Random Brushes With Greatness

January 19, 2012

For a decade plus following college, I participated in an extended childhood, existing on the periphery of the music industry, close enough to see behind the curtain, yet not so involved to reap financial rewards that would have sullied the experience.

The time afforded me opportunities to do things and meet people that I would have thought unthinkable as a kid growing up in Sticksville, listening to music and devouring liner notes.

Sometimes I will escape the office and the mind-numbing engagement in capitalistic endeavors to enjoy tobacco.

I’ll set the iPod to shuffle and a song will pop up that will remind me of some cool experience that I’d almost forgotten.

A song by Richard Thompson shuffled up the other day and I suddenly recalled having lunch with the legendary guitarist. Afterwards, he took the small stage at the club and generously performed a handful of songs – including 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – for a dozen or so of us.

How does such a wonderous experience get lost in the shuffle and shoved into some corner of the mental attic?

It might not even have been the most memorable time that I’d spent in that club. Several years earlier, I’d had a chance to see Jeff Buckley perform there and, afterwards, share a drink with us, months before his acclaimed debut was released.

Sometimes I stop when a song reminds me of a chance I’ve had to interact with that artist and tried to imagine what I’d have thought as a fifteen- or sixteen-year old music junkie had I known of what was waiting for me.

We couldn’t even get cable.

So, here are four songs that shuffled up on the iPod for which I was able to draw on some personal experience with the artist…

John Prine – Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody
from Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings (1995)

I hang my head as I confess that I am not as familiar with the catalog of John Prine as I – or as friends who are devotees of the acclaimed singer/songwriter – feel I should be.

I doubt that I knew more than a handful of songs by Prine when, because of my position as a buyer for a large record store, I was invited to his manager’s office to hear the then-forthcoming Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings.

And, joining the half dozen or so of us for the listening session was John Prine.

(among our group was our receiving clerk, a surly malcontent who had been a road manager for several punk bands in the ‘80s, hated everything, and, yet, often told us that there were Prine songs that reduced him to tears)

I still haven’t explored much more of Prine’s catalog than I knew at the time, a situation that for the past fifteen years I have, despite good intentions, failed to rectify.

A Flock of Seagulls – Nightmares
from Listen (1983)

Long ago I recounted the night that I played pinball with the singer of the first band that I claimed as my own.

And, Nightmares is a nifty number by a band that most folks likely only know for I Ran.

Cheap Trick – A Place In France
from Sex, America, Cheap Trick (1996)

I love Cheap Trick and met them once. For a few brief seconds I thought that it might conclude with me getting my ass kicked by guitarist Rick Neilsen following a discussion of cigarettes and songwriter Diane Warren.

(it ended quite amicably)

As for A Place In France, the song appeared as a previously unreleased track on Cheap Trick’s box set, and though it won’t change your world, it’s a groovy, little rocker and not a bad way to spend four minutes.

The Beatles – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?
from Anthology 3 (1996)

OK. I don’t have a story actually involving meeting any of The Beatles, but I’ve had near secondhand encounters.

One involved an English co-worker at a record store who may or may not have been tight with the Fabs – as well as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and The Stones – during the ’60s.

But years before, while in college, my dog’s vet was a friend of Paul McCartney.

(and how a vet in a small, Midwestern town becomes chums with a Beatle is another tale)

During the summer of ’89, McCartney was touring America for the first time in a decade plus following the release of Flowers In The Dirt. Meanwhile, I was studying abroad, ten-thousand miles from home.

And Doc had invited my girlfriend to accompany him to see Paul.

She had recently graduated and intended to decline the offer as she had just started a new job with a high-powered accounting firm.

“You have to go,” I told her from the other side of the world. “You can always get a new job, but this is the chance to meet a Beatle.”

She didn’t go.


Colors

November 2, 2011

Trudging out early this past weekend, I dressed for the morning chill, throwing on comfortable, worn jeans, a heavy, dark blue sweater (which I’m told is actually grey), well broken-in combat boots, and my Belgian army coat.

I didn’t wear a tie, mainly because I don’t own one and the concept puzzles me.

Paloma, who once worked in a fairly posh department store, was pointing out ties on a television program the other day. She wanted me to guess their costs and, each time, my reply was reminiscent of Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man.

“About a hundred dollars.”

To my surprise, I wasn’t far off.

One hundred dollars? For a tie? I could be a land baron in South America for one hundred dollars.

(are other countries still accepting U.S. currency?)

I asked Paloma the purpose that ties serve and was informed that they offer men a way to accessorize.

So, I’m going to choke myself with this cloth noose so that I might have something to bring out the color of my shirt? Who was the sadistic bastard that believed this was a necessity?

If there truly was a need for men to accessorize, why not nail polish? It’s far simpler and non-constrictive.

And colors – I’m not colorblind (I took the test), but Paloma reminds me that the sweater which I mentioned earlier (and have owned for years) is, in fact, not dark blue, but grey.

(if I squint, I see her point)

Of course, it’s probably not grey but slate or something. I suggested to her that colors should have names that are more informative to the average person (or at least entertaining).

What’s a taupe? Is it some kind of fish that is found only near some reef off the coast of Micronesia?

(and are Micronesians really small?)

However, she didn’t seem to think that the color names I suggested were marketable.

I don’t know. I think Pond Scum, Cocoa Puff, Hypothermia, and Open Wound have a certain descriptive quality that taupe lacks.

As for my Belgian Army coat – why do they even have an army?

I’ve never been to Belgium, but I imagine the Belgians to be polite, civilized folks who never squabble (like Flemish-speaking Canadians). Maybe it is to protect the waffles.

I do love waffles, so, perhaps I should enlist. I have one of the coats (it’s green, I think) and I probably wouldn’t have to wear a tie.

