Saturday, March 31, 2012

No. 796 – Last One

Performer: Days of the New
Songwriters: Travis Meeks, Todd Whitener
Original Release: Days of the New (II)
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

When the time came to apply for The Grump’s restaurant reviewing job in 1999, as I mentioned, I was ready—or at least I thought I was. While granting that I didn’t have a lot of writing experience, I had a couple of solid Dispatch bylines in the business section. And I had The Grump in my corner. You would think a legend at a newspaper who had a hand-picked successor would get some benefit of the doubt. But newspapers are like any other media business: You mean nothing except at the time of your employment. The Grump had no pull whatsoever.

So I was made to go through the same process as the other schlubs who wanted the gig. Fine, I’ll earn it the hard way. As I said, they can either hire the right person for the job, or they can hire someone besides me. I was given a specific restaurant to review—the same one as everyone else. The choice was Del Matto’s. I suspect that this was because the features editor knew it. Heck, everyone knew it. It had been around for some 40 years by this time.

Debbie had grown up close to it, and we’d driven by it dozens of times while visiting her mom or going to one of our favorite restaurants, which was just a few blocks down from Del Matto’s—Butch’s Italian Kitchen (now closed)—but neither of us had ever been to Del Matto’s. We both were game to try something new.

As you might suspect from the name and the age: It’s Italian—red sauce Italian, not a lot of imagination and heavy on the old-school accents. I would bet that when it opened, it was the place to see and be seen on the East Side, and I would double-down that the décor and menu hadn’t changed substantially—if at all—since.

The assignment was this: Visit once and write a review as if you were going to review it for real. Well, I cheated. I went twice—once on my own dime. I wanted to sample as much of the menu as I could, and I figured it would look bad to order six entrees at one sitting.

The thing about restaurants is that almost no matter where you go, unless the place is a total dump, you can find something on the menu that’s decent. That’s the way Del Matto’s was. The tomato-based pasta was fine, nothing special, and the veal, again, was decent, not dry but fairly bland. The chicken parmesan was good and tender though. And the relative lack of spicing was no big deal, because they give you the requisites on request: Parmesan, red pepper flakes, oregano. You can spike up your dish however you like it.

There were probably a dozen Italian restaurants in town that were better, but, you know, not everyone is a foodie. In fact, my tastes were probably more exotic than those of most of my would-be readers. A restaurant that has stayed open for 40 years has by definition found an audience, and that’s not to be trivialized. Obviously it appeals to enough customers to stay in business in what is an extremely cut-throat industry. What’s wrong with saying something to customers who might want to try Del Matto’s?

So I wrote up a fair assessment: not the best Italian place in town but not without its charms. I wrote about the whole experience: the service, the décor, the Sinatra on the p.a. It all worked together if old-school Italian was what you were looking for. In other words, it served its niche well.

My approach went over like the Titanic. The editor liked my writing style but really wanted me to write more about the food, like I was some Emeril wannabe. Well, real folks go to restaurants, too, and if they don’t know the difference between anise and cumin anyway, why bother weighing them down with wasted details? Is the place good or not and what’s it like if you go?

But after they made their hire, I began to smell a rat: They never intended to hire me—or anyone else from the paper, for that matter. The guy they hired had been reviewing for the suburban papers for more than a decade and had acquired a reputation as something a hard-core foodie … who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag if he had Shakespeare holding the map. Grump said the guy, whom I think I had met once, wrote like a lawyer (his vocation—reviewing restaurants was his avocation). Who wants to read that in a newspaper?

Apparently the poobahs did. It turns out The Dispatch folk didn’t really care about the guy’s writing ability and perhaps not even his foodie kitchen skill of dissecting flavors and ingredients. Instead, it appears they just wanted the known commodity.

Well, that was the final straw as far as I was concerned. This was no longer about karma for reneging on the sports gig. It was clear that there was no future for me at the Big D and that I was spinning my wheels here after 5 years.

Unfortunately, with a mortgage and girlfriend who was committed to being in Columbus as long as her mother was around, I couldn’t just pack up and find a gig in another city. When it comes to working for newspapers in a particular city, you typically had two options: Take it or leave it.

I took it, and overslept my way through my depression for most of the next two months.

Friday, March 30, 2012

No. 797 – Bron-Yr-Aur

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriter: Jimmy Page
Original Release: Physical Graffiti
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: None

One thing I didn’t know right away about Dave—but learned fairly quickly—is he’s not afraid to take advantage of his position as a journalist to get in on a good scam once in a while.

Dave had already used his job to scam a lengthy road trip to Rochester, N.Y., to watch baseball … and write a huge feature about a Fenton player who was trying to make it in the majors—Mickey Weston.

Now, in September, he parleyed that into passes to the deciding game of the International League playoffs in Columbus as the logical final chapter. The angle was Weston was going to start the game for Rochester. Of course, Dave needed a trusty “photographer” to go with him, and I was quickly recruited. It would be the first playoff game of any kind that I had seen since I played in one in little league.

It would be a there-and-back quick hitter—no overnight, even though, of course, I had accommodations on the home front if needed. It was a cool, drizzly drive down and there were no on-field pregame activities to be had because of the conditions. A tarp covered the infield. There was no question the game would be played, but they didn’t want to muck it up with practice.

So we took our spots up in the press box, where it was nice and dry and warm, and sat in the same booth as the official scorer, who asked for our counsel on a few things during the course of the game.

Dave was disappointed by the sparse crowd. Where is everybody? This is the deciding game of the playoffs! Silly Dave. He actually expected that people would show up to a minor-league baseball game the same day—at about exactly the same time—as the football season opener for Ohio State. Doesn’t matter! This is the DECIDING GAME, dammit! Sorry, Dave, but in Columbus (at the time and only less so now) there are only two sports that anyone cares about: Ohio State football and Ohio State spring football. He seethed in righteous indignation.

