Saturday, December 31, 2011

No. 887 – Do the Neurotic

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: In Too Deep single
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: None

In my third quarter, I finally got a chance to show Northwestern what I could do from a journalism standpoint. I hadn’t been savvy enough to handle local reporting—particularly when events didn’t lead to a particularly newsy cycle—and I was only slightly better off writing about business.

But in spring 1987, Medill started its first sportswriting class. For a quarter, I covered baseball under the direction of Ron Berler, who was famous for inventing the Three-Ex-Cubs Factor, which held that no team that had as many as three ex-Cubs could win a World Series. (It held true for a long time; I don’t know if form still holds given the vagaries of free agency.) When you consider that I already knew I wanted to be a sportswriter and the the only reason I went to Medill was to get a degree, this was right in my wheelhouse.

The class was essentially broken in half: We would cover a college team for half of the quarter and then trade and cover an area high school team or vice versa. I started with a high-school baseball team—after a week of covering the Cubs (definitely more on that later)—and when I hear this song, I think about driving up Sheridan/Green Bay road to tony Winnetka and New Trier High School.

Even those who aren’t familiar with Chicago might have heard of New Trier. It’s probably one of the more well-known public high schools in the country. A whole bunch of famous people graduated there: Two who immediately come to mind are Charlton Heston and Ann-Margaret.

New Trier also has a storied athletic program, and the baseball team was expected to be good again in 1987. The goal, as it was every year, was to “make it downstate”—qualify for the state championships. Although Berler had called all of the high schools to clue them in on what we’d be doing and they signed off on it, I still made sure to drive up ahead of the season and introduce myself to the head coach, Ron Klein, and let him know that I would be around—covering them like I would a pro team, minus being in the lockerroom after they showered, of course. I was a bit hesitant at first, but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable.

Actually it was a breath of fresh air: The two coaches, Klein, who had coached at New Trier forever, and Pete Burnside, a former major leaguer, were gracious and patient with this cub reporter, and the players were kids who loved any attention they got. It was a really fun spring, and considering how I was coming off a rough breakup, I really needed that.

Friday, December 30, 2011

No. 888 – Muzzle

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriters: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

Every once in a while, I get things right. That was truly the case with Debbie’s birthday in 1995, shortly after this sprawling album had taken over my stereo and Walkman.

If there were a signal from the Cosmos that Debbie and I belonged together, so we thought, it was in the birthdays. Every person of significance in her life had a birthday that was at most two days apart from someone of significance in mine.

Debbie’s birthday is two days after Scott’s, and in 1995, we made plans to have him and Shani, who had moved down to Cincinnati to be with him, up for a birthday bash that would consist primarily of going to BW-3 for wings, tunes and brews.

However, shortly before Scott came up, I learned that the Art Institute in Chicago was going to hold a massive Monet exhibit. So, I set the gears in motion: I bought plane tickets, made hotel and dinner reservations and, yes, secured tickets to the exhibit—all without telling Debbie. I alerted Scott that there would be a slight change in plans, so we would have to cut the evening short, and to his credit he was cool about that. Now for the piece de resistance: I got a birthday card and put the tickets to the exhibit inside. At the right moment, the big surprise would be revealed.

Sure enough, at BW-3, Debbie gave Scott our present. Whereupon at the conclusion, I said, “Speaking of birthdays …” and produced her card. Debbie opened it and pulled out the tickets without saying a word but a very confused look on her face. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “These are for tomorrow.”

“Well, then, it’s a good thing I bought us plane tickets, isn’t it?”

Wait, what? When the realization of what was happening finally hit her, she was beside herself with excitement. Like I said, nailed it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

No. 889 – Bring It On

Performer: Seal
Songwriters: Chris Bruce, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, Carmen Rizzo, Gus Isidore, Seal
Original Release: Seal II
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

When Debbie and I went to Cedar Point in July 1994, I was excited for a number of reasons. First, I hadn’t been to an amusement park in seven years, and I hadn’t been to Cedar Point in more than a decade, because Beth didn’t like roller coasters and I had moved away.

But second—and more important—I was eager to see Debbie again. We had clicked at the Rush concert 2 years before, but at the Reds game a week earlier, we started to find that we really had a lot in common. And that discovery changed things a bit for Cedar Point. At the Reds game, we were friends, but Cedar Point felt more like a date.

Anyway, this is where my work schedule worked to my benefit: We went on a Monday when there would be fewer people. Debbie took the day off, and we left first thing in the morning to maximize our time at the park.

I always preferred Cedar Point to Kings Island, and part of the reason had to do with the difficulty in getting there. It’s right on Lake Erie, and back in the day, there was no direct way to get there. Consequently, it wasn’t as crowded, and less crowded equals shorter lines. As far as I recall, I never had a three-hour wait for anything at Cedar Point, like I had endured with The Beast at Kings Island.

In 1994, the big ride was the Raptor, a new twisty bottomless hanging coaster. It was near the entrance, and Debbie wanted to hit that right away. I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t been on a coaster in seven years; I had to start small and work my stomach up to it.

That meant starting with the Corkscrew—the world’s oldest triple-upside-down coaster. Sure, you go upside-down, but the first drop is nothing. It’s a good way to show your stomach that this was how it was going to be. After that came the Gemini, which was at one time—1978—the tallest, fastest coaster in the world. In 1994, it wasn’t even half the height of the tallest coaster in the park. (Now, it’s a quarter of the height of the tallest.)

I love the Gemini, because there’s a section as you wind back and forth among the wood tracks where it looks for sure as you go down a small drop that if you have your hands in the air they’ll be lopped off by a beam. It’s funny to watch from the side while you’re in line, because everyone—every single one—lowers his arms. It’s an optical illusion, of course. Even if you’re Yao Ming, your hands aren’t going to hit the beam. I kept my hands up.

