Friday Evening Videos: “Athena”

My lovely Anne took the afternoon off work to spend part of my birthday with me, and after driving up to Salt Lake for an early dinner followed by some shopping and dessert at a French bakery we like, we came home along State Street, the broad thoroughfare that runs the length of the Salt Lake Valley. Generations of young people used to “cruise State” on Friday and Saturday nights, looking for company or trouble, back before the authorities decided there was too much of the latter going on and put a stop to it all. My parents actually met while cruising State, just like something out of American Graffiti, and Anne and I cruised it too when we were young. We still enjoy driving this route when we have the time and don’t want to deal with the white-knuckle pedal-to-the-medal madness of the freeway.

It was a beautiful evening tonight, the skies having been scoured clean by the rain earlier in the day, the golden-hour light as lovely and burnished as I’ve ever seen it. My favorite time of day during my favorite time of year (birthday blues notwithstanding). I didn’t know what could’ve made the moment better. But then suddenly, the satellite radio channel we were listening to dredged up a song I’ve not heard… well, probably since Anne and I used to cruise State: “Athena” by the Who.

The song was the lead single from a 1982 album called It’s Hard, but it didn’t go over very well. It reached only as far as 28 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100  and it did slightly worse in the U.K. Sadly, it was the last hit record for the venerable band, whose history stretches all the way back to the British Invasion. Curiously, the band itself has never seemed to be terribly fond of it; it’s an interesting bit of trivia that they only played it ten times during their ’82 tour, and they haven’t played it live since. Personally, I’ve always liked it. It’s one of those songs whose energy simply and magically makes me happy when I hear it. And listening to it tonight as we rolled down State in the golden-hour light, it sparked off a very specific happy memory:

My old Galaxie came equipped with only an AM radio, so when I was in the mood to listen to something other than static-filled oldies, I’d plant a boombox on the driveline hump right behind the front seats. It wasn’t the most ass-kicking sound, but it worked. I used to hear “Athena” on the radio from time to time in those days, and when there wasn’t any other traffic around and Pete Townsend’s rhythmic guitar was getting to me, I’d start to swerve the big old beast of a car back and forth in time with the song. The power steering was responsive enough I could steer with a single finger on the wheel, and I’d throw back my head and sing along, and it was as if my car was dancing with me. Back when I was young and carefree and happy just to be behind the wheel of my beloved Cruising Vessel on a late-summer evening.

For the record, my birthday this year did not suck.

FYI, there was never an official video made for “Athena.” The visual part of this clip comes from a 1982 concert at Shea Stadium, but somebody has switched out the original sound for the album recording of the song. If you’re curious about the live version, it’s here.

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Forty-Eight

It’s my birthday again.

I’m home, having taken the day off in what seems to be turning into an annual tradition for me. Outside the sky is low and dark, the color of a deep bruise, and a hard rain is threatening. I can hear backup alarms on the heavy machines across the street; they sound  frantic, like they’re trying to beat the oncoming storm as they crush and grind and rearrange the landscape I’ve literally known my entire life. The image strikes me as profound in some way… but perhaps I’m just being a drama queen about notching off another year, same as always.

A million miles goes by in the blink of an eye
And so I cannot try to slow time down
And years are made of sand slipping through my hands
Even faster than the speed of sound

— Mary Chapin Carpenter, “The Dreaming Road”

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Music Questions: An Internet Quiz Thingie

It’s been a long time since I ran across one of those questionnaire things that used to comprise so much of the blogosphere. You know, the list of random questions that reveal oddball truths about your tastes and/or personality? I always enjoyed doing those, so when I spotted this one on Facebook earlier today, I couldn’t resist.

And now… random queries that reveal my dubious taste in music!