Weston pitched well and was relieved while holding the lead in the sixth inning. The Red Wings hung on and won the title, so that meant we got to go down into the winning clubhouse for interviews. Being in the winning clubhouse meant we also were part of the winning celebration. And because this is the minor leagues, nothing was choreographed. We got sprayed with champagne, drank from a victory bottle that was passed around the room and got soaked by a hose brought in by Leo Gomez (who had a few good years in the bigs). We heard Chris Holies’ victory speech, and finally Dave was able to corral Weston for a few quotes.

The next thing we knew, we were out in the bullpen on the field, and we both got the same bright idea that a little thievery was in order: game balls that were left behind as the celebration began. Dave also was eyeing the mitts strewn about, but I drew the line on that. Yeah, he thought better of it, too.

As we left the clubhouse behind the left-field bleachers, there was one more sight to behold: League officials left the Governor’s Cup sitting on a table for later presentation, so we were able to fondle it and pose for a picture. (By now, any sense that we were there as professional journalists had long since been discarded.) Not bad for a single-day jaunt.

Anyway, I always liked this song—a beam of sunlight on a spring meadow that’s dotted with daisies—but it's best served in The Song Remains the Same as the backing music to when Zeppelin is driving into New York City and Madison Square Garden for the show. It's a quiet little prelude to the manic main event to come.

In a sense, that's exactly what Columbus was for me and Dave—a prelude. The main event would come later that month when a bigger and better scam would play out—Comiskey Park’s Grand Finale.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

No. 798 – Son of a Gun

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

This, like most of the stuff on Incesticide, makes me think of doing my laundry at Debbie’s apartment in the fall of 1994 as I’ve recounted, but it more recently became a song about the circular nature of things.

When Debbie and I took our first real trip together to Chicago over Labor Day weekend of 1994, we flew, because plane tickets back then were only about $90 each roundtrip (and no insidious fees). The big expense would be the hotel—Debbie wanted to stay downtown.

I always had been intrigued by the Allerton, which, of course, is this huge old hotel just off Michigan Avenue near to the Hancock Tower, and when I found it was only $99 a night, I booked it. The Allerton is notable for a few things—the gigantic fire escape that snakes the entire back expanse of the brick building and a huge sign at the top of the building that touts the Tip-Top Tap.

What it doesn’t tout is the size of its rooms. They’re nice, but my closet isn’t much smaller than what we had. There was enough room for a double-size bed and a walkway around it, and that’s it. Still, it suited our needs, because we were going to be out most of the time.

I had to show Debbie all of my favorite haunts, which, of course, were all of Jin’s haunts—places that she had introduced me to. I noted this constantly, to the point where Debbie later said it was like being on a date between me and my sister. Real nice. Well, one thing Jin and I never did was go to The Berghoff, where Debbie and I had lunch the day we flew home. The Berghoff was a legendary nearly century-old restaurant downtown that was the Chicago version of Schmidt’s—German all the way.

I definitely was listening to this song a lot during that time, and then a decade later, I had it running through my head again even though I hadn’t really listened to it in a while.

You see, I had begun to date Laurie, and I would see her once a month, maybe twice depending on how the weekends stacked up. The lyrics seemed perfectly appropriate in capturing the joy of being together and how it sucked when we were apart. As you might know, they repeat over and over, like a circle, and the lyrics spun through my head in a neverending earworm.

As it happened, when Debbie and I went to The Berghoff, that was the only time I made it there, because the owners closed the storied 100-year-old institution to the public shortly after I moved to Chicago. Laurie and I had tried to go after the announcement was made, but the wait was astronomical. It was good, but it wasn’t that good—and it certainly was no Schmidt’s—so we passed.

Will the circle not be unbroken? It turns out The Berghoff—after very publicly closing to become a catering location—reopened a year later. This was so quiet that I didn’t even know about it until I researched the closing date just to see if my memory synched up with reality.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No. 799 – I Can See It in Your Eyes

Performer: Journey
Songwriters: Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry
Original Release: Trial by Fire
Year: 1996, although this song wasn’t released in the U.S. officially until 2006
Definitive Version: None

I can’t remember why I was in Cincinnati when I was exposed to this song, but if the date on the file is any indication, it would have been in February 2006 when it came time for me to buy a new notebook computer.

My old clamshell iBook, which had been with me through thick or thin, was hopelessly out of date. The biggest problem aside from a battery that couldn’t hold a charge anymore was its lack of Wi-Fi capability—an absolute prerequisite, particularly if you’re looking for a job and need to be online all of the time.

Because this was when I was still living off my savings accumulated from my days at the Dispatch, which were dwindling fast, every penny counted. The Happy Honda still got great mileage even though it was 15 years old, so it was literally worth it to drive to Cincinnati and buy my computer in Ohio and pay 4 percentage points less in sales tax on a $900 purchase.

Besides, I didn’t mind hanging out with Scott and my niece Leah anyway. I’m sure I had met John before then, but he was only 6 months old, so some quality bonding time was in order there, too. As it would turn out, Dad also was in Cincy—my guess is for a hockey game of Casey’s, but I don’t remember now precisely why.

That dad was there was important, because when we all went to the Apple store in a nearby mall to get my new computer—I had a gift card from Christmas that would further cut expenses—I was denied credit. That was the first and only time in my life I’ve ever been so denied; I’ve always paid my debts and been an A+ credit risk, but I guess putting down freelance writer as my vocation was a red flag.

And it wasn’t as though I didn’t have the money. I had the $900, and this was a necessary purchase for my work, so I was willing to part with it. But I wanted the credit line, because I’d have 90 days same as cash, and when money’s tight, being able to spread out no-interest payments is helpful. No dice.

But I was lucky: I brought with me the Bank of Dad. My credit there was excellent—not the least of which because I had paid off a car loan from Bank of Dad in full and ahead of time. So, rather than me just whipping out the credit card, he put my new computer on his, and I would pay him back under the same terms as the car. Done. It worked out the same, but it was embarrassing nonetheless to have to rely on your dad bailing you out financially when you’re 41.