After the Gemini, we graduated to the Magnum, which at the time was the baddest hombre there. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, but I wasn’t about to fly the wuss banner. But as we rose the 200 feet on the main hill, I started feeling a sensation that would later in life become all too familiar when encountering high, open spaces. It quickly passed, and my arms instinctively shot into the air.


(To be continued)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No. 890 – The Acid Queen

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Tommy
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: Live at Swansea, 1976, or pretty much any live version from 1975 or 1976 with Roger on vocals.

Scott’s music-finding buddy latched onto a recording of The Who’s epic set at Woodstock just before we went to Hawaii in the summer of 1984, so that album is pretty much synonymous with that trip. Needless to say—but I’ll say it anyway—I’ll have a lot more to talk about there.

But this also presented a problem at home—one that presented itself whenever Scott latched onto some new Who bootleg: When was I going to listen to it?

See, by the summer of 1984, if I had a waking moment, chances were very high that I was spending it with Beth—not that I minded that development. By this time, we had become lovers, so ANY time together meant the possibility of sneaking away at any given moment. Being a healthy, heterosexual male, that worked for me. Whipped? At 20? Duh?!

But Beth Hated The Who with a capital H. (She also hated baseball, so as you can tell, our relationship was doomed from the start, but we were too in love and lust at this point to care about trivial matters.) We did like a lot of the same music, but she didn’t care for hard rock.

That meant The Who was the sound of vacations apart—like Hawaii—of the few nights I would go out with friends or get together with my brother or sister when Beth wasn’t around. It was the soundtrack of driving to and from my job at Food World. And, of course, I had plenty of opportunities to crank it up after I was safely back at Wabash.

It was a small price to pay to keep her happy and her foot firmly on the accelerator of my sex drive.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No. 891 – Zenland

Performer: Alien Love Child
Songwriter: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Live and Beyond
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: None

After Scott added iTunes to my new computer, he regularly would send a disc of stuff that he found during the dying days of Napster. One of the things he found was Alien Love Child. I was happy to have new music by Eric Johnson, even though most of it was so-so. However, one person who was less than happy was my next-door neighbor.

After Debbie and I broke up, I moved into a six-unit rowhouse similar to the place in German Village. Because it also was brick, I never heard anything from any of my neighbors on either side of me, so I figured it was pretty solidly built.

At night, after I’d get home from work about midnight, I’d be upstairs working on an article for BBT. I had my second stereo setup in my bedroom, and now, because of iTunes, I could plug my computer into the stereo and hear the music over the speakers. But at night, I wouldn’t do that, because that would be too loud. I used the computer speakers themselves. Even at full volume, which I never set the volume at, the tiny speakers on the laptop wouldn’t be enough to bother anyone through a brick wall.

Well, apparently the craftsmanship in Clintonville didn’t equal that of German Village, because one night, while I had this on, there came a knock on my door. It was my neighbor who shared a common wall with my bedroom, in his bathrobe, and needless to say, he wasn’t there to compliment me on my taste in music.

Yes, he could hear my music; it was too loud. I apologized of course and the next day to show there were no hard feelings, I took him a bottle of wine.

And I got the headphones out on subsequent evenings. Things were bad enough as is; I didn’t need any trouble from neighbors threatening to call the cops for creating a disturbance. (I kid you not.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

No. 892 – Pushit

Performer: Tool
Songwriters: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Paul D’Amour
Original Release: ├ćnima
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

Beavis & Butthead begat my discovery of Tool, which led to my purchase of Undertow, and that made me a fan enough that I would definitely buy the next album whenever it came out, which it did just before me and Debbie’s trip to New England. But I left it at home, because I thought (correctly as it would turn out) that it was too harsh for her tastes. She liked hard rock but not metal.

And Tool was definitely metal. But ├ćnima showed the future of the band wasn’t going to be just head-banging. The progression from Undertow was such that by the third album, I was describing Tool to anyone who was interested (and a few who weren’t) that it was as though ELP played metal—long, dense songs that showed off the bandmembers’ virtuosity.

And I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, apparently. Tool played Lollapalooza when it was a tour in 1997, and one of the stops was in Columbus. I didn’t go, but I remember reading The Dispatch’s review in my new living room after Debbie and I bought the house in June (many stories to come there).

The reviewer at the time was constantly mocked by the alternative press for being a lame twit, and if he wasn’t the tastemaker of hip that the alternapress wished they were, every once in a while he nailed it. His review of Tool at Lollapalooza was one of those times. He wrote, specifically about this particular song, as I recall, that listening to Tool’s music was like watching a 747 take off: You think there’s no way that something that big and heavy can get off the ground, yet it does.

I thought that was pretty cool, and I don’t recall the hipsters writing anything that topped it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

No. 893 – Show Don’t Tell

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Presto
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: None

At Harbor Country News, I had neither time off nor money. At the Daily Herald, I had a little time off but still no money. But at the Flint Journal, I had both, so in 1990, I decided to take my first real vacation that didn’t involve family or friends. The choice was clear: Cooperstown.

But I decided to do more than just that. I would see Niagara Falls, swing up to Toronto and then meander through small-town Canada on the way home. Obviously, this would be a driving trip, and, like my journey through the Great Plains, I wanted to take almost all back roads. The exception would be from Niagara Falls to Toronto, although taking Canadian highways are, for the most part, like taking back roads anyway.

So I loaded up the Magic Mazda, had the landlord snap a picture to document my departure and headed out on a bright and beautiful October day. (I’m wearing shorts in the picture.) I crossed over the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron and after a quick overnight around Chatham, I headed south to the top of Lake Erie, which I followed to Niagara Falls for a brief stop and then New York.

My plan was find a motel a little east of Buffalo, maybe around Auburn or Batavia. Rte. 20 cut across the middle of the state and would take me the next day all the way to the turn-off to get to Cooperstown—the perfect route.

