The Drummer On The Couch

March 29, 2012

I spoke with a college buddy last week. He had called days earlier to inform me that a young drummer friend of his was moving to town.

I’m old enough to know better than to let him follow me home.

Years ago, I spent twelve months or so managing a band.

(and actually managed to get a label to offer them a deal)

Not long after meeting them, the drummer crashed on the couch in the house where I was living. Within a couple weeks, he was living on that couch.

It wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. He coughed up a third of the rent.

He could have the couch. I had a mammoth room – the biggest in the place – and a hundred dollars more a month to spend at the watering holes.

Cooper was an asset. I could depend on him to diffuse tensions within the band with his antics.

At home, he could be a source of entertainment. I returned late one night after closing one of our local haunts. I slumped down down on one of the couches in our living room. Coop was sitting there with another roommate whom we had dubbed The Chinaman, watching a rerun of The X Files.

I soon noticed the smell of something burning.

“Yeah, those are probably ready,” Coop noted to The Chinaman, shuffling off to the kitchen.

I followed and watched as he pulled a tray of Pillsbury rolls from the oven, charred beyond reasonable – even drunken – edibility.

“You’re not going to eat those? Are you?”

The Chinaman looked at me as though I was crazy as he and Coop headed to the front porch with the busquits and a couple of wedges.

“Where the hell did you get golf clubs?”

The two were standing in the front yard, illuminated by the glow of the street light and the odd car. Mostly the neighborhood was still.

“Fore!” Coop bellowed as he chipped one of the briquettes and we watched it arc lazily into a neighbor’s yard across the street.

One by one, the two of them took turns until a dozen or so freshly-roasted Pillsbury rolls had landed on the green. Apparently this neighbor had invoked their ire and this was their vengeance.

It became a late-night ritual, though we soon opted for using foodstuff that had already spoiled.

Here are four songs featuring drummers I dig…

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight
from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness (1995)

I don’t often notice drummers, but I’ve come to realize that the ones that do seem to catch my attention are propulsive and primal which is exactly how I’d describe Smashing Pumpkins’ Jimmy Chamberlain.

(coincidentally, the drummer on my couch claimed to have known Chamberlain back in Chicago)

As for Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Paloma and I spent countless hours listening to the double album during the autumn of ’95 and, from the first time I heard it, Tonight, Tonight was among my favorite tracks.

(though it’s still strange to hear it on the Major League Baseball playoff commercials)

The Who – Baba O’Riley
from Who’s Next (1971)

And, if you want propulsive and primal, you want Keith Moon.

(yes, Won’t Get Fooled Again better fit the bill, but I prefer Baba O’Riley)

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live (1994)

I suspect part of my affection for Manu Katché is his name which is lots of fun to say.

(Manu Katché, Manu Katché, Manu Katché)

However, I do quite like Manu’s mystic rhythms which seem perfectly suited for the songs of Peter Gabriel. Coop once spent twenty minutes pointing out Katché’s prowess on video to me and, given a bit of insight, I was duly impressed.

(and I’m thinking our next addition to the menagerie might be named Manu Katché)

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures (1981)

There were few concerts for me before I reached college and the opportunity to see Rush was a day-of, last-second opportunity.

A ticket, t-shirt, and the chance to see a sold-out arena full of never-would-be musicians airdrum to Tom Sawyer on the Power Windows tour cost me less twenty-five years ago than it did to fill up my car with gas last night.


December 25, 1982

December 24, 2011

I happened to be reading a comparison of the worst holiday seasons based on a number of economic factors since the Great Depression and, according to this study, 1982 was the bleakest Christmas of the past eighty years.

At the time, I was fourteen and blissfully unaffected by unemployment rates that exceeded those of recent vintage. Our small town was home to the headquarters for two industry-leading corporations. There were six very wealthy families, six poor ones, and everyone else resided solidly in the middle class.

(really, there once was a socio-economic stratum called the middle class in America)

I had been one of a dozen or so kids in the first computer class offered at our high school that autumn and, as I recall, was hoping that I might be getting the 1982 equivilant of a PC that Christmas.