When we get the computer home, I was geeked to get up and running, but I had trouble booting it up, even with the power cord plugged in. Great, I got a Lemon instead of an Apple. Scott thought I was being hasty and figured I should charge it up fully and try it then, but I knew a bad Apple when I saw it. It should work right away, period.

Sure enough, it never booted except off the disk and then it would never go to sleep. So, the next day, we were back at the mall. I fretted that it would work perfectly for the customer-service guy, but luck was with me in that he had exactly the same trouble as I experienced.

At first, the guy was going to fill out a repair form, but I wasn’t to be placated thusly. I just bought this here in this store yesterday (and here’s the receipt). I want a new computer, period. Finally, he agreed that that made the most sense, and the new computer worked properly right away. (What did I say?) And it’s still in great working condition under Laurie’s watchful eye.

Anyway, that night in Cincy, Scott, Leah and I went over to the nearby Skyline to get some carryout for dinner. While we were in the drive-thru lane, this song came on Scott’s iPod. It wasn’t familiar with it, but it sounded exactly like old Journey. I asked if that was the new singer, and Scott said no, It was Steve Perry, and he told me it was from their short-lived reunion in 1996. It sounds good, but times change, don’t they?

Journey, of course, was everywhere from 1982 to 1984—on the radio, on MTV on my record player, on Beth’s record player. To me, old Journey is the soundtrack of first love, of quiet nights, tender embraces and soft kisses. New Journey is the sound of a five-way heavy spaget and a Blue Light to wash it down.

Somehow, that makes sense.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No. 800 – Hard Sun

Performer: Eddie Vedder
Songwriter: Indio
Original Release: Music for the Motion Picture Into the Wild
Year: 2007
Definitive Version: None

As a working actress with a couple of movie and TV credits to her name, Laurie is a member of SAG—the screen actor’s guild. A perk of that—besides being able to collect checks seemingly forever from movies where she ended up on the cutting floor—is that she gets screening copies of movies every year before the Oscars. (The movies invariably are for voting in the SAG awards, which are before the Oscars.)

This started in 2006 when she got Crash, which, of course, won the best picture Oscar. The next year, she got three movies, including The Departed, which also, of course, won best picture. In 2008, the floodgates opened: She got five movies, including No Country for Old Men, also a best-picture winner and—if I may don my Roger Ebert tweed jacket for a second—one of the most overrated movies ever. Its only redeeming characteristic is that I didn’t have to pay to see it, but I’ll never get back the 2 hours I lost watching it.

Anyway, that same year, Laurie got Into the Wild, which was an infinitely better movie, not the least of which because you could actually follow the plot and you actually cared what happened to the characters in the movie. (And having Eddie Vedder do the soundtrack never hurts.) We had wanted to see it in the theaters but didn’t get around to it when we had the chance.

The biggest reason we missed it was that when it was in the theaters, so was Laurie. She was doing a play in the winter of 2007-2008, which meant we never had much time to see movies. Heck, when Laurie’s doing a show, we never have much time to see each other, period, so the last thing I want to do is spend 2 hours seeing a movie that sucks. Consequently, I’m pretty picky about the movies we see during this time.

So getting SAG copies in the mail was a godsend. Most of the time, we try to watch the movies right away—Laurie has to vote for the SAG awards in February, you know—but sometimes things get in the way that prevent us from seeing a movie. Most of the time it’s because we have zero interest in seeing the movie, such as was the case with Hairspray that year.

Other times, however, life has a way of intruding. As I write this, I can’t remember whether we saw Into the Wild right away or later. I can tell you that I downloaded this song from iTunes in September 2008, but that came as a result of getting two free downloads from the purchase of concert tickets—likely Coldplay in June—so that isn’t helpful.

If I had to guess, I’d say we saw it in March 2008 before we went to Mexico and before life intruded in a way that was unfathomable as we watched the tale of Christopher McCandliss. Little did we know, Laurie also was about to walk into the wild herself.

Monday, March 26, 2012

No. 801 – Next to You

Performer: The Police
Songwriter: Sting
Original Release: Outlandos d’Amour
Year: 1978
Definitive Version: The Police Live!, 1995

When you have an unconnected narrative, it makes sense to switch up the songs that you use, so why not switch from Foo Fighters to The Police? As promised, in bullet form:

* I was listening to The Police Live! a lot in the summer of 1995 when I went to the National in St. Louis. It made me reconnect with a lot of things from my past, because in high school and early college, I listened to The Police all the time. They were on a lot at Timeout when Steve and I would be on one of big veg (for video extracting games) benders.

The last night I was in St. Louis, Dave went to dinner with friends of his who lived in town, so I was on my own. I hiked down to an area close to the Mississippi River that had a bunch of bars. I grabbed some alfredo in a nondescript pub that was as average as you might expect it to be, but while down there, I stumbled upon the National Video Game Museum.

This is as billed: It was a collection of all of the great old games that I used to play all the time in high school—and hadn’t played in a decade. And they were all playable for the same old quarter, too. How cool is that? I played Donkey Kong, Tempest, Centipede and Dig Dug. I could have stayed all night, but they closed just as the bars started to get rolling, so I had only so much time. Apparently, it’s now closed. What a bummer.

* The St. Louis National was the place where I spent more on a single baseball card than ever before. This holds true 17 years later.

My rule of thumb is that when I buy older cards, once the book value gets above, say, $4, I pay no more than 20 percent of book value. So, if a card has a book value of $50, I pass it up unless it’s $10 or less. I make few exceptions to the rule—the biggest being if I’m down to just a few cards to complete a set, I’ll go higher.

In my grand run of completing sets back to 1957, the highest price cards are the 1957 Mickey Mantle and the 1963 Pete Rose. Each booked in 1995 at $1,000, and the Rose was likely the tougher card because there were a lot of counterfeits out there and it was Rose’s rookie card. If you saw it marked down, it might be $400.