Funny thing though, I couldn’t find any motels along Rte. 20. It’s not as if I were looking for a Red Roof or some other chain; I wanted to stay at Joe’s Place or somesuch independent fly-by-night stopoff. No dice. I kept driving from town to town—nothing, not even in the towns themselves. It was starting to get late, and I contemplated a drive up to Rochester. But when I learned that it was 60 miles off the beaten path, I turned around. I didn’t want to have to add that extra time to the drive the next day. (Buffalo also was ruled out for the same reason.)

I don’t know how many miles I drove around western New York looking for a motel, but I finally gave up. So I pulled off on a small farm road, found a nice dark curve under some trees that afforded a wide berth for passing and hunkered down in my car. I wasn’t afraid; I was tired, and besides I was in the middle of nowhere. Who was going to bother me there?

I put some shirts up on the windows, leaned the drivers seat back and turned on the radio. Game 2 of the American League playoffs was coming on, and Boston needed a win to even up the series. I listened for a while and when it became apparent that Oakland was going to win easily, I turned it off and slowly drifted off to sleep.

My journey to the Hall of Fame was definitely off to an auspicious start.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

No. 894 – Skyscraper

Performer: David Lee Roth
Songwriters: David Lee Roth, Steve Vai
Original Release: Skyscraper
Year: 1988
Definitive Version: None

How do you like Roth as the McLean Stevenson of rock? He went from king of the mountain to forgotten peasant working the spud fields in about a year. I love the idea of Dave sitting around the studio, circa 1985, with his handlers going, “Dave, listen, you’re big. You’re huge. The time is right to go solo. The public wants it. It’s time to get rid of that baggage known as Van Halen.”

Funny thing is some of Roth’s solo stuff is all right. By Skyscraper, he hooked up with Steve Vai and did his best to create Vai Halen. It didn’t work out for him, but I still like this song; it’s a guilty pleasure to be sure. I have a clear vision of doing laundry in the Shoebox complex to this song in the wintertime shortly after I moved to Mount Prospect.

The machines were pay machines, like at a laundromat, but I didn’t have to lug everything to my car and drive somewhere. All I had to do was cart everything one building over. It had enough washers and dryers for me to do two loads to get everything done, and of course, because I was on the night shift, I never had any competition when I did my laundry. I’d get it all done and run everything back upstairs to catch the beginning of Steve & Garry before heading off to work at the Daily Herald.

It was the perfect set-up for someone in hiding.

Friday, December 23, 2011

No. 895 – Something’s Happening

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriter: Peter Frampton
Original Release: Somethin’s Happening
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Frampton Comes Alive, 1976

I must have gotten Frampton Comes Alive either right before—or more likely right after—the big move from Greensview Elementary School to Hastings Junior High, because this song—the album opener, of course—stands out in the memory banks for that fall.

It was an awkward and scary time. You’re going from being king of the school to being 7th-grade scum doing what you have to do to avoid getting a swirly by all the big kids in 9th grade.

Throw into the mix puberty and the ugly face-rearranging, soul-shaking changes that brings on. Finally add that the previous month your mom and dad split permanently and announced that they were getting a divorce because your dad was seeing someone else. In about a four-month period, I went from being gregarious to withdrawn.

Shortly after the school year started, there was a 7th-grade mixer—my first real dance. I put on my best duds—a gray-blue shirt that was a print of white ponies running across a yellow-orange-red sunset. Yikes!

But I remember how nervous and excited I was to go, and before I left, I played Frampton Comes Alive—and this song—on my stereo in my bedroom, and I kept turning up the volume until I had it all the way up to 10. (Only the cool kids had stereos that go to 11.)

I was so nervous and excited, in fact, that I didn’t notice that I had left my entrance ticket behind. It was only when I got to the school and they opened the doors that I realized the problem. So there I sat on the outside patio wall while all the other kids rushed in to undoubtedly have the time of their life.

Eventually, one of the chaperones happened to notice me sitting out there by myself. And when I told him why I was sitting there like a mope, he said, well, just come on in anyway. I caught up quickly with my crew, which really meant just Marty, and the rest of the evening was OK.

And whom did I dance with that night? Are you kidding? Asking a girl that I liked to dance (badly) was far too scary a proposition for this pimply-faced, suddenly unsure-of-himself 12-year-old wearing a bad Disco shirt to handle.

And so it went with junior high.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No. 896 – Red Skies

Performer: The Fixx
Songwriters: Charlie Barrett, Cy Curnin, Rupert Greenall, Jamie West-Oram
Original Release: Shuttered Room
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: None

The Fixx was always one of those in-between bands that was on MTV: I liked their stuff when it came on but not enough to actually spend my hard-earned money on one of their records.

But in 2010, I found this song again thanks to a confluence of events. The first was Laurie’s annual Solstice party right before Christmas. This is one of the biggest events of her annual social calendar. She makes enough food to feed a battalion, and she makes wassail, which as you might know is a spiced beer but might not is the subject of one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs—Sommerset Gloucestershire Wassail by the Kingston Trio. I was overjoyed when I finally had my first taste of the drink I knew from my youth—or maybe it was just the brandy. Either way, it’s a highlight of the Solstice party.

Laurie is, shall we say, particular in how things are done in the kitchen when she’s in charge, so I help best by getting the heck out of the way. My responsibility then is the music. In the front of the apartment, where we have the Christmas tree, we play Christmas music. In the back, where the food and drink—and inevitably most of the people—congregate, we play party music.

Of course, party music is a loose definition. To me, rock is party music, so that’s most of what I play. We had done CDs and tapes before, but last year, I grabbed a 2-gig thumb drive that I had received from some media event and loaded it up with enough music to handle a party that lasted all night.

I have a few DVDs of music backed up from Scott’s voluminous collection—for storage purposes, of course—and I went through those too. Scott has a far bigger assortment of what I like to call ’80s synth pop crap—in other words, all the music that I loved from the early days of MTV. This song was on there, and it was an instant addition to the party drive.