There would be no computer – a device still primarily available to only NASA engineers and James Bond villains – that Christmas morning.

Instead, a pool table made for a surprising consolation prize.

It was secondhand but that mattered little and, in truth, added to the charm as there were peculiarities to the table – dead spots and slight slopes – that rewarded experience. Putting the eight ball into the side pocket was akin to reading the green on a golf course.

(the cues added a new, combative twist to the inevitible conflicts that would arise between my brother and I)

1982 was also the first Christmas that I wanted music as a gift and I do know that I received several cassettes including the debut releases by A Flock Of Seagulls and Men At Work, both of which had made a splash since the beginning of the school year.

And, six songs – half of them unknown to me – debuted on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart the week of Christmas, 1982…

Unipop – What If (I Said I Love You)
from Unilove (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #71, 8 weeks on chart)

There’s little out there on the internet about Unipop and their lone brush with musical success. The group was a husband and wife duo who were labelmates of Bertie Higgins, providing backup vocals on his hit Key Largo.

As for What If…I’m not sure if there’s something wrong with the file or if the song is supposed to sound like The Chipmunks performing some non-descript rock ballad from the ’50s.

Michael Stanley Band – Take The Time
from MSB (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #81, 5 weeks on chart)

Cleveland’s Michael Stanley was a major act in the Midwest in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Living on the Indiana/Ohio border, their music found its way onto many of the stations to which I was listening, but I don’t recall ever hearing Take The Time.

The song is a mid-tempo, soulful take on the economic malaise gripping the country, especially in the Rust Belt, and the need to pull together through tough times. The song would make little more than a ripple, but, a year later, the band would reach the Top 40 with the punchy, anthemic My Town.

Tyrone Davis – Are You Serious
from Tyrone Davis (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #57, 6 weeks on chart)

All-Music Guide describes Tyrone Davis as “the king of romantic Chicago soul” and, despite the fact that the singer had a lengthy string of R&B chart hits in the ’60s and ’70s, I can’t say that I’m familiar with him aside from seeing the name in record store bins.

The smooth Are You Serious finds Davis crooning the title as a question as to the intentions of his lady. It’s pleasant enough and well executed if not exactly something that blows my hair back, though it must have struck a chord with someone as it became Davis’ final Top Ten hit on the R&B charts.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul – Forever
from Men Without Women (1982)
(debuted #81, peaked #63, 9 weeks on chart)

I knew a few songs by Bruce Springteen in 1982, but I’m fairly certain that I couldn’t have named anyone from the E Street Band, so I wouldn’t have known that Steve Van Zandt and I know that I didn’t hear Forever at the time.

(I had progressed in my music listening enough that I did purchase Little Steven’s next release, Voice Of America, when it arrived on the heels of Springsteen’s Born In The USA two years later)

Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of Van Zandt’s oeuvre and even listened to his satellite radio show a few times. I’m familiar enough to known of his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll era music and tireless efforts to pay homage to the past.

The punchy, horn-driven Forever fuses his garage band rock sound with an unmistakeable, classic Motown vibe.

The Who – Eminence Front
from It’s Hard (1982)
(debuted #80, peaked #68, 6 weeks on chart)

While I was listening to my Men At Work and A Flock Of Seagulls cassettes during Christmas ’82, The Who were embarking on their farewell tour, having recently released It’s Hard.

I couldn’t have cared less and it would be a couple more years before I would.

Though I haven’t listened to It’s Hard in some time and it’s hardly a classic, there are a couple stellar tracks on that intended swan song including the slinky, shimmering, quasi-funky Eminence Front.

Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf
from Rio (1982)
(debuted #77, peaked #3, 23 weeks on chart)

Twenty-nine years ago, if anyone knew the name Duran Duran it was likely as a character from the campy, late ’60s sci-fi flick Barbarella, but that was about to change. I wouldn’t hear of the band until a neighbor down the street brought them to our attention shortly before Hungry Like The Wolf broke into the Top 40 in the first months of 1983.