Here are four colorful songs…

Aimee Mann – Red Vines
from Bachelor No. 2, or the last remains of the dodo (2000)

Though I loved Voices Carry, ‘Til Tuesday’s Top Ten title hit from their 1985 debut album, I truly came to embrace the band on their next record, Welcome Home. By 1988, the band was essentially down to lead singer Aimee Man on the brilliant swanson Everything’s Different Now.

The group had lost most of their audience, but I eagerly awaited Mann’s solo career which arrived in 1993 with Whatever and was a devoted fan up through Lost In Space almost a decade later.

(I simply never took the time to check out the last few albums)

But the forty or so tracks I own almost always blow me away when one of them shuffles up. Hearing the gorgeous, wistful, melancholic Red Vines is likely going to send me on a ‘Til Tuesday/Aimee Mann listening bender.

(and I couldn’t agree more with this ode to Mann’s greatness from over at the stellar Bottom Of The Glass.

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine
from Revolver (1966)

The Beatles are very, very good.

I’ve come to believe that their existence might be proof of the divine in the universe and that it’s possible that no entity in the history of mankind has brought more joy and happiness to more people than The Beatles.

Tarnation – An Awful Shade Of Blue
from Mirador (1997)

Somehow, with no effort, I came to own a pair of the three albums that the San Francisco, alt-country band Tarnation released. No doubt I snagged them as promos, liked them enough to file away, and promptly forgot about them.

After listening to An Awful Shade Of Blue, I need to revisit them as the song wowed me.

The group issued one album through 4AD and, if you were listening to college radio in the ’80s, you had an idea what to expect when you heard an act signed to the label. An Awful Shade Of Blue features the ethereal vocals of Paula Frazer and a twangy sound that would be ideal for a spaghetti Western.

Hole – Violet
from Live Through This (1994)

I had no interest in Hole in 1994. The sheer drama of Courtney Love exhausted me to the point of disinterest.

But I loved the band’s chainsaw-guitar cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman and, then, Hole released Celebrity Skin, their belated, 1998 follow-up to Live Through This, and I was won over.

The album – what I imagine ’70s Cheap Trick might have sounded like had they been a ’90s alternative rock band fronted by a feral frontwoman – is still one of my favorites from the decade.

Celebrity Skin prompted me to give Live Through This a more openminded listen and, though I still prefer the follow-up, the bracing Violet is a corker of a tune.


Eating Bacon With Paul McCartney*

August 11, 2011

I’m not sure what I meant with this title. It’s simply something written on a Post-It note where I’ve scribbled ideas.

I do like bacon, though.

I sometimes believe that if the possible consequences of climate change included a threat to the supply of bacon – as opposed to less exciting possibilities like famine, strife, war, and environmental destruction – there would be a great public outcry here in the West.

There would be such an effort put forth to protecting our pork, it would make the Marshall Plan seem like putting together a model railroad countryside.

But eating bacon with Paul McCartney seems like a unlikely event as I believe that Sir Paul is a devout vegetarian. Would I be willing to eat tofu or some other non-bacon bacon to dine with a Beatle?

I do know that the titular phrase came from a comment during conversation between Paloma and me. I asked her if she recalled what I now refer to as The Paul McCartney/Bacon Conversation, but she claims no recollection.

I suppose it was a rather unusual conversation and it now appears to be lost forever.

(I saw something similar on an episode of Seinfeld)

This babble leads me to some songs by Paul McCartney, but I had to do a search to see if I had any bacon music. I have none.

(which is unfortunate)

As for Sir Paul, I must confess that I am most familiar with his post-Beatles’ hits and I should become more acquainted with the full albums.

Also, as my late dog’s vet is a friend of Sir Paul (as well as an old co-worker), the possibility of eating bacon with McCartney might not be so far-fetched.

Here are four songs by Paul McCartney…

Paul McCartney & Wings – Band On The Run
from Wingspan

Still one of my favorite songs of McCartney’s post-Beatle output. Band On The Run is a bit darker and less frothy than a lot of his stuff and it’s made darker still as I very much associate it with its use in the movie The Killing Fields.

Paul McCartney & Wings – Listen To What The Man Said
from Wingspan

I know McCartney got a lot of flack in the ’70s for putting out fluff. Do people toss Listen To What The Man Said into that bin?

Maybe it is fluff, but so is cotton candy. And who doesn’t love cotton candy?

Actually, I don’t. But, I do love this song. It’s charming, sweet, sunny, and utterly delightful. It’s hard to be bummed out if it’s playing.

It also makes me think of the summer of ’75 when Listen To What The Man Said is one song which I do remember hearing and hearing often at the pool.

Paul McCartney & Wings – Listen To What The Man Said
from All The Best

Let ‘Em In appeared on Wings At The Speed Of Sound and the All-Music Guide review refers to the song – as well as Silly Love Songs – as “so lightweight that their lack of substance seems nearly defiant.”

Substanceless defiance aside, Let ‘Em In reminds me of a childhood friend who had the 45. The only other 45 which I remember him having was The Pretenders’ Brass In Pocket which he mistakenly bought for the b-side, Space Invader, thinking it was a similarly titled novelty song about the video game which was popular at the time.

Paul McCartney – Take It Away
from Tug Of War

By 1982, music had become a major part of my life and Paul McCartney had reunited with the legendary Sir George Martin for his album Tug Of War. I was fairly ambivalent about the much-maligned Ebony And Ivory which was inescapable on radio during that spring.

I was equally ambivalent about Tug Of War‘s second single, Take It Away, when it proved inescapable during that summer. Looking back, the song was likely a bit too sophisticated for my undeveloped ears but now I can appreciate it as a delightful pop gem.