The party was a huge success. It went till 3 a.m., and I never had to change the music once. We must have had close to 50 people in our apartment that night, and I got a lot of compliments on my party mix. Who else would go from Cream to The Gypsy Kings to The Fixx to Vince Guaraldi to Metallica? Exactly, no one.

This year’s party didn’t quite measure up, but what could? Standards exist for a reason.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No. 897 – Who You Are

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Stone Gossard, Jack Irons, Eddie Vedder
Original Release: single, No Code
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

Unlike most people who got off the Pearl Jam bandwagon after the band decided they didn’t want to be huge and purposefully avoided doing the things that would keep them in the public eye, I stayed on board. The music was too good; I didn’t care about the rest. No singles, videos or interviews? Don’t care. Taking on Ticketbastard? How can you not support that?

And once the desired result was achieved, and everyone had moved on to Alanis Morrissette and Hootie and the Blowjobs, Pearl Jam started to relent a bit. They released this song as a single a month before the new album would hit the stores, and the alternative station in Columbus played it … to … death.

I liked it; it definitely had a summer feel to it. The summer of 1996, it was my turn to plan me and Debbie’s vacation. The year before, she had put together quite the California trip, which I will recount at a later date, so now I had to plot out the trip and make all the reservations and whatnot.

I had no doubt; it would be New England in early October. I’d been to Boston and upstate New York before then, of course, but nowhere else. And, unlike the Toronto jaunt, it definitely made sense to drive it to see the leaves and to get everywhere that we wanted to go.

So I got out the road atlas and started plotting plots based on miles and what was between point A and B. A few destinations were obvious: Cooperstown, Boston and Maine. I also wanted to swing down to Newport, R.I., and up to the White Mountains. This time, I booked everything in advance. I didn’t need any more late-night take-downs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No. 898 – A New Machine

Performer: Pink Floyd
Songwriter: David Gilmour
Original Release: A Momentary Lapse of Reason
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: Tongue, Tied & Twisted, 1988

On the album, this song is marked A New Machine (Part 1), Terminal Frost and A New Machine (Part 2), but let’s not kid ourselves: It’s all one song. This is the first of many multipart suites that I can’t mentally divide, so I consider them to be a single song. Besides, when in doubt, refer to rule No. 1: My house, my rules.

After I opened Scott’s eyes to Pink Floyd in April 1988, he quickly found Tongue, Tied & Twisted, which came from a show on the 1987 leg of the band’s huge first Roger Waters-less tour. For almost every song that’s on this list that they played on that tour, this bootleg delivers the definitive version in my mind. I associate it too much with those songs, because I played this all the time.

And speaking of association, almost every Pink Floyd song that’s on this list—and I’m not spoiling anything by saying there are many more to come—makes me think of Melanie.

With apologies to everyone who grew up in the Sixties, 1988 was the Summer of Love. My relationship with Melanie was a hurricane that blew in out of nowhere, ended abruptly and left me scattered for years afterward. It’s only been in the past decade that I finally was able to understand it and put it into proper perspective. I loved Melanie, whom I was with for four months, more passionately that I did Beth, whom I was with for four years. In retrospect, that wasn’t fair to either one, but then the heart doesn’t do fair.

As much as I might like, there’s no sense in trying to recount the whole thing chronologically, so I won’t. So, let’s start with something inconsequential.

Melanie came to visit me in New Buffalo for the Fourth of July, but because I had a huge newshole to fill in the newspaper due to the summer season, I had to cover everything—including the annual Cherry Pit Spitting contest that’s held in Eau Claire, Mich. This was serious business, and the record-holder was going to return after a one-year absence to take a shot at his own record of spitting a cherry pit 46 feet. I still can see the rolling farm land of U.S. 12 as we headed East to the languid tones of this suite (OK, really all of side 2 of Momentary Lapse, among other things).

I took pictures, while Melanie helpfully jotted down distances for me. The champ showed up at the end to great fanfare—on a motorcycle doing wheelies out in the street. It would have been hilarious if he then whiffed, but he won it all—I got a great action shot of the winning spit. However, he didn’t break his record.

Melanie and I had an excellent weekend together, although I don’t remember too many details of that particular visit aside from the Cherry Pit Spit (how can you possibly forget something like that) save for watching the fireworks over Lake Michigan down on the beach and the fireworks that ensued later that night back home.

It was a hell of a summer.

Monday, December 19, 2011

No. 899 – YYZ

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Neal Peart
Original Release: Moving Pictures
Year: 1981
Definitive Version: Different Stages, 1998, because they throw in a little Cygnus X-1 at the end, which is never a bad thing.

Debbie was into impressionist art, which is my favorite period, too, and in November 1994, she wanted to see the Barnes Exhibit. It was a series of paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and others that were owned by a private collector—many of which had never been seen by the public. But the part that sold me was Toronto would be the closest city to Columbus that would show it.

Toronto had been one of my favorite cities since I first visited in 1990, so any excuse to get back was a-OK by me. I had been several times between 1990 and 1992 when I lived in Flint and it was an easy four-hour drive, but none since then. We decided to take a long weekend, and because I was in my I’ll-do-just-about-anything-to-avoid-having-to-fly mode, we drove.

Because we would leave after Debbie got off work on Friday, it would be pretty late by the time we got to Toronto. I was a night owl and I would drive, so no problem. What was a problem, however, was I mistimed the drive: I thought it would be six hours; it was closer to eight. I also didn’t book a hotel, because I knew there would be plenty of places out in the suburbs, where Scott and I had stayed on our two previous trips. (I was also in cheapskate-motel mode at the time. Why pay $100 per night when I could pay $30?)

Consequently, this led to us driving extra miles than we needed to take the 401 to Mississauga. I didn’t care. I was so giddy to be back in Toronto that I was babbling away, pointing out this, that and the other thing.