It’s odd to think of a world without Duran Duran as Simon LeBon and company have been a part of the musical landscape from almost the beginning of my interest in music. I was entranced with the kinetic and mysterious Hungry Like The Wolf from the first time I heard the laugh of LeBon’s girlfriend that opens the song.

By the following spring, Hungry Like The Wolf was a smash complete with an iconic video, Duran Duran was a sensation some were comparing to The Beatles, and most of us owned a copy of Rio. Rio would be the peak of my interest in Duran Duran, though I would like scattered songs by Duran Duran throughout their ’80s heyday and I’d argue that their latter-day hit Ordinary World was their finest moment.

But it all began inauspiciously enough with Hungry Like The Wolf debuting on the Billboard charts that Christmas in 1982 and the song has deservedly become a classic of the time.


The Widow Hopkins

December 14, 2011

During my twenties, I put my college degree to good use working in a large record store.

There was a row of small stores near, the closest of which had a revolving door of tenants. One day, it was a jeweler; the next day, a head shop.

In one of its incarnations, it reopened as a clothing store, a small boutique favoring vintage stuff from the ’60s, threads that might have been worn in Swingin’ London.

As the world had finally caught up to my sartorial sensibilities with grunge, I had little reason to peruse the store’s wares, never even venturing in until I accompanied Tree Boy, a friend who was a bassist, arborist, photographer, and occasional nude model.

(“the trick is to remain flaccid, yet life-like,” he would tell us)

I wandered around the small store idly as Tree Boy chatted with the woman working there, a willowy, older woman with long, red hair and fair skin who was attired in a manner that reminded me of Stevie Nicks.

Bored, I finally shuffled over to retrieve Tree Boy and he introduced me to the woman.

She had an accent and her name was Moira.

The two chatted for a few more minutes and, from the context of the conversation, I surmised that she was married to a musician.

After we left, as I trudged back for the rest of my shift, Tree Boy confirmed that Moira had indeed been married to a muiscian.

“Moira was married to Nicky Hopkins.”

Oh, I knew the name and some of the credits of Moira’s late husband, but it was over drinks that The Drunken Frenchman educated our usual group from the record store on the staggering list of legendary albums and songs featuring Nicky Hopkins on piano.

(staggering being a staggering understatement)

“We must keep an eye out and see that no harm comes to The Widow Hopkins,” The Frenchman said gruffly, his furrowed brow betraying a lack of confidence in us, his younger compatriots, as he raised his glass.

(I’m not sure what harm The Frenchman believed might occur or what help she might need from drunken slackers, but he certainly seemed resolute in his oath)

You’d see Moira in the record store on occasion and she’d often spend a minute or two in pleasant conversation with us clerks. She seemed like a genuinely lovely person.

During one night of drinking, there was a debate regarding the difference between a jig and a reel with the idea proffered that, because of her heritage, we should ask Moira.

(an alcohol-infused idea that, fortunately, we realized was a bad one)

I haven’t seen Moira in years, but I hope she’s out there, somewhere, doing well with the spirit of The Frenchman keeping her from harm.

Here are four songs – from the multitude of possible choices – on which Nicky Hopkins performed…

Rolling Stones – Sympathy For The Devil
from Beggars Banquet (1968)

If I had to choose one song from The Stones, the hypnotic, menacing Sympathy For The Devil is the one.

John Lennon – Oh Yoko!
from Imagine (1971)

John Lennon did more than a few songs inspired by his devotion to Yoko Ono and I’ve always loved the playful Oh Yoko!.

The Who – Getting In Tune
from Who’s Next (1971)

For all of their ferocity, The Who understood dynamics as on Getting In Tune which opens with a gentle simplicity before building to a crescendo.

Ringo Starr – Photograph
from Ringo (1973)

I’m sure that I heard Ringo Starr’s Photograph at some point over the years, but I truly become acquainted with the song from hearing it often on Sirius’ ’70s channel. Ringo might have been the funny one, but he’s more than capable of delivering the lovely, wistful song with all of the pathos required.