So the first day, before Dave got there that afternoon and we went to the Cardinals game, I stumbled across the bin of a dealer from the New York area. It was a blowout stars bin, and I started plowing through it. At the end, the guy told me: You’ve been here for two hours.

I don’t remember how much I spent total at his table, but it was more than $200, because in the bargain bin was a 1963 Rose for that amount. I couldn’t believe it when I pulled it out. I put it to the side to examine later and I must have spent 10 minutes on it if I spent 10 seconds. I looked at it as carefully as I could: It sure appeared to be genuine. I pulled the trigger and crossed off a huge card—a cornerstone—off my wantlist. (The ’57 Mantle would fall for far less many years later.)

* And with that, 200 down, 800 to go …


Sunday, March 25, 2012

No. 802 – Divine Hammer

Performer: The Breeders
Songwriter: Kim Deal
Original Release: Last Splash
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: Live New Year’s Eve bootleg, 1993

Until I met Laurie nearly eight years ago, Antonio Alfonseca could count on one hand the number of New Year’s Eves that I can remember. That has nothing to do with having killed certain brain cells with alcohol but because my New Year’s Eves typically were so nondescript that they’ve been lost to the sands of time.

And that’s only partially due to not being with someone a lot of those New Year’s Eves. Between Beth and Debbie, I spent 12 New Year’s Eves attached, and I remember only two of them—one because Debbie got deathly sick that night and the other because it was 2000 zero zero party over oops out of sight … With Beth, I suppose a few of those times involved sneaking off for a little cardio activity, but because that was such a common occurrence when we were together, New Year’s Eves in particular don’t stand out.

So, yeah, I’ve never been much for New Year’s Eve. In fact, two of the memorable New Year’s Eves mentioned earlier are due entirely to what I watched on TV that night, because I taped the shows and listened to and/or watched them many times since then.

One was MTV’s New Year’s Eve bash from 1993 into 1994. Why? Nirvana was the headliner. As I’ve mentioned, I missed seeing them for real in November, so I wasn’t going to miss even a televised concert. Even if you didn’t see this show, you’re familiar with it. Almost every picture that newspapers used of Kurt Cobain after he killed himself—the one of him belting out a song in full throat with the medical mannequin in the background framed perfectly so that the mannequin’s angel wings look like they’re on Kurt—was taken from the MTV show (which was recorded in the fall, no New Year’s Eve night).

The warm-up act, so to speak, was The Breeders, who were very hip for a very brief time. If I recall correctly, they only showed two songs from them—Cannonball, which was their big hit, and this one. Cannonball was OK, but Divine Hammer was a great song. I liked it right away, and I bought Last Splash as a result.

The funny thing is, I never really liked the studio version. The live one from the New Year’s Eve show is a lot peppier, and consequently, when I put together my next batch of tapes, which I was listening to a lot in the mid-winter of 1994, I used the version off from the MTV show from the videotape I made. So when I hear this now, I think of driving around at night on job-related errands and one of the few New Year’s Eves from last century that I actually remember.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

No. 803 – The House at Pooneil Corners

Performer: The Jefferson Airplane
Songwriters: Paul Kantner, Marty Balin
Original Release: Crown of Creation
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

A year ago, the hottest new band on my playlist was one that hadn’t done anything in 40 years—The Jefferson Airplane. This was entirely due to seeing a tribute band do their material. This wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill band, but Tributosaurus—a Chicago institution for more than a decade.

Laurie first turned me on to Tributosaurus in the summer of 2005, when I still was making the commute from Columbus when I had an available weekend. It was summer-festival season, which is when every other weekend some neighborhood is having a street fair that consists of drinking the same beer, eating the same food and shopping for the same trinkets as the previous one. OK, so it only seems like it after you do enough of them.

Actually, a few have enough of a different theme to stand out. Laurie wanted to check out Retro on Roscoe, which was what you would think it was—mostly the same fair but with oldies tribute bands playing. There was Elevation, which was a faux U2 band where you got the idea that the lead singer really thought he was Bono and if the rest of the lads ever decided they’d have enough of the real Bono and gave him the boot, he’d be ready to step in, a la Marky Mark in Rock Star. Another group was the Afrodisiacs—again what you would imagine them to be: a bunch of ironic hipster dudes wearing bad ‘70s funk afro wigs and clothes and infused with the living spirit of Wild Cherry.

And then there was Tributosaurus. Their m.o. is that for one night (two shows) each month, usually the first Wednesday of the month at Martyr’s, they “become” an act and would play a set of songs. At Retro on Roscoe in 2005, they were going to be David Bowie, not one of my faves, but all right.

Well, the first thing that impressed me about them was that none of the guys in the band made any attempt whatsoever to look like Bowie or even as if they were from that era. It was just a bunch of guys who wandered in off the streets playing music. And then they started to play—the first song was Space Oddity, a good call. They did Ashes to Ashes and Golden Years before we moved along to the next thing, but they sounded damn good.

After I moved to Chicago, I saw that they were going to be The Monkees. I thought that was pretty funny—a tribute band paying tribute to a fake band—so Laurie and I went, and that was my first real Tributosaurus show. In a word, they were great. I mean, how do you pay homage to The Monkees with anything approaching reverence? They didn’t—they joke on stage through all of their sets—but the jokes stop once the music starts.

I’ve since seen them 11 times. Sometimes they’re merely good, like when we saw them become Simon & Garfunkel, and sometimes they’re transcendent, like when we saw them become Yes. (Yeah, they cover everybody, well, everybody from the ‘80s and back, although I guess they did Nirvana once.)

In the fall of 2010, they were the latter when we saw them become The Jefferson Airplane. The real draw was that they got Kathy Richardson to be Grace. This was very cool for two reasons: First, Laurie and I know her—not well, just casually, but well enough to converse with her at friends of friends’ parties.