But it was when we passed Pearson International Airport, which, as you probably all know, is where this volcanic instrumental gets its name, because Pearson carries the YYZ airport code. I was telling Debbie all of this and how the first chords are Morse code spelling out Y-Y-Z when suddenly the weight of it being 2 in the morning (she’d been up since 6) and driving around seemingly endlessly finally caught up in a volcanic eruption all her own. “I don’t care; just get to the hotel!” She might have even added an f-bomb for additional motivation.

As you can imagine, the rest of the—very quick—drive to the nearest motel I could find was pretty quiet.

I’ll have more to say about that trip at a different point, but I have to relay one more story that I can’t help but think about whenever I hear this song. I hope I’m not telling tales out of school, but my buddy Dave was humiliated in print in high school over this song. As an intrepid cub reporter for the school paper, he wrote a glowing review of Moving Pictures and mentioned this song. Unfortunately, a copy editor broke the cardinal rule of not double-checking a change and helpfully “corrected” Dave by making the song title XYZ. Because Dave’s name was on the article, it looked as though the reviewer didn’t even know the correct song title. So much for your credibility as a reviewer.

Dave’s still bitter about it 30 years later, and I can’t blame him. Some actions are too egregious to merit forgiveness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No. 900 – Pennies

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Zero EP
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

While I was playing Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to death, Smashing Pumpkins decided to up the ante and release a bunch more music in the form of singles. I wasn’t much for CD singles—even during the height of my buying frenzy: What’s the sense of paying a couple of bucks for something that you already bought?

But several of my favorites during this period released CD singles that had excess songs that ended up on the cutting-room floor. Zero, which I thought was nothing special, of course, had five extra songs. It was almost an album unto itself, so I dove in. For five extra Pumpkins songs? Heck yeah.

When I hear this song, all I can think of is me and Debbie’s bedroom in Gahanna. It was a wide room, and, like most people, we had the entertainment center at the foot of the bed—more for the music than the TV. The bedroom faced West, and we’d have a ton of sunlight in the evening, which made the gold carpeting stand out even more. The door was at one end of the room, and you’d have to walk in a U around the bed to get to the master bedroom, which was a master, I guess, only because it had a second sink. The bedroom’s far wall consisted entirely of closet space, and Debbie was magnanimous: I got one-quarter of it for my clothes.

We kept most of my music in the bedroom. I had a giant CD carousel, and it didn’t look good downstairs with Debbie’s higher class furniture, so it was hidden away upstairs. Actually, that was fine with me. After I got my new computer in 1996, shortly before Zero was released as a single, I never went downstairs much during the day anyway.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

No. 901 – You Got Me Floatin’

Performer: P.M. Dawn
Songwriters: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

100 down, 900 to go.

I have to clarify something. I had said after someone threw a Mountain Dew bottle through my car window, that that set in motion activities that would lead to Debbie and I dating. That’s true, but I forgot an important step

 At Schmidt’s that fateful day, all we did was say “let’s do the things we say we want to,” but the only thing that was actually booked was dinner at Debbie’s. We set that up for a week or so after the Bottle Incident. I don’t remember what we had that night. If I had to guess, I’d say chicken divan, which was a specialty of hers. But what I really remember was the wine that I brought.

In 1994, I didn’t know anything about wine other than it came in red, white and rose. I didn’t even know which went with what food. (I was strictly a Jack-and-a-beer-back guy at that time.) There’s a line in Jaws, one of my all-time favorite movies, where Hooper visits Brody at home around dinner and says “I brought red and white; I didn’t know what we were having.” Well, why bring two? I went for the rose—it’s red AND white, right? At the time, my brand was Beringer. I had been told at some point that that was a good label, and the white zinfandel  seemed to be all right the few times I had it before then.

What I didn’t know at the time was that bringing Debbie a white zinfandel was like taking Police Academy to Roger Ebert’s house to view: I couldn’t have looked more like the boob that I was. Debbie didn’t say a word, however.

We had a great dinner, and Debbie introduced me to Stone Free, the Hendrix tribute album. This album was how she knew Seal, because he did a killer version of Manic Depression on there with Slash. And we chatted the whole evening away, but before I left, we nailed down dates: We’d see the Reds in two weeks and do Cedar Point roughly a week later.

It wasn’t until years later, after the student had become the master, that Debbie would recall my first sad attempt to show wine gravitas: “Well, at least it was Beringer.” True, it could have been worse; it could have been Boone's Farm.

Friday, December 16, 2011

No. 902 – Dreaming in Metaphors

Performer: Seal
Songwriters: Gus Isidore, Seal
Original Release: Seal
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

I saw Seal in November 1994, which was probably the peak of my fandom. He played at Ohio Theater, which is a great old-timey movie house that was restored to its full glory in the Eighties. If you were classy, you played Ohio Theater.

I had gotten Debbie into Seal’s new album, and we had it on heavy rotation at her place, so we were both geeked to see him. He did this song early—for some reason I recall that it was the third song—and he did a version that was faithful to the original, which sounded great. I recall he had a chick backup singer on this tour, and I have this vision of her shimmying sloooowly to this song. Hot.

Anyway, I had this song on my mind a lot a year after the concert when Kiss From a Rose blew up. Kiss, of course, was on the same album as Dreaming, and while I agreed that it was a better song, I was always taken by the fact that there was such a difference in public reaction, because, really, there isn’t much difference between the two songs. Kiss is more majestic, perhaps, but it didn’t seem enough of a reason to explain why Kiss became a huge hit and Dreaming became forgotten.

The reason, of course, is that Kiss was chosen for the Batman movie and soundtrack in 1995 and thus drew a huge amount of publicity as a result. In fact, Kiss had been hugely ignored when the original album came out in 1994, but now, all of a sudden, it’s in a (crappy) movie, getting a push from the record company, and it’s everywhere. The timing was right and all of a sudden, it’s like everyone suddenly was clued into what I was well aware of long before then—like I were a hipster mourning the public discovery of my favorite band.

