.

The first Christmas Eve on which I would have fallen asleep with the radio on would have been 1982. Here are four songs from the Billboard chart that week which I know I heard that Christmas night…

Toto – Africa
from Toto IV

Is there a more enduring hit from the ’80s than Toto’s Africa? It seems to have seeped into the collective consciousness of most of the planet, including that of a Slovenian a cappella group.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual

Men At Work had dominated the radio during the late summer and early autumn of ’82 with Who Can It Be Now? By Christmas, Down Under had become the Aussie act’s second smash.

I do know that my friends and I had seen both of those videos on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 and been delighted by lead singer Colin Hay’s expressive antics and emotive nature. And, I do know that I received a copy of Business As Usual for Christmas that year which I wore out over the following winter months.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Shame On The Moon
from The Distance

One of my best friends in our neighborhood as a kid was a big fan of Bob Seger, so I was familiar with his music, but I wasn’t impressed. And, at the time, I wanted nothing to do with Shame On The Moon when it would come on the radio. It was far too rootsy for my tastes.

Then, somewhere along the way, I realized that I had a greater affection for the music of Seger than I had known. That included the loping and wistful Shame On The Moon, penned by Rodney Crowell.

Donald Fagen – I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)
from The Nightfly

I knew a handful of hits by Steely Dan when Donald Fagen, half of the creative force behind that partnership, issued his solo debut in autumn of 1982. Their music bored me as did I.G.Y. (which usually prompted me to change the station).

In retrospect, the stuff was simply too sophisticated for my young ears which were more attuned to Journey and Missing Persons. Over the ensuing years, I’d begin to catch up to the wickedly twisted works of Fagen and Becker.

Listening to the lush, shuffling track now and its vision of the future, I can’t help but think of folks who wonder where the flying cars we were told would dot the skies are.


You Can Only Invent Fire Once

April 27, 2010

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is on TNT. Though I’ve watched pieces of it when I’ve crossed its path on cable, I don’t think that I’ve watched it from the beginning since I saw it in the theater in May 1997.

It’s better than I remembered.

That initial viewing left me underwhelmed. I was with the daughter of a man who had toured as a member of Elvis’ band.

(that brief liaison was less memorable than the movie)

Four years earlier, I had spoken to a friend who had seen the just-released Jurassic Park the night before.

“You spend half the movie telling yourself that the dinosaurs aren’t real.”

When I saw it that night, there was an audible reaction when the first dinosaur appeared – a hushed, collective “whoa” that sounded like the incoming surf at a beach.

No one had ever seen such realistic pre-historic creatures.

When the dinosaurs first appeared in the sequel, I recall a mixture of applause and cheers, but there was no wow.

We’d already been wowed and moved on.

The human that discovered fire was undoubtedly hailed as a genius, made the rounds on the major talk shows, and got the best tables in restaurants.

And then, the public waited for the next amazing trick. Maybe that turned out to be toast.

Its not difficult to imagine the carping that might have ensued. Critics might have declared that toast was “no fire” and that it was “obvious and rushed” and “a creative dead end for the inventor that warmed us and enriched the clan with his/her/its debut offering.

(I would argue the invention of toasting bread as one of the highlights of our species as who among us doesn’t love a good sandwich and toasted bread, bagel, or croissant makes for a fine foundation)

Here are four songs from acts that went from unknown to everywhere all at once. Though some of them continued to have success, none of them were quite able to recapture the shock and awe (and sales) of their debut albums…

The Go-Go’s – Our Lips Are Sealed
from Beauty And The Beat

The Go-Go’s built the perfect beast with their first hit single and the one-time punk band’s New Wave-tinged pop was both old and new (and complete irresistible). Our Lips Are Sealed brightened the chill of autumn in 1981 and, as I was just discovering an interest in music, The Go-Go’s was one of the first bands that I was there for their breakthrough.

By summer of the next year, The Go-Go’s had notched another mammoth hit, We Got The Beat – which played over the opening credits of the ’80s classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High – and memorably appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in their underwear (which Jane Wiedlin and I discussed when I had the opportunity to interview her twenty years later).

Sure, the all-female band would release a couple more albums (which had their moments), but, in 1982, The Go-Go’s were an unstoppable juggernaut and as popular as any band on the planet.

Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now?
from Business As Usual

As The Go-Go’s run was beginning to lose steam toward the end of the summer in 1982, the world was just discovering Australia’s quirky Men At Work. I first heard Who Can It Be Now? when it debuted on American Top 40 as I listened one Saturday morning.

The first time I heard it played on a station was Cincinnati’s Q102 that afternoon.

By the following week, the song was everywhere and so was Men At Work. Business As Usual was selling millions of copies, the videos for Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under were familiar even to those of us without MTV, and everyone fell in love with Australia.

Cargo would be a worthy follow-up album. It might have even been stronger as a whole than the debut, but only the brilliant Overkill was as perfect or as successful as those first hits.

Tracy Chapman – Baby Can I Hold You
from Tracy Chapman

One of my housemates in college was a Dylan junkie. I came home one day and he was all but foaming at the mouth over some female singer – I think he’d seen her on MTV .

I was used to his manic behavior. I had once watched as he almost accidentally impaled himself on a sword in front of a living room full of people during the NBA Finals in ’88.