  1. A song you like with a color in the title: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson
  2. A song you like with a number in the title: “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega
  3. A song that reminds you of summertime: “Dance the Night Away” by Van Halen
  4. A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about: “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent
  5. A song that needs to be played LOUD!: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC
  6. A song that makes you want to dance: “Dancing with Myself” by Billy Idol
  7. A song to drive to: “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” by John Mellencamp
  8. A song about drugs or alcohol: “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” by George Thorogood
  9. A song that makes you happy: “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
  10. A song that makes you sad: “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley
  11. A song you never get tired of: “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
  12. A song from your preteen years: “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton John
  13. One of your favorite ’80s songs: “Safety Dance” by Men in Hats
  14. A song you would love played at your wedding: “A Love Song (from a Different Point of View)” by Jimmy Buffett  (Go ahead, look it up!)
  15. A song that’s actually a cover of another artist: “Crimson and Clover” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (original artist: Tommy James and the Shondells)
  16. A favorite classical piece: “Spring” by Antonio Vivaldi (a bit of a banal choice, maybe, but my knowledge of classical is limited… and “Spring” just makes me happy. So there.)
  17. A song you would sing a duet with on karaoke: “I Got You, Babe” by Sonny and Cher
  18. A song from the year you were born: “Proud Mary” by Credence Clearwater Revival
  19. A song that makes you think about life: “Human Touch” by Bruce Springsteen
  20. A favorite song that has many meanings to you: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey (Don’t laugh. I love that one more with every passing year.)
  21. A favorite song with a person’s name in the title: “Kristina” by Rick Springfield
  22. A song that moves you forward: I’m not quite sure what this one is asking… “moves me forward?” I guess I did find a lot of solace in Jimmy Buffett’s “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” during a dark time once.
  23. A song that you think everybody should listen to: “Imagine” by John Lennon
  24. A song by a band you wish was still together: “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin
  25. A song by an artist no longer living: “I Drove All Night” by Roy Orbison
  26. A song that makes you want to fall in love: “Then He Kissed Me” by the Crystals
  27. A song that breaks your heart: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt
  28. A song by an artist with a voice you love: “In Your Room” by the Bangles (Susanna Hoffs on lead vocals)
  29. A song you remember from your childhood: “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
  30. A song that reminds you of yourself: “Beautiful Loser” by Bob Seger (Don’t worry, that’s not as self-loathing as it sounds! The dichotomous lyrics illustrating a person’s contradictory desires simply resonate with me… )

And now back to your regularly scheduled Internet programming.

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Friday Evening Videos: “September Gurls”

And suddenly it’s September, Labor Day weekend, which in my mind always marks the end of summer, even if the calendar says we have another 22 days. Already the mornings are growing cooler, the kids have gone back to school, and the light has a different slant in the afternoons.

I’m so ambivalent about this time of year, i.e., September running through early November. I love the weather — there’s no finer time for top-down driving than Indian summer, in my book — and that quality of light I mentioned is like having golden hour all day long. But in counterpoint to the sense of well-being brought on by mellow afternoons and brisk nights, I always start feeling a vague restlessness around Labor Day, a sense that I ought to be… someplace else. I guess I’ve never entirely gotten over the routine of heading back to school myself, even though I’ve been done with college since 1992. There’s also a stab of melancholy in this emotional mixtape, no doubt brought on by my impending birthday and its reminder of mortality, the stark truth that we’re only given a finite number of summers and I’ve just burned off another one. At least I can say I accomplished something with this one, i.e., successfully pulling off my 30-year high school reunion.

This week’s song selection nicely captures my current bittersweet mood, and it even includes the name of our new month in the title: “September Gurls” by The Bangles. It wasn’t a hit for them, but it’s always been one of my favorite cuts from their album Different Light.

Although Susanna Hoffs would become the face and voice most people associate with The Bangles — something that generated a lot of friction within the group and ultimately led to their breakup in 1988 — singing duties were always evenly divided among all four Bangles on their albums. Bass player Michael Steele takes the lead on this track, a cover of a 1974 song by a power-pop group called Big Star, who are better known today for their influence on other musicians than for any of their own music. (It’s worth noting, however, that you probably do know a Big Star song, even if you don’t realize it. A reworked and drastically shortened version of their tune “In the Street” became the infectious theme song for the TV sitcom That ’70s Show; sadly, though, it wasn’t Big Star’s recording that you heard every week. The song was redone by Todd Griffin for the show’s first season, and then by Cheap Trick for the rest of its run.)