I’m definitely not a hipster, but maybe once in a while, I am ahead of the curve after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No. 903 – Don’t Lose My Number

Performer: Phil Collins
Songwriter: Phil Collins
Original Release: No Jacket Required
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: None

It’s well-known that little brothers and sisters can be pains in the butt, but what’s lesser known is that big brothers can be, too. I posit that theory based on the fact that my sister came thisclose to strangling me over this song.

In July 1985, Jin, Scott and I went down to Houston to visit my uncle Jack and his family. As an (unfortunate) rule, we almost never spent time with my mom’s side of the family. Part of that had to do with locale—they always lived far away—and part of that had to do with convenience. Dad’s side of the family had a summer compound in Michigan (much more on that later), so time together was automatically built in to the equation.

Not so much on my mom’s side of the family. Some of that had to do with the fact that mom didn’t have any money to fly us anywhere and never went anywhere herself. So, any vacation opportunities with mom’s side were few and very far between—and coveted.

In 1985, we visited for a week, and a few adventures were had (foreshadowing). Jack’s oldest daughter, Jenny, now was old enough to drive, so she was chauffeur. No Jacket Required had just hit the streets, and I had latched onto this song. And I latched onto the rewind and replay button on Jenny’s car cassette player. I don’t specifically recall this happening, but my sister insists to this day that I must have rewound and played this song like 12 times in a row. “I wanted to hear the whole album,” she recounted years later, “but all we heard was Billy” (meaning this song).

I’m certain that that was an exaggeration—you know how little sisters can be—but in the unlikely event that it did actually happen there’s only one thing to say now, with the perspective that only many years of acquired wisdom can provide:

Neener, neener, neener.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No. 904 – Songs from the Wood

Performer: Jethro Tull
Songwriter: Ian Anderson
Original Release: Songs from the Wood
Year: 1977
Definitive Version: None

As I’ve said before, I’m not on Facebook (and won’t be if I can help it) or Twitter. I just got my first smartphone last month, but if you think I’m not exactly the most tech-forward person, you should see Laurie.

When we met, Laurie didn’t have a cellphone, which is crazy for a professional actress. She had a notebook computer, but it stayed in its carrying case at all times. She had no Internet service. She had a CD player … that was broken. The latest album she had in her voluminous collection of tapes was from 1994 or thereabouts.

I wouldn’t classify her as being behind the times, however. Laurie knows far more about current music than I do. Rather, I’d say Laurie isn’t interested in spending money to further complicate her life with stuff. She likes what she likes and keeps it around rather than create a constant churn of buying and trashing just to have the latest thing. It could be worse; she could be like me. I spend money on new stuff but without ever purging the old. You do that long enough, and you end up throwing away money on storage, like I did for years in Columbus and—some would argue, not entirely incorrectly—now.

What does any of this have to do with Jethro Tull? Well, Laurie loves to make brunch on the weekends. (Coincidentally, I love to eat brunch on the weekends, so it’s a good match.) And when she cooks, she likes to have music on. When I moved to Chicago, it would always be tapes.

That continued when we moved to our new place in 2007, and that year she was in the midst of a major Tull jones, so Songs from the Wood was in heavy rotation in the late morning. I’d be in the office while she cooked, and the scent of sausage or muffins would waft through the room as Ian Anderson’s dancing flute conjured folky visions of bygone knights and flower-bedecked maidens.

A few years ago, we got a stereo that plays MP3 thumb drives, and we got XM Radio. It’s far more cutting edge, and, for the most part, the tapes have been kept on the shelf. I don’t know that we’re the better for it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

No. 905 – Bridge Burning

Performer: Foo Fighters
Songwriters: Dave Grohl, Chris Shiflett, Pat Smear, Nate Mendel, Taylor Hawkins
Original Release: Wasted Light
Year: 2011
Definitive Version: None

At this point, this is the most current song on the list. It’s entirely possible, if not inevitable, that I’ll find something next year or the year after that deserves listing, but when that happens, I’ll do it as an A/B type of thing.

To a certain extent, there’s a problem with properly ranking songs that are newer in your experience. It sounds great, because you’re new to it, but you have no historical perspective, so where do you rate it fairly? I could love this song even more, but it could very well be that a year from now, I hate this song. Trying to be as conservative as possible, this is where I rate it now. My guess is if I were to do this list again in another decade (and I won’t), this song would be in the top 700 if not higher.

And I already have a vision when I hear this song, even as new as it is. I had it loaded onto my iPod with a bunch of other newer songs when Laurie and I drove out to the Morton Arboretum in October to see the leaves. We always try to hit the peak leaf season each fall, but I had an inkling that we were going too soon this year.

Sure enough, when we arrived, my favorite trees were still green, even though things were pretty far along in the city. So, we resolved to go back three weeks later. At the time, the trees in the neighborhood where I park to take the train to work were a glorious shade of red and yellow. Perfect.

However, at the Arboretum, my favorite trees were totally bare. In three weeks, they went from green to gone. Like they say at Wrigley Field, wait till next year …

Monday, December 12, 2011

No. 906 – La Dolly Vita

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Tristessa single
Year: 1990
Definitive Version: None

One of the last things I got for my apartment in German Village was a dining set. I don’t know why that took so long, other than I was looking for “just the right thing,” and I couldn’t seem to find it.

I didn’t really have a pressing need for a dining table and chairs, because I didn’t eat many dinners at home. I was working the evening shift at The Dispatch, and invariably on my nights off, I’d have dinner elsewhere most of the time. Of course, I couldn’t host any poker parties till I had a table and chairs.

I finally found what I wanted at a funky department store called The Andersons General Store. It was a green country-style table that had a faux mahogany top and a drawer at one end and came with four chairs that had high, hoopy backs. I must have gone to six or seven furniture stores first with no success. I’m also pretty sure that I didn’t go The Andersons to look for a dining set.

