At Least Cooper Huckabee Got To Keep His Pants On*

July 7, 2011

I was channel surfing the other day and happened upon a station where the closing credits to the movie Urban Cowboy were rolling.

Perhaps because I can be amused by something as simple as a piece of toast, I watched as the names scrolled across the screen. One caught my eye – Cooper Huckabee.

It was an unusual name and it was nowhere near the top of the cast, but it made me wonder about this fellow as I had never heard of him and Urban Cowboy was released in the early ’80s.

Was this Mr. Huckabee’s fifteen minutes of fame?

I wondered what his life was like during the time the movie was filmed.

Was he a struggling waiter/actor who had finally landed a role in a major motion picture?

Did he make excited phone calls home (maybe some small town in the hinterlands of Iowa) telling family and friends that he had finally made it?

Did his parents breathe a sigh of relief?

Did their disappointment that young Cooper had abandoned a college scholarship or their plans for him to take over the family feed store to pursue an acting career turn to pride?

Did his hometown newspaper do a feature story on him and the mayor give him the key to the city on “Cooper Huckabee Day” as most of the town’s 2,000 residents watched?

Did he believe that this would be the stepping stone to his becoming the next Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino?

Does he regret abandoning the family business now that it is thirty years later and his career hasn’t followed such a star-bound trajectory?

I also wonder about Don McManus.

McManus has appeared in over 80 movies and television programs in mostly bit parts, including an episode of Seinfeld.

He also had a role in The Shawshank Redemption, a movie that is one of the most critically acclaimed pictures of all time.

If you’ve seen the movie, he appears in one of the iconic scenes, one in which Tim Robbins’ character locks himself in the warden’s office and plays an opera recording over the prison loudspeaker. It’s a powerful scene and one in which McManus gets most of his screen time.

Unfortunately, much of that screen time consists of him sitting on a toilet, reading a comic book as he, in his character’s words, “pinches a loaf.”

I wonder if he has mixed emotions about being in such a pivotal scene of such an acclaimed movie with his trousers around his ankles. I wonder if his grandchildren will brag about his cinematic career, pointing to that scene as the highlight of his work.

Maybe my musings concerning these two fellows are rooted in wondering what it’s like to get so close to your wildest dreams only to fall just short of it being everything for which you might have hoped.

I didn’t see Urban Cowboy when it was in the theaters during the summer of 1980 but – though I wasn’t quite interested in music, yet – I do recall hearing several songs from the soundtrack on the radio at the time.

Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart during this week in 1980…

Ali Thomson – Take A Little Rhythm
from Take A Little Rhythm

Ali Thomson is not only from Scotland, but his brother Doug was the bassist for Supertramp.

I remember hearing Take A Little Rhythm often at the pool during the summer of 1980 and it shuffles up periodically on the iPod. Yet, I couldn’t recite to you more than a few words of lyric aside from the titular ones.

I don’t want to know. I just want it to be a laid-back little song that feels like summer to me.

George Benson – Give Me The Night
from The George Benson Collection

Guitarist George Benson cut his teeth performing straight-ahead jazz with organist Jack McDuff as well as performing with the great Miles Davis. In the ’70s and early ’80s, Benson also notched a number of pop hits with songs like This Masquerade, On Broadway, and Turn Your Love Around.

Give Me The Night – written by Rod Temperton who would pen several hits on Michael Jackson’s Thriller – is a silky smooth ode to nightlife with a light disco feel.

Joe Walsh – All Night Long
from Joe Walsh’s Greatest Hits

Like Cooper Huckabee, the laid-back groove of All Night Long appeared in Urban Cowboy.

I should probably delve into Joe Walsh’s ’70s stuff as it seems to be fairly well regarded. I know most of his stuff from the ’80s as my high school buddy Bosco was a fan and, during the latter half of the decade, a college roommate and I were greatly amused with Walsh’s Got Any Gum?

I also recall Glenn Frey, Walsh’s Eagles bandmate, doing commercials for some health club at the time. One popped up late one night while I was watching television with another roommate. The commercial ended and, still staring stupified at the screen, he noted, “Joe Walsh is sitting on a couch somewhere, right now, with a bong and laughing his ass off after seeing that.”

The Pretenders – Stop Your Sobbing
from The Pretenders

From the debut by The Pretenders, the jangling Stop Your Sobbing is a cover of a song written by future paramour of lead singer Chrissie Hynde (Ray Davies) and produced by a man (Nick Lowe) who would later write a song (I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll) alledgedly about the ex-wife of a former co-worker of mine.