Michael Steele, originally known as Micki Steele during her brief tenure with The Runaways, appeared on three Bangles albums during the band’s peak years. When The Bangles reformed in 1998, Steele was the last holdout, and while she did write and record three songs for a new album, her contributions stood out as having a distinctly different tone and sound from the rest of the material. Various conflicts around the subject of touring followed, and she again parted ways with the other Bangles in 2005, leaving Hoffs and sisters Debbi and Vicki Peterson to continue working as a trio.

Since it was never released as a single, “September Gurls” never received a proper music video. This clip is from a concert the group gave at Syria Mosque Arena in Pittsburgh on December 13, 1986; the show was broadcast by MTV.

And with that… happy Labor Day, kids. Hope you can all enjoy a three-day weekend.

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Friday Evening Videos: “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)”

By the time I graduated from high school in the spring of 1987, I was beginning to disconnect from popular music. My tastes to that point had always been pretty solidly Top-40, with a general preference toward guitar-based rock sounds, but in the latter half of the ’80s, pop started to move in directions that I didn’t care to go, especially as hip-hop and rap became more mainstream. (Sorry, hip-hop fans, I’ve tried… ) I was evolving, too, of course, and would begin to explore harder rock and more historical stuff when I started college in the fall.

Nevertheless, there were some pop tunes that were still catching my fancy around that time. Listening to them now, I’m struck by how many of them have (to my ear, at least) a similar sound. I’m thinking of three in particular: “(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew, “Something So Strong” by Crowded House, and this week’s selection, “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)” by a Canadian band called Glass Tiger. I can’t put my finger on what exactly I’m hearing in these three tunes that sounds alike to me, or why exactly that sound appealed to me so much when I was 17 years old and more or less coasting on autopilot toward commencement. (Honestly, I was more preoccupied at that point with girls and immediate gratification than with anything to do with my future. Which probably explains a lot when I look at the course my life has taken.) But whatever that X factor was, I did love these tunes, and “Don’t Forget Me” in particular proved to be inspirational, as I remember writing that phrase in a lot of yearbooks.

With my 30-year reunion happening tomorrow — a reunion I somehow, improbably, ended up in charge of — I’ve been thinking about those final weeks of May and June, 1987, and of yearbooks and fine sunny days in my old 1970 Thunderbird, and of course the girl with whom I was besotted at the time. And naturally this silly song is playing in the background of all my reminiscences.

Glass Tiger formed in 1983 and lasted ten years before “going on hiatus,” as Wikipedia kindly describes it. In that time, they produced a number of singles that were hits north of the border, but only two of their songs made a splash in the U.S.: “Someday” and “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone),” both from a 1986 album called The Thin Red Line. Of the two, “Don’t Forget Me” was the bigger success, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October of ’86. I suspect a factor in its success was a backing vocal by Bryan Adams, who was still riding the popularity wave generated by his smash 1984 album Reckless and the subsequent world tour. You can hear his unmistakable voice chime in roughly two-thirds through “Don’t Forget Me.”

Interestingly, Glass Tiger shot two videos for this song; off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other bands that did that, unless it was an alternate live performance clip or something. The first video was made for the Canadian market, and I hope my Canadian friends will forgive me for saying there’s a good reason why it wasn’t more widely distributed. I usually shy away from describing any piece of vintage media as “cheesy,” but in this case there’s just no other word that quite describes it. The whole thing, with kids in day-Glo ’80s-wear pretending to play instruments and the members of Glass Tiger mugging their way through a faux wedding, plays like a fantasy sequence from an episode of Full House. All it needs is a guest appearance from John Stamos and the Olson Twins. (If morbid curiosity compels you, here’s a link to the Canadian version.)

The second video, the one made for international markets, can probably also be described as cheesy, considering it’s pretty much a grab-bag of ’80s music-video cliches. You’ve got mullet hair-dos, big shades, acid-washed jeans, baggy sport coats, one guy in a bolo tie and another in a quasi-military-style jacket, and of course the obligatory pinback button in the lead singer’s lapel. But believe it or not, this stuff was cool back in ’87. Yes, kids, it’s true… this really is how we dressed, or at least wanted to dress. The strangest thing about this clip is that Bryan Adams is nothing more than a disembodied voice; at least in the Canadian Full House pastiche, there was a kid (dressed in Adams’ then-tradmark denim) lip-syncing his part.

