I’ve built quite a persona for myself over the years as a musical curmudgeon: defender all things ’80s, grunge heretic, “Mr. Classic Rock.” If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know the drill. But while I can’t deny that I found less and less of the new music coming out during the 1990s to my liking, it is untrue that I didn’t like any of it. There were songs in that era that managed to catch my fancy.
Two of those were early hits by an Irish band called The Cranberries, although I honestly couldn’t have told you who performed them prior to this week. I know the band’s name now, of course, because of the sad, untimely death on Monday of their lead singer Dolores O’Riordan. As of this writing, there still hasn’t been any official cause of death released to the public. All we really know is that she died in a London hotel room at the age of 46.
It’s funny… I haven’t thought about either “Linger” or “Dreams” in years, but I’ve had both of them on constant repeat all week. They both summon up a kind of sense memory of my young adulthood… no specific associations, but rather just the way it felt to be in my early twenties in the early ’90s. “Linger” was the bigger hit, but somehow it’s “Dreams” that resonates the most strongly for me. The song was the band’s first single, originally released to little attention in 1992, only to become a top-15 hit in 1994 after “Linger” cleared the way. Listening to it today, I can recall how my body felt before all the hinges started to squeak, and in O’Riordan’s clear, girlish voice I hear all the yearning and hope and certainty that used to live in my own heart. Maybe that’s why the death of a woman whose face and name I didn’t know has shaken me so hard… well, that and her age, just two years younger than myself. The same age as my lovely Anne. And the fact that, as far as the public knows she simply dropped dead. She was on the eve of recording new music, a mother of three, reportedly feeling good about her life and with a lot.of living yet to go… and then she’s gone.
I’ve reached the age where you just never know. And I am as haunted by that as I’ve ever been by hazy nostalgia. Coming from me, that’s saying something.
Here’s a little something for the season, from the man whose name is synonymous with Halloween — Halloween the movie, that is — film writer and director John Carpenter.
Carpenter is essentially retired from movie-making these days, but he’s been keeping himself plenty busy with musical pursuits. Working with his son Cody (whose mother is the actress Adrienne Barbeau) and godson Daniel Davies, he’s recorded two albums in recent years, Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, both of which sound like the throbbing synthesizer soundtracks he used to create for his films. (That’s a good thing, in my book.) He’s even done a few live performances, like a bona fide rock star. (I’ve not been fortunate enough to see him… yet. But I’m hopeful.)
Now, however, he’s stepped back behind the camera and behind the wheel of a familiar old friend to promote his latest release, Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998. For an old-school Carpenter fan like myself, the result is pretty close to sublime:
I don’t know about you, but the hair on my arms rises when those tires start to squeal…
Anthology, a collection of Carpenter’s iconic movie music re-recorded using modern equipment and updated arrangements, came out last month and is available in all the usual formats, from all the usual venues.
And remember, kids, when you’re out trick-or-treating tonight… if a strange old man driving a red ’57 Plymouth rolls up and offers you a ride… don’t be scared. It’s only Halloween…
Just between you and me, the sudden, shocking death of Tom Petty earlier this week sent me into a deep funk.
I’m sure it didn’t help that I was already upset about the bloodbath in Las Vegas the night before the news about Petty broke. But even so, seeing the initial report that he’d been found in full cardiac arrest a mere week after the triumphant finish of what he’d been saying would be his final tour… it hit me like a piledriver to the solar plexus and I’m still trying to find my breath.
What surprises me about my reaction is that I’ve only ever thought of myself as a casual, “greatest-hits” level fan. Hell, for a long time, I didn’t even have a clear idea of who Tom Petty was, other than the skinny blond dude in that really messed-up “Alice in Wonderland”-themed MTV video. But then came The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, the collaborative project he did with Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. I adored the Wilburys. Then came Full Moon Fever, his first solo album without his usual band, the Heartbreakers, and I adored that, too. And then I heard “American Girl” in the film The Silence of the Lambs, of all places, and decided I needed to check out this guy’s back catalog, whereupon I realized that I really did know quite a lot of Tom Petty’s work after all, and I liked what I’d heard. Like Springsteen and Mellencamp, he had a knack for capturing a particular flavor of everyday American life that I strongly related to. For whatever reason, though, I’ve just never explored his oeuvre beyond the radio hits. Hence, my feeling of being a casual fan at best.
Nevertheless, there are two Tom Petty songs that are very important to me, both of which just happened to come along right when I most needed to hear them, and I think it’s because of the personal meaning attached to those two songs that I’m feeling his death so keenly.
