Saturday, April 30, 2011

This is Weather That Implies It's Too Late

They Suggest Piano Lessons for Young Beauty Queens

The days got longer, the pants got shorter, and the sun got warmer.

And the plans started hatching. Where we'd go. Who we'd visit. What we'd eat.

Then the couples shattered, stretched, and broke.

And another summer had arrived. This one different. This one less carefree, more serious.

This time the end was in sight. And for most of us, it wasn't filled with joy and gladness. It was filled with doubt and despair.

The internships were horrific, hours of torture bookending endless drinking. More and more, conversations would begin with "Can you believe people live like this?"

The phone calls were more tense.

The concerts were harder to plan.

The standing Tuesday night Frisbee games moved to Thursday, then to Saturday afternoon, then to never.

The interruptions -- which had made each previous summer bearable -- now became something we dreaded.

There was a chill everywhere, even when it was over 100 degrees and the wind was blowing inland off the tides of shorelines gone.

The ones who'd already left were divided into two groups: the ones who admitted their unhappiness and the ones who could hide their unhappiness.

We didn't know what was happening... only that it was important.

And, as we struggled to wring the last drop of May out of the air, we couldn't wait for June to come. Everything would change.

Of course, back then, we thought we could come back anytime we wanted.

You could argue that Enigma Records was the coolest label in the world in 1985.

I wore most of the oxide off a 1985 cassette sampler from Enigma, driving far too fast on roads in 21 different states in a French car constructed (poorly) in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Who knows, the tape might still be around in an old shoe box or still in the glove compartment that car, which I haven't owned since the 90s.)

I don't remember much about the cassette, but it had songs on it by Don Dixon, Game Theory, the Smithereens, the Dead Milkmen, and (if memory serves) Mojo Nixon.

If I had the tape right now (okay, and if I had a car that could play tapes), I'd get on the nearest highway right now, roll down all the windows, blast the rest of the oxide off it at high levels of volume, and drive approximately 123mph.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding

We Mean It, Maaaaaaaaaaaaan

An otherwise reasonably sane friend called me up and announced she was going to stay up all night watching the Royal Wedding.

"I was a tomboy," she explained. "I never went through the princess phase."

"And now you have to make up for it at 2 in the morning?"

She shrugged. "It's not something I really understand. It's just something I want to do."

"But you're not English," I said. "You're not even Canadian."

"No. But I've been to London. Once."

"But we're American. We don't believe in royalty. We rejected that hundreds of years ago."

"Sure," she said. "But I can still dream."

"Not if you're awake at 2 in the morning."

And she smiled. Indulgently. "It's not a guy thing. You wouldn't understand."

So that's why she'll be at home overnight hosting a party of 11 women (most of whom are reasonably sane), watching an absurd event half a world away... while I'm dreaming of rock 'n' roll.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Just Direct me to the Cheese

Advantages of a Big City

There are goofy events.

Events with weird names.

Like the "2nd 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational."

I'm not sure how "invitational" it is when the event is open to the public... but there it is.

Complete with a marching band on stilts, professional costumed characters, a costume contest for the amateurs, and plenty of gooey, yummy, melty cheese:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

K-TElton John

Really Bad, But Also Really Good

While looking for something else on the internets, I stumbled onto the songs below.

In the late 60s and early 70s, before he became known as a singer-songwriter (and then a pop superstar), Elton John had an interesting day job.

He was part of a group of anonymous singers and musicians who re-recorded popular songs (mostly with very faithful arrangements) that were packaged into albums and rush-released to supermarkets (where they were available at bargain prices because... well, they weren't the originals).

The technical quality of these tracks is fairly high (especially given how low-rent the operations were), but some of them will make you scratch your head in wonder.

I mean, what the hell is a Honky Cat like Elton John doing singing a song about being Young, Gifted, and Black?

And did he cringe at the cheestastic lyrics or tell himself that the arrangements, if you squinted a bit, were kind of cool?

I'm guessing that Elton John never thought much about these tracks after he recorded them. And he probably expected they'd soon be forgotten.

But nothing ever really goes away in cyberspace... so enjoy these glimpses of Elton John, before he became Captain Fantastic:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

It's Nature's Way of Telling You Something's Wrong

Cindy was drunk. And stoned.

And it was Earth Day.

"I'm celebrating with chemicals," she announced. "Chemicals from the Earth."

And then she started dancing. Even though there was no music.

We watched her dance -- at first it was energetic, then it faded down to that slow swaying that emphasized her hips more than anything else.

She looked up and noticed everyone staring at her. "It's my dance for Earth Day," she said. And started dancing again.

And we all nodded as if it made sense.

After a while, Cindy stopped dancing.

And started talking. And talking.

She talked about the evils of corporations.

She talked about pollution.

And she talked (in surprising depth) about Martians.

The Martians know what's really important. Stuck up there on a dead planet, they look to the Earth longingly.

"They want the green. They want the oceans. They even want the annoying mosquitoes. What they wouldn't give to be bitten by a mosquito or to have their legs broken by falling out of a spruce tree."

We should have stopped her when started on about the Martians. But we didn't.

So Cindy kept ranting about the Martians and we all looked around, vaguely embarrassed. No one stepped forward to stop her. Instead, we all silently agreed to let her keep going until she ran out of gas.

And finally, she stopped. And looked around the circle at each of us.

Years from now, when I've forgotten about the evil corporations, and the horrors of all kinds of pollution, I'm sure I'll remember what Cindy said.

With the kind of certainty that can only be achieved through high-doses of chemicals, she loudly proclaimed: "Because on Mars, every day is Earth Day."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Squirrel Elegy

This is fact, not fiction

I was walking. Up the sidewalk. About to cross the street.