Glass Tiger reformed in 2003 and still plays occasional live gigs throughout Canada. And tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to see if writing this song’s title in everybody’s yearbook actually did the trick at keeping me in my classmates’ memories…

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Last-Minute Signal Boost: BHS Class of ’87 Reunion!

Now that the sun has returned and everyone has drifted back to the comforting, unchanging glow of their electronic devices, a message for any of my old classmates who may be reading this blog:

If by some chance you either haven’t heard about it or haven’t made up your mind about attending, we’re only days away from our 30-year reunion. Time to act! Details below… and I hope to see you all there!

Save

Save

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Friday Evening Videos: “Rhinestone Cowboy”

When Glen Campbell died earlier this week, I wrote on Facebook that there was a lot more to his career than just “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and indeed that’s true. He wore a lot of hats during the course of his 50-year career in the entertainment industry: He was a session musician on a mind-boggling number of recordings during the ’60s; he filled in for Brian Wilson on tour when the leader of the Beach Boys had a nervous breakdown; as a solo artist, he recorded and released some 67 albums; he hosted four seasons of a television variety show that bore his name; and he even tried his hand at acting, appearing alongside no less a star than John Wayne in the original True Grit. In spite of all those achievements, though, the vast majority of the obituaries and retrospectives I saw this week somehow managed to reference “Rhinestone” in their headlines. But you know what? As legacies go, that song is a pretty damn good one.

Released in 1975 as a standalone single (as opposed to a track from an album), Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” was a cover of a song written and recorded a year earlier by a guy named Larry Weiss. Weiss’ recording didn’t make much of an splash, but Campbell’s certainly did, rising to the number-one spot on both the country and pop charts, and ending the year as Billboard‘s number-two single of ’75. It also scored highly on a number of international charts and, with its laid-back-but-not-too-twangy sound, it helped usher in a new sub-genre of country/pop crossover music that would peak in the early ’80s with hitmakers like Alabama, Juice Newton, Eddie Rabbitt, and Kenny Rogers. “Rhinestone” is also one of a handful of songs — including Mac Davis’ “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown,” and Elvis Presley’s “Kentucky Rain” — that are capable of instantly catapulting me back to my early childhood… back to a time when my hometown was more hay fields than housing developments, and just about the best thing in the whole wide world was riding with my mom in her ’56 Ford pickup, watching the sundogs pivot off the curve of the truck’s enormous windshield as we carried a midday snack of Fanta red-cream soda and raspberry Zingers to my dad…

Although I tend to think of music videos not really existing prior to the advent of MTV in 1981, there is a ’70s-vintage video for “Rhinestone Cowboy.” It’s pretty simplistic compared to what the rock artists would be doing less than a decade later, but its visuals evoke the feeling of my childhood memories as strongly as the notes of the song itself do. That road that Glen is walking alongside could easily have been one of the ones my mom and I drove down in her ’56, and the way he’s dressed reminds me of my dad and my Uncle Louie when they were young and strong.

After all the crazy headlines of this past week, I really like the idea of going back to 1975, if only for three minutes and ten seconds. As for Glen Campbell’s passing, well… he’s free now to walk any street and sing his song forever. I’m glad he’s at peace after his long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

 

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Fire and Fury Like the World Has Never Seen

After the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union disintegrated, I thought I’d never again feel as nervous about the likelihood of nuclear war as I did during my teenage years in the 1980s.

As with so many other things I believed in my twenties, I was wrong.

Relevant link.

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Review: Runnin’ with the Devil

Running with the Devil: Managing Van Halen Straight to the TopRunning with the Devil: Managing Van Halen Straight to the Top by Noel Monk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Noel E. Monk managed the rock band Van Halen from its breakthrough in 1978 to the end of its first incarnation in 1985, when lead singer David Lee Roth left for a solo career and Monk himself was fired. Prohibited from publicly telling his side of things for many years, Monk is finally free to dish the gossip, and the result is this quick-reading memoir with the apropos subtitle “A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen.” (I don’t know why Goodreads claims the subtitle is something else. )