The first was “Free Fallin’,” the third single from Full Moon Fever and one of Tom’s biggest hits. It was released in the fall of 1989 and peaked on the charts in January of ’90. As fate would have it, I was experiencing my first big heartbreak during that period, and while there were many songs that spoke to me around that time, it’s “Free Fallin'” that I remember playing over and over. Its mood, if not its actual lyrics, reflected my emotional state almost perfectly: a melancholy stew of loss, regret, guilt, and most of all, the gnawing, inescapable truth that there wasn’t a damn thing I could have done to prevent any of it. You might think that listening to a song that reminded me of all that would be masochistic under the circumstances, and I suppose it was, to a degree. But weirdly, it also brought me some comfort to know that I wasn’t the only person who’d ever experienced these feelings. Without being too dramatic about it, I credit this song with keeping me sane during that time.
A year and a half later, I was still trying to pick up the emotional pieces — hey, what can I say, I’ve always been slow to get over stuff — when Tom Petty got back together with the Heartbreakers for the album Into the Great Wide Open. The first single from that one was “Learning to Fly.” And again, somehow, improbably if not impossibly, this tune by a guy 20 years my senior managed to capture exactly what I was going through. I hear in it the weary but hopeful voice of someone who’s been in a tailspin but is now beginning to pull out of it and face the world again, just like I was in the summer of 1991. I still like “Free Fallin’,” but it no longer resonates with me so much. “Learning to Fly” does, because that’s how I still feel at any given time. Like a battered survivor who’s still trying to sort things out. I think maybe I feel that way more now at the age of 48 than I ever have. And so of course that’s the one I must post this week, in honor of a fallen troubadour who meant a lot more to me than I ever realized while he was still here.
I was going to post the official video, but then I spotted this clip, recorded at a concert 12 years ago. It’s the perfect farewell, in so many ways. The slower, more meditative pacing, the audience calling back to him in one of those moments of transcendence you sometimes experience at concerts with your long-time heroes… and yes, that is my beloved rock goddess Stevie Nicks singing backup. She and Petty were friends and occasional collaborators for 40 years. She’s even said she almost joined the Heartbreakers when Fleetwood Mac started going south; instead, she forged a solo career with Tom frequently lending his talents on songs like “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” I can only imagine what she’s been going through this week… and thinking of it makes me all the more sad.
One final thought: Tom Petty was one of the last remaining names on my wishlist of artists I’d like to see in concert. I never got the chance, and I’m going to regret that for a long time. Even worse, though, Tom’s passing is a reminder that my rock-and-roll imaginary friends are getting old. Realistically they’re not going to be out there on the road for very much longer, and then some time after that, they’re not going to be out there at all. And once they’ve all gone… how old will I feel myself? What happens when you outlive the heroes of your youth?
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.
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!
A song you like with a color in the title: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson
A song you like with a number in the title: “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega
A song that reminds you of summertime: “Dance the Night Away” by Van Halen
A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about: “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent
A song that needs to be played LOUD!: “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC
A song that makes you want to dance: “Dancing with Myself” by Billy Idol
A song to drive to: “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” by John Mellencamp
A song about drugs or alcohol: “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” by George Thorogood
A song that makes you happy: “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
A song that makes you sad: “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley
A song you never get tired of: “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield
A song from your preteen years: “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton John
One of your favorite ’80s songs: “Safety Dance” by Men in Hats
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!)
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)
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.)
A song you would sing a duet with on karaoke: “I Got You, Babe” by Sonny and Cher
A song from the year you were born: “Proud Mary” by Credence Clearwater Revival
A song that makes you think about life: “Human Touch” by Bruce Springsteen
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.)
A favorite song with a person’s name in the title: “Kristina” by Rick Springfield
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.
A song that you think everybody should listen to: “Imagine” by John Lennon
A song by a band you wish was still together: “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin
A song by an artist no longer living: “I Drove All Night” by Roy Orbison
A song that makes you want to fall in love: “Then He Kissed Me” by the Crystals
A song that breaks your heart: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt
A song by an artist with a voice you love: “In Your Room” by the Bangles (Susanna Hoffs on lead vocals)
A song you remember from your childhood: “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
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.
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.
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…
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.
The following opinion might not sit well with some of my readers, but I’ve got to be honest: I don’t really care for Elton John.
I know, I know, he’s part of the classic-rock pantheon and all, but his music has never quite clicked with me. And a couple of his biggest hits are weapons-grade irritants as far as I’m concerned. “Crocodile Rock” is enough to make me want to murder a busload of nuns.
Ah, but then there’s”Tiny Dancer.” That track belongs to an entirely different category. Its sound is deceptively simple, and yet the song contains rich imagery and a multitude of emotions, some of which are paradoxically contradictory. “Tiny Dancer” is by turns wistful, nostalgic, joyous, sad, celebratory. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the song is a reflection of life itself, all the ups and downs, all the beauties and disappointments, all encapsulated in six sublime minutes.