But he was right on Tracy Chapman. Soon there were droves of people coming into the record store where I worked asking for her debut. Then she played on Saturday Night Live and she went stratospheric.

Terence Trent D’Arby – Let’s Go Forward
from Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby

Christmas ’87 was the first Christmas in retail I ever experienced. And one of the albums we couldn’t keep in stock was Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby. It was a stunning debut for the soulful singer and the album was strong beyond its four or five hits.

I thought that Terence Trent D’Arby was one incredibly talented guy and an interesting character. I haven’t heard his post-’95 stuff aside from a handful of tracks, but I’ve owned his five major-label releases and dug them all. Even when his music sometimes took questionable tangents, there was always that amazing voice.


Plan B, Lloyd And The Snowbus To Hell

December 26, 2009

The snowstorms hitting a wide swath of the country remind me of growing up and the presence of snow on the ground for long stretches of winter being a given.

The snow, though, also offered the possibility of the Snow Day which was a near-miraculous event, offering a glimmer of hope in the dead of winter. You slept in and only trudged out into the cold on your terms for your reasons.

As kids, it meant spending the day in someone’s den or basement playing Atari. Once we got our licenses, it meant the opportunity to do donuts in parking lots.

(there weren’t a lot of entertainment options in our hometown)

Of course, high school basketball had far greater influence than the primal forces of nature in the decision of whether school would be cancelled. The result was often the dreaded Plan B schedule – a tease if ever there was one – with school starting an hour or two later than usual in order to allow the games to go on.

Before me and my friends were old enough to drive, I’d usually get up early and catch a ride to school with my dad. If not, it was the bus. Plan B pared my options down to the latter.

We lived at the edge of our small town, where the terrain shifted from civilization – such as it was – to miles and miles of sparsely populated farmland. Our neighborhood was one of the first stops on our bus’ route. We would then spend nearly an hour rolling through the hinterlands on often narrow country backroads with hairpin curves, hills, and combinations of the two.

(the schoolboard obviously believed that the shortest distance between point A and point B ran through point Z)

Piloting the craft was Lloyd, a local farmer who had to be in his late ’60s. Always clad in denim overalls, a non-descript grey jacket and a hat from a nearby feed store, Lloyd’s enthusiasm for the job meant that some days he managed to stay awake for the entire trip.

(he might have been mute)

Adding a bus load of sixty or so screaming kids – disgruntled to have had a day off cruelly snatched away from them – to the mix of icy roads upped the degree of difficulty.

Throw in a couple of rickety bridges and the occasional white out and it made for a good time.

As the bus lurched along the route, often sliding to the precipice of wholesale disaster, we’d “oooh” and “ahhh.” Lloyd would cock his head ever so slightly, a gesture that assured us that, despite all evidence to the contrary, he was still alive.

From the back of the bus, we’d yell out advice to Lloyd as we traversed the barely passable roads. Our favorite unsolicited suggestion was a line delivered by Scatman Crothers in the movie Zapped which seemed to air daily on cable.

“Forget the horn. The bus is stalled.”

In truth, the trek was likely far more perilous than we realized especially as we headed down the forty-five degree incline of an icy “Suicide Hill” guided by a drowsy fellow with the hand-to-eye coordination of an arm chair.

(queue up The Sweet Hereafter on Netflix for theatrical proof of such perils)

Yet, somehow, we always arrived at our appointed destination.

In what may have been a feeble attempt to quell the natives, Lloyd usually had the radio tuned to Q102, a popular Top 40 station out of Cincinnati. According to Billboard’s chart for this week in 1982, here are some of the songs we might have heard playing above our din…

Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio

Since we didn’t have MTV in 1982, we didn’t see the videos for Planet Earth and/or Girls On Film, making Hungry Like The Wolf our first exposure to Duran Duran. Like the rest of America, we took to it, and, though some of them might have been goofy as hell – Union Of The Snake and The Wild Boys come immediately to mind – Duran Duran did put out some ridiculously catchy singles in their heyday.

Men At Work – Down Under
from Business As Usual

Men At Work had dominated the radio during the late summer and early autumn of ’82 with Who Can It Be Now? By Christmas, Down Under had become the Aussie act’s second smash.

I do know that my friends and I had seen both of those videos on Casey Kasem’s America’s Top 10 and been delighted by lead singer Colin Hay’s expressive antics and emotive nature. And, I do know that I received a copy of Business As Usual for Christmas that year which I wore out.

A Flock Of Seagulls – A Space Age Love Song
from A Flock Of Seagulls

I’ve expressed my childhood allegiance to Liverpool’s A Flock Of Seagulls and chronicled playing pinball with lead singer Mike Score. I still have great affection for their music from the early ’80s.

Though A Space Age Love Song didn’t get nearly as much airplay as I Ran on Q102 (or any of the other stations at my disposal), it was my favorite track from the band’s self-titled debut (which was also a gift that Christmas).

Toni Basil – Mickey
from Word Of Mouth

Mickey was massive during Christmas ’82. It was weird. I’d never heard the song until it popped up on American Top 40. Overnight, it seemed as though every Top 40 station in range added it and proceeded to play it dozens of times a day until we were all sick of it.

It seemed to take about three weeks.

It was a fun song that became grating quickly. I snagged the vinyl of Word Of Mouth last spring and noticed that several members of Devo played on it. It was quirky New Wave – fun, but nothing aside from Mickey standing out. I might have to give it another shot.