Not a small street, but a busy thoroughfare. With four lanes of traffic speeding by.

I pressed the button at the crosswalk. Looked across to the park, oddly quiet first thing in the morning (in contrast to the paved hustle and bustle where four-wheeled modern dinosaurs burned through the remnants of the dinosaurs from millions of years earlier).

And a single squirrel ran from the park.

Ran from his home. From his family. From the soft grasses topped with dew.

And zoomed into the road. Pausing, armed with his wits and the crude arrogance of youth and speed.

I watched, fascinated. Caught up in his journey.

And saw the black SUV -- too close? Too far? Hard to say.

The squirrel did not see the SUV. But may have sensed it.

There was no swerving. No squeal of brakes. Just a single thump.

Rubber struck flesh and there was bouncing against concrete.

The squirrel stopped. The SUV did not.

And then, almost magically, there was no traffic. Nothing moving for hundreds of yards in either direction across four lanes of pavement.

Except for the squirrel. He was on his back, his eyes more confused than panicked. This was something he'd never imagined.

One paw twitched once, twice.

I couldn't look away. Then I saw his tail curl up quickly and uncurl slowly on the ground.

And everything was still. Including the squirrel.

Somehow, in that instant, I sensed that his family and his squirrel buddies had to know what I knew: he was gone. Somewhere else.

And as the traffic returned, the other cars were careful (much more careful than the SUV had been). They drove around the body, perhaps not realizing that squirrel was already gone.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thank You Friends

In Honor of Record Store Day...

Quick news to warm the hearts of power pop lovers everywhere:

Omnivore Recordings is reissuing Big Star's Classic Third album on limited edition 180-gram vinyl. Only 2000 copies are available worldwide -- and you could win the record-geek's equivalent of a Golden Ticket because they're randomly inserting 5 original test pressings (courtesy of Big Star Jody Stephens) into the run. Go to your local record store tomorrow (April 16) to buy, buy, buy.

In celebration of the release (and of record geekdom in general), Plasticsoul's Steven Wilson (on guitar and lead vocals) and Clicks and Pops favorite Brandon Schott (on backing vocals, uke, and toy piano) have a wonderful gift for you: their gorgeous cover of Big Star's "Thank You Friends" -- recorded completely live to 4-track cassette in the living room of Brandon's then empty new house on May 10, 2010.

More info (and limited free downloads) here!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moscow Girls Got Soul

A good song is a good song is a good song.

Over at Echoes in the Wind today, Whiteray dug through the Billboard charts from this week in 1969. Not so much the top of the charts (dominated by two songs from Hair, Glenn Campbell singing Jimmy Webb, Tommy Roe, the Temptations, the Zombies, and Blood Sweat & Tears), but the rest of the Hot 100.

Including an unlikely coulda-woulda-shoulda-been hit by Chubby Checker.

Certainly by 1969, it must have looked like Chubby Checker's best days were far behind him. Hell, even in his heyday, Checker seemed predestined to be a soon-to-be-forgotten novelty.

His stage name was a play on Fats Dominoe. In his first record, he imitated Alvin and the Chipmunks. And his signature song ("The Twist") was a dance-crazy novelty record.

A quick look at his career shows him going back to the same well over and over (with singles like "Let's Twist Again," "Twistin' USA," "Slow Twisting," "Twist It Up," and "Yo Twist"), then trying to "expand" his repertoire with other novelty dance songs ("Do the Freddy," "Dance the Mess Around," "Limbo Rock," "Pony Time," etc.).

By 1969, he was mostly forgotten in the U.S. (although he toured extensively throughout Europe).

Still, a good song is a good song is a good song.

And one of the signs of a good song is that you can rearrange it, put it into another style, and it's still a good song. Maybe it's an even better song in a different style because listeners bring with them the memory of the original, creating a hybrid experience when they hear a substantially reworked version.

And if there's one thing the Beatles knew well, it was good songs.

Whose idea was it to take the Chuck Berry-ish rocker "Back in the USSR" (with it's Beach Boys-inspired bridge) and rework it in a horn-fueled soul groove? Tom Sellers, who played in a pre-Oates band with Daryl Hall, arranged the song. And both Sellers and Hall played and sang on the record.

In a more just world, it would have been a hit and it might have given Chubby Checker the type of career rebirth Tina Turner enjoyed in the 1980s. But the record skimmed the bottom of the charts, peaked at number 82, then vanished.

And, up until this morning, I'd never heard it. Or even heard of it.

But now (with thanks to Whiteray and because a good song is a good song is a good song), here's Chubby Checker's comeback-that-never-was:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Your Truth, Our Lies

They barter your impunity

"There's stuff I'm not supposed to talk about," she said.

I know this. And she's said it before. And she knows I know.

And yet...

"But I'm dying to talk about it."

So I wait. Because either she'll tell me or she won't.

And I know well enough to know that she'll make up her own mind.

She starts to speak several times. Clears her throat. Plays with her hair.

Then stops.

I know what this is about. It's the company she keeps. And the horrible, horrible secrets they keep. The things they do for money.

"I worry," she says, "that I'm destroying my soul. At least I don't still believe in it. I know the difference between what they say and what's real."

She wants reassurance. Wants to know that she can still hold onto what's right even in a world where so much is wrong. A world where she has to pretend that the people doing the evil aren't so bad... just because they're in charge.

That's all she wants.

And I want to give her that reassurance. But I can't even give it to myself. And every time I try all I can hear is this:

Monday, April 4, 2011


It's the Scottish Accents, Really

History repeats itself...

...first as tragedy...

...then as farce.