Big Fish*

May 8, 2011

How far is it from a relatively obscure, failed ‘70s feature film by an Oscar-winning director to a thirty-foot, fiberglass catfish?

Thirty-five miles.

Paloma and I have taken advantage of the fact that, here in the 21st century, people will deliver movies to your doorstep because we enjoy movies and…well…going to a theater requires leaving the couch and venturing into an often rude, zombie wasteland.

I’ve been delving into grainy movie memories from my childhood (several of which I’ve mentioned of late). One which I wanted to check out was Sorcerer, a 1977 film directed by William Friedkin (of The Exorcist fame) and starring Roy Scheider, who was fresh off the boat from his fishing excursion in Jaws.

I’d been fascinated by the poster for Sorcerer as a kid and the viewer comments on The Internet Movie Database touted it as an underappreciated gem.

The story revolved around four dodgy characters from various locales around the globe that end up hiding out in some South American village. Through a chain of events, they become mercenaries, driving two trucks laden with nitroglycerin through the jungle at great peril.

(Paloma was intrigued by this concept as a potential career opportunity)

Inspired by the viewing of Sorcerer, I decided that we should take a trek of our own, sans nitroglycerin, to a small town in the middle of nowhere where a restaurant boasted their catfish to be the finest in the state.

Paloma, ever supportive of my random whims – and won over by my assertion that such a place would certainly have pie – agreed to the venture, so long as I knew where we were going.

(leading to my assessment, halfway somewhere, that “we should be going west…or maybe south.”)

Thirty-five miles from our front door, there it was, a giant fiberglass catfish, perched majestically atop the roof of a roadside shack, proclaiming to all passers-by, here be catfish!

In the end, the catfish was serviceable, the Mississippi mud pie was, in the words of Paloma, “divine,” the thirty-foot catfish sign was the most life-like thirty-foot catfish sign I’ve ever seen, and Sorcerer was gritty, suspenseful, slightly surreal and well worth the walk to the mailbox.

There’s a lot of stuff under the sea. Here are four songs titled after some of the things that might be found in the briny deep…

The Other Two – Tasty Fish
from The Other Two & You

New Order were college radio darlings when I was in school and a lot of my friends loved the band. I was much more a casual listener.

In 1993, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris – half of New Order – released an album as The Other Two. I liked it enough to file it away, but I couldn’t have named a song by the duo until Tasty Fish popped up.

It’s totally charming electro-pop, a pulsating, shimmering three minutes or so that would have been enough for me to hold onto the album to be rediscovered one day.

The B-52’s – Rock Lobster
from The B-52’s

I know that I wasn’t familiar with Rock Lobster in ’79. I can’t imagine that I heard the song until 97X went on the air four years later.

Then, Rock Lobster was a staple for the station and a burst of fun from the radio when it would come up.

Hooverphonic – Tuna
from Blue Wonder Power Milk

Like a lot of people, I was mesmerized the first time I heard A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular by the electronica/trip hop of the Belgian band Hooverphonic. It was a hypnotic listening experience.

Unfortunately, that album as well as Blue Wonder Power Milk and The Magnificent Tree didn’t make the transfer from harddrive to iPos explaining why I hadn’t heard the band in awhile.

Chilly, stately, and dreamy, Tuna, like most of Hooverphonic’s oeuvre, is perfect music to drift away to while listening on headphones.

Heart – Barracuda
from Greatest Hits

Though Heart might have had a lull in the early ’80s, the band remained popular on radio stations in our part of the Midwest. Then, the band notched a string of massive hits and platinum-selling albums in the mid-’80s that took the band to new heights.

I quite liked some of those latter ’80s hits, but I preferred Heart’s less-varnished ’70s stuff. The ubiquitousness of that later period made it easy to forget how much raw energy the band possessed.

Barracuda – driven by Ann Wilson’s piercing banshee wail – was as fierce as a band could hope to be.

Someone Had To Be The Original Lead Singer I Suppose

March 6, 2010

I’ve exchanged a few e-mails in the last week with a roommate from college and, unexpectedly, the band Tesla ended up in the conversation.

I suppose it wasn’t too unexpected as he claims to have brought the band’s music into our household and he was the one who mentioned them. I don’t recall hearing him playing their albums, but portions of that time period lack detail.

Tesla wasn’t really on my radar during their brief fling with success with Love Song and their cover of Signs. I knew those songs from the late MTV and a few others from the record store where I worked.

(actually, the roommate and I worked together, so that might be where he played it)

Even if he was playing Tesla, it would have merely made me shrug. Their music didn’t move me, but I didn’t viscerally dislike it, either.

But Tesla and I did cross paths again, several years, working in another record store. It was post-grunge and several employees from our California stores came to work at our store for several weeks. It was like some slacker exchange program.

One of them looked like Penn Jillette. The other claimed to have been the original lead singer for Tesla.

It really wasn’t a Tesla crowd.

And we all knew musicians and we all knew that objects often appeared larger in the rear view.

I knew one character that fronted an incarnation of a successful Canadian band from the early ’70s. It was a good decade after the act’s heyday (and I good decade before I met him). Still a cool gig, but, in the time it took to smoke a cigarette, the tales had him all but helping Zeppelin write Stairway To Heaven, teaching Hendrix how to gut a moose, and co-opting the band in question’s history to a degree that you’d think he had been the singer during their prime.

So, maybe this kid had known one of the members of Tesla in junior high school. Maybe his older brother knew one of the members of Tesla in high school.

Maybe he was actually in a band with a member (or maybe two) who went on to be in Tesla.

Or, he might have truly been the lead singer of the an early line-up of the band.