Second, and more important, at the time of the Tributosaurus show, she was touring regularly with Jefferson Starship—yes, the real one, with Paul Kantner and Marty Balin. (Grace, of course, has long since retired to her painting.) Well, if you’re trying to be a Jefferson Airplane tribute band, why not get the same singer that Kantner & Co. use, right? That’s an official seal of approval right there.

This song was the second song of the show, and it was the first time that Kathy really got to sink her teeth into a vocal turn. You should have heard the reaction by the audience when she finished up on the middle section. It was a spontaneous torrent of hoots and whistles from the North Shore 60-somethings who had made the trek into town in their suburban trucks and awoke to the realization that they had stepped into the middle of something. Woah, it’s Grace, man. Pass me a sugar cube.

I know The Jefferson Airplane’s only two songs that radio has played for the last 40 years and a couple others, but Tributosaurus did this song and a bunch of others I’d never heard before. I remember saying to Laurie at some point: Man, it’s an absolute crime that I didn’t know The Airplane better when I was younger. This stuff is all over the map and great. Well, soon after that show, I took care of that deficiency tout suite.

Friday, March 23, 2012

No. 804 – We Said Hello, Goodbye (Don't Look Back)

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

As I mentioned, buying my first CD player in 1990 opened up my music—particularly albums that had CD-only songs on them. I knew No Jacket Required backwards and forwards, but the CD version had this song on it, which the tape version did not, and I liked it right away.

When I joined the Flint Journal in 1989, one other person on the copy desk was my age. Everyone else was at least 10 years older and most were 25 years older. Some of them were cool, and I joined a group who always went to a bar around the corner from the newspaper and started getting their drink on at about noon during the lunch break. But before long, I realized that I needed an alternative.

Soon after I started, it was revealed to me that the Journal was going to start zoned sections—one for Lapeer and one for what they called Lake County, which consisted of Fenton and Holly. In fact, the Journal had just started a Fenton bureau and were going to be hiring a reporter to help handle the news down there. I was hired because of my experience with zoning at the Daily Herald, and I was to be in charge of the copy that flowed into the paper from the bureaus and designing those sections.

My desk early on was under the newbies post in the newsroom where the paper would post pictures of new hires, and before long they posted the picture of the guy who was going to be the main reporter down in Fenton. I took note of the face that was attached to the name on the copy I was starting to see on my terminal. It was Dave.

At about that time, I found out that the Flint Journal newsroom had a Rotisserie baseball league—an original draft-style single-major-league version—and apparently there had been a huge rift in the league, so four teams were open to anyone who wanted to join.

I hadn’t played since Wabash, so I was game. Again, I was surrounded mostly by guys who were much older than I was. What is it with this paper? Is Flint where newspaper vets go to die? There was one other newbie in the league who was my age: Dave again. I recognized his face from his picture on the newbie post.

Anyway, I was given my choice of four teams to take. I scanned the rosters and saw that one had Ken Griffey Jr. and Roger Clemens—two of my favorite players. That was enough for me, and Willie’s Wonkas were reborn. The draft would be in a couple weeks.

As I was leaving, Dave walked out with me, and we started talking about the league and how it—and the guys in it—seemed kind of messed up. Common ground. Then we started talking about baseball and from there moved quickly to baseball cards. You don’t get many 26-year-old dudes who talk about collecting cards for fun instead of the investment—particularly when there weren’t many 26-year-old dudes at the newspaper to begin with—so that was cool.

By the time we went our separate ways, we had made tentative plans to go see a Tigers game and maybe get to a card show. A friendship was born.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

No. 805 – I Started a Joke

Performer: Bee Gees
Songwriters: Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb
Original Release: Idea
Year: 1968
Definitive Version: None

I just got back from a business trip. It was a conference on digital publishing in New York City—the first time I’d been to the city since 1991. It was interesting, but the less said about the entire experience the better. The things I wrote about NYC a little while back? They still apply. I can’t say I’ve ever been happier to be back in sweet home Chicago.

Believe it or not, that’s actually an appropriate introduction to today’s post, because it involves another business trip a few years ago. First, let me give you a little background, and (trust me) this all ties together by the end in a neat little bow.

My first exposure to the Bee Gees as a kid was probably the same as a lot of people my age: from disco. Well, actually it predated Saturday Night Fever, but it was their firm embrace of disco music with Jive Talkin’ and Nights on Broadway. I was surprised to learn after they blew up that they had a whole career of songs from before then, like Massachusetts or this song. They never played those songs on any radio station I listened to. And like any good teen rocker, by the late ‘70s, I hated the Bee Gees. I mean, who didn’t hate disco? And the Bee Gees were the biggest purveyors of the crap.

Many years later, Jin ended up working with the Bee Gees as an editor for a VH-1 documentary that was shown in the Nineties. She got to meet them all, and, of course, that significantly increased the coolness factor as far as I was concerned. I remember her talking specifically about this song. It was her favorite, and she would humorously overenunciate Robin’s vibrato.

Fast-forward another decade: It’s March 2009, and I was driving Laurie to O’Hare for her to go on a business trip. (See? There’s your bow, right there.) At her old job, she went to an annual health-care conference in Arizona. On this particular trip, she was leaving on the weekend, so I could drive her after to the airport. We took her preferred route, which is a little out of the way, but she likes to drive past the forest preserve on Devon.

Anyway, when we turned onto Harlem to get to the Kennedy, this song came on the radio. Laurie started to sing along—complete with proper and not entirely respectful vibrato. Laurie fancies herself the world’s greatest unknown karaoke singer, and she has a nice voice. So hearing her with Robin accompanying her sounded pleasant and amusing. She also poked fun at the outrageously pity-party nature of the lyrics, so this song started to become a fun and cool song for those two reasons.

And here we are now: Can you believe it? A disco-hating rocker has a Bee Gees song on his top 1,000 list with nary a single trace of irony present.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No. 806 – Scenery

Performer: Neil Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Mirror Ball
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

I’m on a real run about finding places to live, so let’s fast forward 10 years. When Debbie and I decided that Gahanna was where we should find an apartment, it turns out that finding where we would live (in sin) was actually a pretty quick decision.