Finding the set was great, but what was better was finding The Andersons. I called it a funky department store, and there’s a reason for that. It has clothes and tools and housewares and all that, but it’s more home improvement than home decor. It was easier to find piping for your bathroom there than, say, towels. I was taken by the fact that the brand of denim it carried was Dickie’s, which was a third-tier brand for sure.

But it also has a grocery store, which was the first time I encountered such a thing. (This was way ahead of Target, K mart and Wal-mart superstores.) I didn’t do much grocery shopping there at the time, because, again, it carried odd things and not staples.

However, in time, it became a must trip to hit either of the two Andersons, which are located at opposite polar tips northwest and southeast in Columbus, because The Andersons has the best wine selection of any chain store in the city. In the fall and winter of 1994-95 when I was listening to Pisces and this song extensively, that didn’t mean anything to me.

It does now, and when I went back to Columbus last winter to help my mom, I made it a point to hit The Andersons for the first time since I moved to Chicago six years ago to search for a few hard-to-find labels on my wishlist, which I found. I was even more glad to find that The Andersons is still the same.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

No. 907 – Interstate Love Song

Performer: Stone Temple Pilots
Songwriters: Robert DeLeo, Scott Weiland
Original Release: Purple
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

I associated Toad the Wet Sprocket with Steve, because, well, Steve’s music tastes weren’t the most cutting of edge. I mean, mine aren’t either when you get right down to it, but Steve preferred even the safer versions of the same thing.

He liked Asia, not ELP. He liked Phil Collins, not Genesis (until they went pop). I’m lame too—I like both but far more of the latter than the former. And Steve liked STP, not Pearl Jam. When I moved back to Columbus in June 1994, he had pledged allegiance to Purple.

Now in those days, Steve and our crew had a monthly poker game. It started in the late 80s as penny-ante and slowly developed into a $20 entry fee. We would play every game, and because I could play only sporadically due to living out of town, I relished the weekends when the poker game was going and I would be in town. In fact, several times, Steve would set up the game for the weekend I would be in town, just so I could play. It was always a blast, and it always made me miss my friends.

When I moved back, I was geeked that I was now going to be a regular participant. By this time, the evening had become ritualized. We’d start off with dinner at Skyline Chili somewhere and then motorcade to whoever’s house was hosting for drinking, snacking, shooting the breeze and—oh yeah—card playing. For obvious reasons, the single-guys’ homes were preferable. My place wasn’t ready yet, of course, so most of the time, we defaulted to Andy’s place in Grandview. It was centrally located and easy to get to.

I was more or less in charge of the music, and I would defer to popular tastes most of the time, which means maybe only one of the CDs would be one of mine—one that wasn’t too hard. So, Purple was in heavy rotation in latter half of 1994, rather than, say, Vs. To me, this song is the sound of feeling for the first time in a long time like I was where I belonged—really the first time I had felt this since I had left Wabash. I was with my crew; I was starting to date Debbie. Things were good.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

No. 908 – All I Want

Performer: Toad the Wet Sprocket
Songwriters: Glen Phillips, Todd Nichols, Dean Dinning, Randy Guss
Original Release: Fear
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

Steve was my first friend to turn 30, and his wife schemed to have a surprise party for him in February 1994. Because I was the only one from our crew who had left Columbus, I was going to be the biggest surprise guest.

At the time, I was writing in my journal and the most tapped into my muse that I’ve been at just about any point in my life, so I decided to write a poem to commemorate the event and read it at the party. That sounds gay, I admit, but I wanted to do it for the experience—to face down fears about reading something I wrote in public. I worked on the poem for about a month and got it into what I thought was presentable shape, then made the trek down to Columbus. (This was the trip where I went to see Beth’s mom after her husband died. It was the last time I’d ever see Beth, now that I think about it.)

The party was at the late, great Diebel’s, a nearly 100-year-old German brauhaus in German Village (where else?) that has long since passed to the sands of time, and the surprise went off to great success. There were about 15 of us there. I, as usual during this period, was the only one who attended solo.

My poem was well-received, and I gave Steve Dulcinea—Toad the Wet Sprocket’s new album. This song, of course, isn’t on that album, but because I associate Toad with Steve, this song is as appropriate to recount this event as any.

By the way, I read the journal and therefore this poem again recently for the first time since maybe that party. It’s OK, but it’s safe to say I won’t be pitching for the cosmic all-stars anytime soon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

No. 909 – I Wanna Go to the Sun

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriter: Peter Frampton
Original Release: Somethin’s Happening
Year: 1974
Definitive Version: Frampton Comes Alive, 1976

I’ve hinted that finding The Who in the fall of 1979 was a game-changer musically. There’s no question about it. So much music and many groups that I listened to a lot beforehand fell by the wayside. Frampton, however, wasn’t one of them. It was like he was grandfathered in before the great rock/arena rock rift. In other words, Frampton was still OK.

Anyway, I found this song late. I mean I knew it, but I wasn’t into it till after I crossed the rubicon, so the memories I associate with it—unlike pretty much the rest of the album—pertain to high school, not junior high. And what I think of most when I hear this one is doing homework.

Beginning a practice that I’ve maintained to this day, I would try and do my homework anywhere but at home, so study hall was crucial. Of course, sometimes that was insufficient time, so I’d have to bring stuff home. I didn’t spread out at the dining-room table or even the desk that I had in my room. The desk was bought when I was 9, so it didn’t really fit me at 16 or 17. Instead, I’d set up shop on my bed. Why? So I could put my headphones on and listen to music, of course—the optimal conditions for learning. (I might have been booted out of my lazy rut in junior high, but I still wasn’t taking my studies as seriously as I could have. I didn’t do that till college.)