That must mean something.

*reconfigured from a July 22, 2008 post while my head heals


Walking On The Moon (Or Not)

March 2, 2011

I don’t dance.

It’s something I’ve never done for fun, fame or financial gain.

I’ve never felt inclined.

Though I didn’t grow up in that town in Footloose, there wasn’t much dancing in my hometown. I slow danced at prom one year, but I only recall one or two dances being held during four years of high school.

Mostly kids just gathered informally in some farmer’s field past the outskirts of town with a few kegs procured by older students (who’d make the trek to the state where eighteen was legal) with ‘EBN or 96 Rock blaring from someone’s car stereo.

I don’t remember much dancing.

One Friday afternoon in school, my buddy Beej proposed that we head into Cincinnati that evening.

A trip to The City was an offer that could not be refused. We weren’t old enough to do much more than be mall rats, but – in 1984, growing up in a town with two red lights – the mall was an oasis of civilization.

A trip to The City meant shopping for music.

The catch was that – as neither of us had cars and, in fact had only had drivers licenses for a few months – we would be tagging along with his brother, Junior.

Junior was a senior, a tall, gangly basketball player and mathematical genius whose behavior might have been mistaken, at times, as autistic.

(he now works for the military)

Beej and I were headed to Cincinnati for music, but Junior had a different agenda. For some reason, inexplicable to either Beej or myself, Junior wanted to learn to moonwalk.

It wasn’t as though Junior even listened to Michael Jackson.

And that is how the three of us ended up at some small dance studio in a dingy strip mall in a dodgy part of Cincinnati one Friday night, attending a Michael Jackson dance class at the height of Thriller‘s radio blitzkrieg.

I remember nothing from the class aside from standing off to the side, reading (and rereading) the Hot 100 from a page that had been ripped from Billboard magazine and taped to the wall.

There were half a dozen record stores that wouldn’t be open for much longer and I was stuck like a hostage in a dance studio in a skeezy neighborhood with the clock ticking.

If I recall, we had time to hit Peaches.

I know without doubt that I never saw Junior moonwalk.

Here are four songs that I recall from the beginning of March, 1984 when Beej, Junior, and I made that trip…

Big Country – Fields Of Fire
from The Crossing

Sometimes lost in the attention given to the effects-laden guitars of Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, was that the band had a formidable rhythm section. Bassist Tony Butler has played with The Pretenders, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend

Drummer Mark Brzezicki has an equally impressive array of credits. He also had one of the largest wingspans of any human I’ve ever seen (or so it seemed). Seeing him play live was mesmerizing – like watching the Hindu goddess Kali behind a drum kit.

The thunderous Fields Of Fire was the follow-up single to In A Big Country and one that a lot of people missed.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
from Totally ’80s

Several of my friends and I were taking our second year of German in high school when Nena arrived. So, we understood that 99 Luftballoons was a song about red balloons sung by a cute chick named Nena who didn’t shave her armpits.

Then, when the English version arrived, we knew the full, terrifying truth in the lyrics to the perky song.

Oddly enough, I first heard the song when I discovered 97X in the fall of ’83 and that alternative station was also the first place I heard another German singer, Peter Schilling. Additionally, 97X was playing several German versions of Peter Gabriel songs like Schock Den Affen and Spiel Ohne Grenzen.

The Pretenders – Show Me
from Learning To Crawl

I didn’t know much more then Brass In Pocket and Back On The Chain Gang when Learning To Crawl was released in early ’84, but the album was a favorite of Beej’s at the time.

It was a fantastic record even beyond the hits. As we were listening to radio stations from Cincinnati, the Ohio-centric My City Was Gone was played often, 2000 Miles has become a modern-rock Christmas standard, and I’ve always dug the rollicking Thumbelina.

But there’s something about the celestial feel of the jangly Show Me that’s always made the song a favorite.

And when I hear a track from Learning To Crawl, I can’t help but picture the album cover and how shifty the character closest to the top – it’s either Malcolm Foster or Robbie McIntosh – appears to be.

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from Into The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard their first hits Love On Your Side and Lies. The songs were initially pleasant but soon became annoying and grating.

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid, hypnotic, and lush.

(and it still sounds pretty stellar)


Dennis Hopper

June 1, 2010

Scrolling through the filmography of Dennis Hopper, I realized that I’ve only seen about half a dozen of his films and that several that would be considered essential aren’t on that list.