Lead singer is often a revolving door. And there’s been more than a few fairly, sometimes extremely successful bands that replaced a lead singer. Here are four songs from bands that managed to turn the trick and sometimes even have greater success…

(or, as The Drunken Frenchman would have said, they were exactly the same but completely different)

Genesis – No Reply At All
from Abacab

Abacab was really my introduction to Genesis, though I knew a couple of their prior hits like Follow You, Follow Me and Misunderstanding (the former which I’d have posted, but I can’t seem to find). Peter Gabriel-era Genesis would be something I’d learn about a few years later.

The band would lose me by the time they reached megastardom with Invisible Touch, but I became familiar with Abacab through its success on radio as well as my friend Streuss being a fan. I was immediately drawn to No Reply At All which fused British prog-rock to the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section.

Van Halen- Mine All Mine
from OU812

Music fans can (have and will) argue about the quality of the Sammy Hagar-led incarnation of Van Halen as opposed to the output of the band’s music when fronted by Diamond Dave, but there’s little denying that Van Halen’s second act garnered them a more mainstream audience and sold them a lot of albums.

Though I prefer the band with Dave, there was definitely stuff from the Hagar-period that I dug. The hyperkinetic and twitchy Mine All Mine would make the cut from that time. Lyrically, the song lacks the depth I think they sought, but I’ll give them points for effort.

AC/DC – Thunderstruck
from The Razor’s Edge

AC/DC’s major break through in the States came after the death of original lead singer Bon Scott’s “death by misadventure” and his replacement by Brian Johnson. The inimitable Scott had helped set the table with Highway To Hell, but Back In Black, released the following year, would become one of the most iconic hard rock records of all time.

The Razor’s Edge arrived as I was finishing college and the band had released a string of albums of diminishing returns in the latter half of the ’80s. The record store where I worked had a regular customer – a boy of about ten – who was a rabid fan of the band, sticking with them even through Blow Up Your Video.

His devotion was rewarded with the mighty Thunderstruck.

New Order – Regret
from Republic

I suppose that New Order really doesn’t belong on this list, but, though the name was different, the group included the three surviving members of Joy Division with Bernard Sumner taking over vocal duties following the suicide of Ian Curtis.

Though their output in this new incarnation paled to fans that had deified Curtis, the band had refined their synthesizer-driven sound to coincide with the rise of modern rock radio where New Order found favor with a new audience of listeners.

The insanely catchy Regret found the band still going strong into the early ’90s after a hiatus where the members engaged in various side projects.

Bye Bye Music Television

February 11, 2010

From what I read, it’s now official – MTV is no longer Music Television.

It’s just MTV.

I missed out on the station’s infancy, but we were all aware of what it was. It might not have been available in our corner of the universe, but most of us had seen it on vacations and such and told spellbinding tales of what we had witnessed.

Those of us that did have cable had access to Night Flight on USA Network. The rest of us subsisted on the meager offerings of Friday Night Videos for the wonder of music videos.

Our cable providers didn’t offer MTV until 1984. The homes of our friends with cable was where we’d gather, often for hours, sprawled about some family’s den. I didn’t have the chance to truly maximize the amount of time I could waste with the channel until college a couple years later.

(and I did waste plenty of time staring vacuously at videos and MTV – with ESPN – was essential to a day of skipping classes and lounging on the couch when there was weather like we’ve had this winter)

By the time I was knocking out the last dozen credits I needed to graduate, we were already lamenting the sorry state to which MTV had been reduced. Our chief gripe was that the playlist was shrinking fast. Videos still made up most of the programming, but the latest clip by Janet Jackson or Bon Jovi popped up constantly and the more fringe acts in which my friends and I were interested were relegated to the middle of the night.

(we were often up, but we weren’t always home)

Of course, we were getting a glimpse of the future with some of the channel’s first attempts at original programming. Remote Control, the Jeopardy-like game show was on, which I dug – there was a great category called Dead Or Canadian.

And there was that dance show with Downtown Julie Brown.

(I thought Julie was fetching, but I had no interest in dancing)

There was 120 Minutes which was the place to catch videos by the college rock acts I was listening to at the time. But, though I discovered some new artists on the show, I was discovering new music elsewhere and working in a record store.

I didn’t need my MTV any longer and the channel was headed off the rails, condemning its soul to eternal damnation as it began to foist reality television upon an unsuspecting world.

It was fun for the brief time it lasted.

The 120 Minutes Archive catalogs the playlists for 120 Minutes through its years on MTV. I don’t necessarily recall a lot of the videos for the the episodes I might have seen twenty winters ago, but I do know a lot of the songs…

New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle
from The Best Of New Order

New Order brings back fond memories of those years in college when it seemed as if every cover band in every club had at least a few songs by the group in their repertoire.

Kate Bush – Love And Anger
from The Sensual World

Having discovered Kate with 1985’s Hounds Of Love, I was eagerly awaiting the follow-up. I had to wait four years, but when The Sensual World finally was released, it spent months in my own personal heavy rotation.

(and you might recognize David Gilmour on Love And Anger)

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining

Yes, it’s the M&M song and I say good for The The’s Matt Johnson for banking some nice coin after being essentially ignored in the States (I think that the project had a bit of success across the pond).

As for the song, it reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved The The in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.

The Smiths – How Soon Is Now
from The Best Of The Smiths, Vol. 1

The Smiths – there might be no issue more decisive between Paloma and me than The Smiths.

I’ve always enjoyed The Smiths. If you went to college between ’85 and ’89, you were legally mandated to be batty for The Smiths or risk being ostacized by certain segments of the pack.

I do dig a lot of their stuff. It’s wonderfully twisted and the music is candy-coated, but Moz’ drama wears on me in large doses.

Our difference in this matter escalated to something historical the day she declared The Smiths to be a better band than Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band.