That amazing flexibility of tone is evident when you consider its two best-known uses in television and film: at the conclusion of the WKRP in Cincinnati episode “The Americanization of Ivan,” and in the marvelous scene aboard a rock band’s tour bus in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece Almost Famous. Both scenes are bittersweet and heartbreaking in entirely different ways, and if you have any kind of soul at all, both are unforgettable.
Strangely, given how ubiquitous and well-known it is today, “Tiny Dancer” was not a hit when it was first released. Its long runtime and lack of a traditional pop hook both worked against it succeeding as a single; it reached only 41 on the U.S. charts, and it wasn’t released in the U.K. at all. But over the years, it’s become a staple of adult contemporary and classic rock radio, and it has a timeless quality that never seems to go out of style. You’d never guess it’s four-and-a-half decades old.
There had been some experiments with filmed promotional clips prior to the song’s release in 1972, but MTV was still a decade in the future, so no video as we understand the term was ever made for “Tiny Dancer.” Until now.
Just last month, a director named Max Welland won Elton John: The Cut, a video competition held in honor of Sir Elton’s 50-year writing partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin, with his brilliant visual interpretation of “Tiny Dancer.” Filmed in Los Angeles, the video doesn’t have a plot per se, but comprises dreamy images of LA skies, traffic, and landscapes, and vignettes of interesting-looking people that invite us to imagine the stories behind the moments we’re sharing with them. Like the song itself, these vignettes encompass a number of emotions and, taken together, form nothing less than a celebration of life itself.
There are a lot of music videos I like. There aren’t many that move me. This is magnificent:
Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes, that is shock-rocker Marilyn Manson petting the snake. I have no idea what he’s doing in there, but… it fits.
When I was a young man, I went through a phase that I imagine a lot of young men experience, a time when I was desperately trying to be a bad boy. You know the type, the misunderstood outlaw with a sensitive side, just like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or, to reference something a bit more relevant to my generation, Bender in The Breakfast Club.
Of course, I wasn’t really bad at all (which, come to think of it, is probably true of most of the young men people believe to be bad boys). In fact, I was pretty goody-goody if I’m being honest about it. I never broke any laws, aside from occasionally speeding in my big old Ford Galaxie. I didn’t get into fights or vandalize things. I didn’t do drugs, and I never touched alcohol until my 21st birthday, if you can believe that. I went to my classes every day and I pulled mostly A grades, high school and college both. But growing up in strait-laced Utah, at least when I did it back in the ’80s, it wasn’t too hard to gain a reputation. Don’t go to church, listen to the wrong kinds of music, have a naughty sense of humor and an earthy vocabulary, wear your hair a little long in the back and cultivate some facial hair… oh, and of course, drive a big old Ford Galaxie. They had roomy back seats, you know. I was very well aware that fathers cringed when I arrived to pick up their daughters, and I loved that. In my mind’s eye, I was a heartbreaker, a dashing highwayman, a love-em-and-leave-em renegade with an irresistible smile and a mission to claim another sweet young thing before the night was over, a real scoundrel. I know at least one of the girls I dated saw right through all that nonsense — probably they all did — but their fathers didn’t, and more importantly… I didn’t. For a time, I really believed that’s who I was. And I liked that guy. I miss him sometimes, now that I’m old and settled.
Around that general time period, Gregg Allman, who was a notorious bad boy himself, released an album called I’m No Angel. Allman was legendary for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, a seminal Southern rock band of the 1970s, but his solo career had been far less successful, so it was a bit of a surprise when this new album’s title track — originally recorded by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers five years earlier — hit number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in the third week of March 1987. I was a senior in high school then, cruising the last couple months toward graduation day with all the credits I needed, and a lot more interest in immediate pleasures than trying to figure out my future. The bluesy-country sound of “I’m No Angel,” and lyrics that spoke of a man both dangerous and endearing, clicked perfectly with the image I was trying to cultivate, and I adopted the tune as my personal theme song for that long spring and the summer that followed. I remember singing it to that girl I mentioned, the one who saw through me, one hot and sunny afternoon in the roomy back seat of my Galaxie…
I don’t remember ever seeing the video for “I’m No Angel” back then. It’s pretty silly stuff, typical of late-80s MTV after the initial surge of excitement for the new medium had worn thin. I think Allman looks a bit embarrassed to be in it, and it’s telling that his official YouTube channel doesn’t include it (although there is a nifty live version of the song from 2015 that’s worth checking out). Nevertheless, I present it here as a memento of a time in my life that I still think about more often than I probably ought to at my age:
If you haven’t heard, Gregg Allman died a week ago at the age of 69. A friend of mine commented on Facebook that she’d once worked with him briefly. She didn’t get to know him well, but her impression was that he was “a really gentle soul interested in primarily two things: music and women.” Sounds a lot like that young highwayman I used to know. Rest in peace, Gregg.