I’ve seen Straight To Hell, but I haven’t seen Giant.

I’ve seen Waterworld, but I haven’t seen Blue Velvet.

I’ve seen portions of Easy Rider and, honestly, I can’t say that it moved me.

(maybe, like Woodstock, it helped to have been there)

But, I have been a fan of Apocalypse Now since high school when my buddy Streuss used to cue it up often when we’d all end up hanging out in his den at the end of a Friday night.

Even today, one of my friends and I make attempts to rattle off some of Hopper’s manic verbiage from the flick…

…”One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can’t travel in space, you can’t go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions – what are you going to land on – one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That’s dialectic physics.”

That’s insane, man.

And, of course, there’s Hoosiers.

I grew up in Indiana and one of the schools in our conference was the tiny high school that provided the inspiration for Hoosiers.

In college, I attended Indiana University at a time when the basketball team was a perennial contender for the national title (actually winning it at the end of my freshman year).

So, I had a frame of reference when Hoosiers arrived in theaters at Thanksgiving in 1986. It was during the first semester of that freshman year and it was my first time home since starting school.

A handful of high school friends, also home from college, and I headed to Cincinnati one morning like we had done so many times only a year before. And, after roaming the malls and browsing for music, we caught an afternoon showing of Hoosiers.

I don’t know how accurately The Godfather movies portrays the Mafia or if Platoon is more than one man’s take on Vietnam, but I do know that Hoosiers nailed high school hoops in our part of the state.

Hooper scored an Oscar nomination for his portrayel of the town drunk Shooter, attempting to get sober, whose son is on the team.

We too had our town drunk (actually several), Duck. He was a gangly, goofy fellow who moved furtively like Don Knotts. I used to see him around town, particularly at the bowling alley and he’d affably offer a greeting.

Shooter finds redemption as an assistant coach, helping the team win a game when he has them run “the picket fence.”

(I think Duck once bowled a 300)

That Thanksgiving break, when we saw Hoosiers, was one of the last times I think so many of us were together. Over the next few years, our clan got distracted, scattered, and – for the most part – lost touch.

Duck dropped dead in his beloved bowling alley several years later.

And, now, Shooter has staggered off the court for the last time.

I have no doubt that some music was purchased on that Thanksgiving trip, but I have no specific recollection of what albums I might have snagged. Here is a quintet of songs from albums that I did acquire late that autumn…

Bob Geldof – This Is The World Calling
from Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere

Prior to his turn in The Wall, I was wholly unfamiliar with Bob Geldof and/or The Boomtown Rats. The band’s one, brief brush with US success, I Don’t Like Mondays, hit our shores a few years before music was of much interest to me (not that it likely got any airplay in our region).

By 1986 – post-Band Aid, post-Live Aid – I was well familiar with Geldof and the Rats and had collected most of the band’s catalog.

So, I was eagerly anticipating Geldof’s solo debut, Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere, and subsequently disappointed with most of it. However, I loved the moody plea This Is The World Calling which features Annie Lennox, Alison Moyet, and Lone Justice’s Maria McKee on backing vocals.

Billy Idol – To Be A Lover
from Whiplash Smile

Several of my friends had worn out Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell when it came out our sophomore year of high school. Little did we know that we wouldn’t hear from Idol again ’til we were in college.

That Thanksgiving break, he returned with a rollicking single, To Be A Lover, a cover of a late ’60s hit by soul singer William Bell.

The Pretenders – Don’t Get Me Wrong
from Get Close

Like Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders had been on a relately lengthy layoff since 1984’s Learning To Crawl, another record that had been quite popular with us during our sophomore year.

Though it wasn’t quite as strong as Learning To Crawl, Get Close was the last album by The Pretenders that I truly gave a lot of attention. And, leading things off was the energetic, giddy Don’t Get Me Wrong with its video homage to the classic British television series The Avengers.

Lone Justice – Shelter
from Shelter

Lone Justice’s self-titled debut album garnered a ton of rave reviews, but I didn’t hear it when it was released in early 1985. However, with their name still in mind, I snagged a copy of the Little Steven-produced follow-up, Shelter.

Though the title track got a lot of airplay, the album was a disappointment to those that had championed their earlier effort, criticized for being slick and over-produced. True, there is a late ’80s sheen to Shelter and less rockabilly influence, but lead singer Maria McKee possessed one of the finer set of pipes of the period and, though it isn’t as raw and immediate, the song (and album) are still worth checking out.