As I mentioned, after I conceded that I wouldn’t be able to live in German Village any more, I needed an apartment that had character—something that looked cool if not actually cool or the opposite of Debbie’s complex. She was fine with that.

I don’t remember who found the place, but we saw an ad for a new complex that was just off U.S. 62. The good news there is that U.S. 62, turns into I-670, which is a direct artery to downtown Columbus from Gahanna. That would be a bonus if the complex turned out to be close to 62.

It was close all right. Basically, we drove to the end of 670, and at the first light after it stopped being a freeway, we turned left and turned left again almost immediately at the next light. On the drive, we noticed a brick apartment complex just off 62 that was under the beginning stages of construction.

That was the complex. Talk about brand new. We looked at an apartment that was in the first building to the left after you turn into the complex. It was right across the street from the manager’s office and one of the few occupied buildings. It was a four-unit, two-story townhome, and it was so new that there wasn’t any grass around the building.

The inside was nice and, of course, brand new. As I mentioned, the apartment had a double master-bedroom upstairs. Downstairs was a huge great room with a large living-room area and a large kitchen with eating area. The basement was huge but unfinished. All we needed there was storage and laundry anyway. The place had a one-car attached garage, which Debbie liked for her old car (older than mine anyway, although I think I had more miles on my car by that time), and an enclosed back patio.

I say back, because that’s what it looked like, with a wooden privacy fence, except that, as I’ve mentioned, the “front” of the building actually faced a taller wood fence that divided the complex from the shopping center that was next door, and the back and garage faced the street. If you parked in the adjacent lot, you went through the patio to the back door; no one walked around the side of the building to come to the “front.” The rent was about $650, which essentially was nothing for a two-income couple.

It might not have been the most character place. In fact, one could say that it had no character at all—particularly with no grass. But the location next to the freeway couldn’t be beat: I could be to work in only 15 minutes if traffic was clear, which it always was at 3 p.m. I decided that the brick exterior and surrounding trees constituted enough character.

We signed the lease. Now all we had to do was make the move—or rather I had to make the move for the both of us. But then I’ve already discussed that. Our new adventure soon would be under way.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No. 807 – Man of Our Times

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Duke
Year: 1980
Definitive Version: None

(Sorry for the delay. I finally got online at the airport.)

Then there was my senior year, which was by far my most fun year at Wabash. I again spent the year off-campus (in a matter of speaking), and that year, after the debacle of the previous summer, I made sure to have my roommate and apartment locked up well ahead of time.

I remembered that Matt, whom I called at the last second the previous summer, was interested in moving out of the dorms his senior year, and we decided to share a place—as long as he promised to cut down his playing of Eight Days a Week to no more than twice a month. Fortunately, he had learned more songs by this time.

As I had learned the previous summer, the early bird gets the worm when it comes to primo Crawfordsville apartments, so Matt and I drove back to Wabash in June—a month after classes ended for the summer and two months before classes would start again—to check out a few places. I can’t remember whether we looked at more than one place—I seem to recall that we did—but I know for certain that we didn’t look any further after we looked at a place that was one block south of the campus entrance campus.

It was a huge Victorian house that wasn’t in too run-down of a condition and painted bright yellow. The house had been divided into four units—two up and two down—and the available apartment was on the first floor in the front of the house, facing East. We had a bit of a covered porch that ran the width of the house and a little front yard. The side door led to an open foyer that had stairs that led to another apartment and a door to the available apartment.

After seeing a few off-campus apartments in my time, I couldn’t believe it when we walked inside. The great room that encompassed the front living and dining rooms was impossibly great. A wood-burning fireplace was in the living room and the dining room had a bay window seat. The living room had floor-to-ceiling windows, so there wouldn’t be any need to turn on any lights until it got dark out.

We had a small but adequate cooking kitchen, with a gas stove, and then bending off to the side was a hallway and two bedrooms with a single bathroom in between. The first bedroom was just off the dining room and had large sliding-door closets. The back bedroom was smaller with a large walk-in closet. The rent was $350 per month, so $175 apiece, but the landlord was going to charge us $25 extra because of Matt’s dog, Ziggy, whom he wanted to come to Wabash with him. I was fine with that.

Well, I almost never agree to buy anything right away. It’s an irrational (yet oft-realized) fear that by swooping in on the first thing that’s available, I might miss out on something better down the road. Matt wasn’t sure he and his folks could swing the rent, although it was way less than what the dorms would cost. We said we wanted to think about it, and we walked back to my car.

We thought about it for a whole 5 minutes. We didn’t even get into the car. We looked at each other and agreed: We got to take it.

The landlord watched our half-hearted debate at the car the whole time. He knew he had us when we first walked in, so he was ready when we said we’d take it. We put down a deposit to guarantee it, and signed a lease. We were back in Columbus before dinner, which surprised Beth, who thought I might need to spend the whole weekend to find the right place. Nope. We found it right away.

That was the year I really got into Duke, so when I hear it—and particularly this song—I think of hanging out on my green-and-gold love seat in the living room with Duke on the record player while Ziggy barked at the Lambda Chis as they walked past on the sidewalk before strutting around the living room with pride.

Monday, March 19, 2012

No. 808 – Losing It

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neal Peart
Original Release: Signals
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: None

At the end of my tumultuous freshman year at Wabash, I was presented with an excellent opportunity: I was invited to live off-campus with two would-be seniors.

Ed, one of the juniors, who had befriended me that year, had the scoop: Dr. Herzog, whom I knew from my first English class, was going on sabbatical for the whole year and wanted to rent his home to students. So Ed and Jim got in line and were looking for a third to further cut the rent.

That sounded better to me than another year in the dorms (and, as I mentioned, a lot less expensive, so my dad signed off, too). But because I was only a freshman, I needed special dispensation, because only juniors and seniors were allowed to live off-campus at Wabash. I can’t remember what I needed to do specifically, but I was given the OK.