There are enough gossipy tidbits here to appeal to prurient interest, but if you’re a VH fan (or even just a fan of rock music in general), none of that will surprise you. Promiscuous sex, drugs and booze, trashed hotel rooms, and dickish behavior are hardly unique to this particular band. The basic outline of their rise and fall will seem familiar too: hard-working and talented young musicians break through, rise to immense heights, and then are undone by substance abuse and clashing egos. The thing that really distinguishes this book, however, is Monk himself. He’s led quite a swashbuckling life, before and after Van Halen, and he’s by turns funny, opinionated, and brutally honest. He doesn’t shy away from the really nasty aspects of the Van Halen story — Alex Van Halen comes off looking especially bad, in my opinion — but this isn’t a hit piece, and Monk never sounds like a guy with an ax to grind. He very obviously loved this band and loved the time he spent with them. But they weren’t always easy to deal with and the way things ultimately end up between the members of Van Halen and Noel Monk are downright heartbreaking.

My one complaint with Runnin’ with the Devil is that it leaves the reader hanging on certain matters. It is to Monk’s credit that he stops talking about Van Halen at the moment his involvement ended, rather than speculating on events he didn’t directly witness. But of course the band did continue in a new form, with Sammy Hagar as lead singer (Monk doesn’t think too highly of that era, or of David Lee Roth’s solo efforts), and there were a lot of unresolved personal matters at the time of Monk’s departure as well. What happened with Eddie and Alex’s alcoholism? And Michael Anthony’s as well? If you’re curious about those subjects, you’ll have to find another book. But if you want a powerful evocation of life on the road for a young band just arriving on the scene, as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how things went wrong in only a few short years, this one is highly recommended.

View all my reviews

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The Archeology of Our Modern Mythology

Being a Star Wars fan was different 25 years ago. Before the Special Editions. Before the prequels. And of course long before Disneyfication made a steady flow of new Star Wars movies not only possible, but inescapable. Way back in the mid-1990s, there was actual scarcity associated with the franchise. We had the first new novels and comic-book miniseries that would grow into the Expanded Universe, and Hasbro had tentatively introduced a new line of toys. But the red beating heart of the franchise, the movies — and remember, at that point, there were only three movies, the original trilogy, the Holy Trilogy — had happened a very long time before. In a very real sense, they felt like ancient history. So how appropriate was it that an archeologist named David West Reynolds chose to treat them as ancient history and go to Tunisia in search of the real-world locations that had once stood in for the fictional world of Tatooine?

I remember reading West’s article in the old Star Wars Insider magazine and feeling the same sense of wonder I might have experienced if he’d been talking about the ruins of Troy. I’d always known that those places really existed somewhere on the globe, but no one had thought (as far as I knew) to actually go see them, and seeing his photos and reading his descriptions of how they appeared nearly 20 years after the shoot was fascinating for me.

As it happens, West didn’t just take still photographs during his expedition; he also shot hours of videotape. And now he’s shaping that video into a documentary for hardcore Star Wars fans to geek over. Naturally, he’s using Kickstarter to raise some money for post-production, and just as naturally, I’m quite excited about the whole idea. Here’s his pitch:

West actually met his initial funding goal weeks ago, but now in the final hours of the campaign, he’s hoping to raise enough extra money to allow him to include additional footage, motion-graphics maps, Star Wars-inspired graphics, and on-screen annotations, as well as original music and a professional polish on the audio and video. And when I say “final hours,” I’m not kidding; as of this writing, there are only about nine hours remaining. So I realize my post here is very last-minute and unlikely to attract much attention or help for West’s campaign, but as I said above, I’m excited about this project and would like to see it made as well as it possibly can be made, so I figure it’s worth a try. If you see this before morning, and if it sounds at all interesting to you — and if it doesn’t, what kind of Star Wars fan are you?! — jump on over to the Kickstarter page and have a look around, and then consider pledging a few bucks. It’s not just a time capsule of those sites before the tourists and the resurgence of Star Wars fandom altered them forever; it’s also a time capsule of a different period of Star Wars fandom.  One that I honestly think was a lot more fulfilling than our current era. But hey, that’s me, and we all know I’m just a grumpy old man these days.

Check out the campaign here.

 

 

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