Although The Who, Yes, Led Zeppelin and Hendrix dominated the ol’ record player during this time, Frampton still found his way onto the turntable every once in a while. I can’t say the same for BTO, The Doobies, ELO or most definitely The Eagles. Hmmm, maybe I was channeling Lebowski long before the Coen Brothers conjured him up.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No. 910 – Workin’ Them Angels

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Snakes & Arrows
Year: 2007
Definitive Version: Snakes & Arrows Live, 2008

(We return to our story, already in progress)

After the July 2010 Rush show was rained out, I think I must have checked Rush’s website, oh, every 30 seconds or so for the makeup date. Nothing. Instead I was treated to the comedy of human existence. To wit, the story about the “Rush fan” who was suing the band—and gaining his 15 minutes—due to the rainout.

His argument: The Ticket said rain or shine. True. It also didn’t say “thunderstorm and threat of death due to lightning and high winds.” Oh well. You know the difference between a legitimate and a frivolous lawsuit, right? A legitimate lawsuit is the one that YOU file.

Anyway, after a four-day vigil that seemed like a month—a watched Rush site never boils—the makeup date was announced for August. However, in between the rainout and the makeup date, Laurie went from being a freelancer, to a full-time employee. Her new gig was out in Skokie, so we were going to have to travel separately to the show and meet up there. I fought off the sweet siren song of suing Rush for forcing me to have to go to McDonald’s for dinner instead of a sit-down meal somewhere—as a legit a lawsuit if ever there were one—and made my way from the train over to Northerly Island. Forgive me if I mentioned this, but it’s past Adler Planetarium, so it was about a 2-mile hike from the train station. (Oh, the hardship!)

Because Laurie had to fight the traffic from Skokie, she got there just about the time the show was about to start—much to my consternation. I’m pretty sure that my calling her every minute to inquire as to her progress wasn’t helpful.

When we got in, it was clear the difference the rainout made: I’d say close to half the seats, including almost all of those around us on the floor stage right, were empty. Fine with me. That’s more room to rock out.

And rock out I did. It was an excellent show, and the weather couldn’t have been better. Moving Pictures all the way through was amazing. They played this song and bunch of others I wasn’t expecting—most notably Presto, which they had never played live before—and the final video, which was a mini-sequel to the movie “I Love You, Man,” was hilarious.

The best part was that as we left, everyone in attendance got a free Rush cap. The hat has the sweet Rush 1974-2112 logo on the front and “The rain date, Chicago 2010” stitched on the back. It has a spot of honor on my desk at home, and I didn’t even have to call a lawyer to get it.

Rush rules!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

No. 911 – Fall on Me

Performer: R.E.M.
Songwriters: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe
Original Release: Life’s Rich Pageant
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: None

As you likely have determined from this list, I’m not very hip. If you want to know what’s the hot new music to listen to now, ask me in about 3 years. By then I’ll have found it.

That, in a nutshell, is my relationship with R.E.M. While everyone was finding and subsequently pledging allegiance to R.E.M., I was listening to The Who, ELP and Led Zeppelin—you know, bands that hadn’t done anything substantial in years. My first experience with R.E.M. was Superman, which struck me as nothing special. THIS is the band that everyone’s raving about? Whatever. So I missed the boat.

The closest I’ve come to being on top of things was 1992 when I found Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. At least there I was only a year or so behind the curve. I suppose it would make sense that that’s when I found R.E.M., and it was entirely by accident. I taped their MTV Unplugged show for my sister, and I ended up liking some of the songs, including this one.

Of course by then, everyone was into R.E.M., and the hipsters had already moved on to Radiohead, which I knew of but wouldn’t pledge allegiance to until—like everyone else—1998, but that’s a story for another time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No. 912 – Molly’s Lips

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriters: Eugene Kelly, Frances McKee
Original Release: single, Incesticide
Year: 1991, 1992
Definitive Version: None

As I mentioned, I didn’t have laundry in my German Village apartment building. A Laundromat was within walking distance, although it was small, and I had the issue of where I would hang all the shirts that I didn’t put through the dryer.

Back then, I followed laundry directions to the letter, and I didn’t dry anything that was 100 percent cotton, so that meant all my work shirts and all my T-shirts that had logos on them, and, oh yeah, some pants too, had to be air dried. The Laundromat was impractical, because what I needed was somewhere where I could just leave my clothes to dry all day.

Fortunately, Debbie and I began to date seriously. Debbie had a washer and dryer in her apartment—not building but her actual apartment. Before long, I had a key to her place, and that meant laundry Mondays when I needed them. I could do all my laundry—for free—and leave it all hanging in her bathroom or draped over all of her furniture and then get back that evening before she came home to find her apartment looking like a bachelor pad minus the pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling. It was a sweet setup.

I’m not certain, but I might have listened to Incesticide for the first time on one of those laundry days. I bought it after the fact, and I listened to it a lot in the winter of 1994-95. I’ll bet Kurt never intended for it to be the perfect companion to doing a load of whites, but it is.

Monday, December 5, 2011

No. 913 – Vasoline

Performer: Stone Temple Pilots
Songwriters: Robert DeLeo, Dean DeLeo, Scott Weiland, Eric Kretz
Original Release: Purple
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

I referenced The Dungeon—the small, cramped Gym where I’d work out occasionally when I moved back to Columbus. On Mondays, which I had off when I first joined the Dispatch, I’d go to my other gym, which was … well, not quite the opposite, but close.

Monday was my shopping/hunting day, and often my routine would be to head to the gym, run whatever errands I had and then go over to my Dad and stepmom’s house for dinner. This was before my relationship with Debbie made that an impossible arrangement.

But this gym near to where I grew up in Upper Arlington held a lot of memories from back in my high-school days. Back then, it was just a racquetball club—Supreme Racquetball Club. My friend Jim and I used to play a lot during high school. I was really into the sport when it was hot for a very brief time, and I loved that it had a whirlpool tub in the men’s locker room.

But now, 14 years later, most of the courts had been converted, with a few walls knocked down to build larger weight rooms, but the locker room was mostly the same. I could feel the ghosts swirl around me while I worked out with the dulcet tones of STP cranked on my Walkman. The building’s still there; it’s now a church. Time marches on.