The house was a brick ranch house a bit out in the country. It was part of a one-loop suburban-type development surrounding by corn fields—a real oasis, if you will. In fact, that fall, where Dr. Herzog had had a sandbox for his two sons—removed before our arrival—a few stalks of corn grew after they had been “planted” by some wayward bird.

As I noted, being the freshman, I got third choice of three bedrooms. Ed got the master bedroom; Jim took what was the smallest bedroom, but it had its own rolltop desk, so he could be self-contained if the mood struck.

My bedroom was at the end of the hall next to Jim’s and across from Ed’s. It was bigger than Jim’s room, but all I had in my room was a secretary desk, which I used for storage. The tradeoff was I got the awesome—and huge—rolltop desk that was Dr. Herzog’s in the formal living room.

Anyway, I had a double bed, maybe even a queen—I’m not sure. On one wall was a full-width sliding-door closet and the secretary desk was between the closet and a window at the front of the house. In the other corner was my dresser. The bed was against the wall opposite of the first window and I had another window opposite of the closet that looked out over the side yard and to the next house.

Under that window, I set up my milk-crate stereo shelves from wood procured from my dad’s basement and milk crates “borrowed” from Food World. I had the stereo on the ground between two milk crates and my albums lined up on the other side. On top of the long wood shelf were my textbooks.

I divided my albums so albums that were universally liked were kept in the recreation room with that stereo, and the albums I just listened to alone at night were in my bedroom.

I had Signals in my bedroom, and I played that album a lot that year. It had to have been among my top 10 in terms of plays—maybe top 5. I have a crystal clear vision of being in my bedroom with this song on during a gray, misty-rainy day.

It turns out that sophomore year was a huge year for many reasons, and I’ll certainly have more to say about it down the road.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

No. 809 – Spoonman

Performer: Soundgarden
Songwriter: Chris Cornell
Original Release: Superunknown
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

It’s funny how sometimes your mind is crystal clear on something happening and then you go back and look at documentation, and it’s totally messed up. This is one such occasion.

I was introduced to Soundgarden, like a lot of people, during the initial Seattle wave in 1992. When I joined a CD club, I bought Badmotorfinger, and I probably played it through once or twice. It wasn’t for me: too much crunch and too little melody. The same thing later with Birth Ritual on the Singles soundtrack.

So when I went to visit Scott at Ball State the spring before he graduated in 1994, and one of his buddies had Soundgarden’s new album, I wasn’t expecting much. I don’t recall that I loved it, but I know for sure that I didn’t hate it either, which was an improvement.

And because back then MTV still was a music channel, I heard this song quite a bit, and I did come to like it, so I took the plunge. And there’s a reason why Superunknown was the band’s breakout. It’s solid all the way through, but it has so many legitimately great songs that if you don’t like it, you don’t like hard rock, period.

And I did like hard rock, really always have when you get right down to it, although I wasn’t exposed to much of it when I was younger. But in the late summer of 1994, when the rift had formed between me and my dad’s side of the family, I really got into it. It made me want to listen to angrier music—that and working out three times a week with my Walkman cranked up.

I don’t know why, but when I hear this song, I think of shopping in Indianapolis. And I had written a post about putting together my dream stereo system, which I’ve mentioned before. But then while doing my taxes yesterday, I stumbled across some paperwork that proved my memory of the order of things in that regard was completely off-track.

I mentioned awhile back about how I bought the TV on the day of the first Ohio State football game in August 1994. That was absolutely, 100 percent correct. But I wrote that the TV was the final piece to the puzzle. The truth is it was the first. The stereo equipment came in the fall, and I didn’t buy an actual home-entertainment center until 1995. The last piece was a new VCR in January 1995.

Up until I had found that paperwork, I assumed that the VCR purchase came in Indianapolis in August 1994. Nope. I have a clear memory of shopping at my old college-shopping stomping grounds of Allisonville Road in Indianapolis. At least that was correct. But that day—in September—I bought a sweet Sony ProLogic receiver (one of the first that reached a more mainstream price of $500) and not the VCR. If I recall correctly—and who knows if I do—this would have been the same trip that Debbie and I took to see Eric Clapton.

Oh well. It could have been worse, I guess. In another 30 years, the memory would be that I bought my first car … in Louisville … with Beth. After enough years, all the memories start to blend together. Fortunately, now that I’m writing this stuff down, there will be a record of it—at least until some squatter takes over my site, like with BBT, of course.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

No. 810 – If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

Performer: Sting
Songwriters: Sting
Original Release: The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: None

After this song came out, I hated it. Hated it, with a capital H. That was partly due to the fact that I was ticked at Sting for breaking up The Police and partly due to the fact that I didn’t like his solo poppier sound—even compared to Synchronicity, which had a fine sugar-coated glaze applied to it.

But the biggest reason I hated it was that it later seemed to mock the demise of my relationship with Beth. When Beth called it quits—almost 25 years ago to the day, now that I think about it—she left me with the parting words (OK, they weren’t exactly the last thing she said, but it was part of the discussion) of Khalil Gibran: “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they are yours.” It was her entreaty to let her go … and maybe she’d come back.

Believe me, at that time, at that moment, that was absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear. I don’t want to let you go. You’re leaving—for someone else. Naturally, Sting singing the same words over and over again didn’t go over well.

But just as time heals all wounds, so it also provides perspective. And with perspective sometimes comes a different point of view. One year after Beth and I broke up, I found myself in rapturous love, with Melanie. I can’t remember why, but I had found … Nothing Like the Sun, which became the soundtrack of my sensibility. Every note carried significance, it seemed, just as every day seemed to bloom wildflowers and songbirds.

Given that backdrop, how could I not give Dream of the Blue Turtles a second chance? This time, in 1988, I had a different reaction. I didn’t like it as much as … Nothing Like the Sun, but I liked it—even this song. Yeah, OK, Sting. I hear you now. I get it. The love that Beth and I had had run its course, and she was right to ask me to let her go. She wasn’t coming back, and I was more than ready to move on.

I let her go.

Friday, March 16, 2012

No. 811 – Driver 8

Performer: R.E.M.
Songwriters: Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Michael Stipe
Original Release: Fables of the Reconstruction
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: None

I have this thing with music where when I find something that I like, I play it to death for a while and when other things come along and I put the old music away for a few years until something else comes along that reminds me why I liked the first band in the first place. I’ve gone through that with pretty much every one of my favorite bands at some point—with the possible exceptions of Pearl Jam and Tool. I’ve always liked them and had them on heavy rotation.

Anyway, I had a big R.E.M. period from early 1993 to 1995 and then put them to the side for a long time. Then a little more than a year ago, Laurie bought a Greatest Hits album from their early days and played it quite a bit in her car, and it reminded me that even though this song wasn’t one of my favorites when I first heard it, it was a great song.

And that was at about the same time that we had Snowmagedden in February 2011. We’d been hearing for days that a massive snowstorm was coming, and we might get more than a foot of snow in a single day. Yeah, whatever. But sometimes, the weatherfolks’ predictions are spot on, and as the arrival date drew closer, the reports didn’t abate. So it certainly seemed that even if we didn’t get what everyone was predicting, we were going to be hit by a big snow, and it would arrive right at about the evening rush hour.

So I prepared as I normally do in such cases: I parked my car in an area where I could leave it for a week or so with the wipers up (so they don’t get frozen to the windshield) and took the bus to the train to work. I wore two layers of pants, my boots and a sweatshirt under my big puffy parka. The bus and train were a bit fuller than usual that day as others were obviously enacting similar strategems.

Everyone was talking about the coming snowpocalypse with gallows humor at work, yet no one really knew what the plan was. Shortly after I started, we had a huge snowstorm early in the morning, and I was the only one in the office for the first half-hour of work. The day before someone asked me what our snow policy was. My response was that our snow policy was you get your butt to work. We don’t have snow days.

Well, the weather warnings were sufficient enough this time, that the publisher closed the office at 3, so everyone would be able to get home by a reasonable hour, but when we left there had been no official word as to what we would do the next day. The editor was on vacation, so as managing editor and Number 1 to the editor’s Picard, it would be up to me to call the publisher at home and then relay the word to everyone else. I took home my office phone list, so I could contact everyone.

It began to snow as I walked to the train and by the time the train reached my station where I caught the bus, the roads were beginning to be covered up and traffic was backing up. The bus ride—normally 20–25 minutes on a snow day—took an hour to get to my stop. By this time, the wind was howling and snow was blowing sideways. We were in full-fledged blizzard mode, and there was no question: We were taking a direct hit on the snowstorm.

When I got off the bus, I had an errand I had to run. I had to hike to the nearest L station to load up my CTA card for all the bus fares I would need for the next week or so. (The buses take only cash or a card.) That’s about a mile-and-a-half hike going from the bus stop to the L and then home, and it was awesome in the original sense of the word to be out in it.

I was plenty bundled up, so I wasn’t cold, even with the wind, but it was getting crazy out. The wind was ripping through the trees and snow was blowing across streets like thick puffs of smoke. The few cars now not on the main streets where they still could move were slowed to a crawl as they forged slowly ahead.

Laurie made it home shortly after I did and said she felt lucky to get home because of the crush of traffic. Because we live in a 100-year-old building, we were concerned by how it would hold up to the wind and cold. It turns out that was the least of our problems. The building held up tight as a drum, and it was plenty cozy as the wind whipping through the trees lullabied us to sleep.

I have more to say about Snomagedden, but I'm already at two pages, so I’ll just put a –30– on this one and call it a day.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No. 812 – Shallow

Performer: Porcupine Tree
Songwriter: Steven Wilson
Original Release: Deadwing
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

You up for a little rant today? Good.

Now we’re almost to present day, because Porcupine Tree is my latest find. It’s too early to say they’re also my greatest, but I can’t say I’ve heard an album that grabbed me start to finish the way Deadwing has since for sure Lateralus by Tool, whom I liken to Porcupine Tree too (albeit a bit less heavy) and maybe not since Ten by You Know Who. It’s that solid all the way through, and this song was the one that convinced me that I had really stumbled onto something great.

But if it were up to the Recording Industry Assholes Association, Porcupine Tree and Deadwing likely would have gone forever undiscovered by me.

Yes, dear reader, just as sure as I am writing this, I’m sure that the RIAA sucks rocks. You know them from their fine work of forcing us to buy $18 CDs instead of $7 vinyl albums for questionable quality benefits (and pocketing the extra profits) and their excellent public-relations move of suing their customers. Of course, the RIAA’s rich tradition of promoting crap and stealing from the recording artists that they’re supposedly supporting is well-known and well-established.

OK, so it’s not entirely accurate to put this all at the feet of the RIAA. The RIAA is simply the mouthpiece of the recording industry, which is almost all now run by suits who couldn’t give two craps for the music they put out save for how much revenue it can generate.

In my opinion, every single one of those suits who couldn’t find their butts with both hands if you drew them a roadmap should pay homage to Steve Jobs every day of their pathetic lives for saving them from their own blockheadedness. When Napster blew up the Internet and music “piracy” was rampant, the industry was so dim that instead of just saying, well, why don’t we just make all this music available and charge folks a nominal amount—say, a quarter—to listen in, they instead tried to hold back the digital wave like the oncoming tide with your hands—and with the same lack of success.

Fortunately for them, Jobs saw an opportunity to make some serious dough for himself and brought forth iTunes, dragging the recording industry kicking and screaming into the modern day—while continuing to make overcharging for music acceptable practice.

OK, you know all this already, but I had to lay the groundwork for how this song made it onto my list. The truth is that it had nothing to do with either the RIAA or iTunes, other than the fact that I play the song on iTunes and downloaded it onto my computer from a CD that I bought, and from which I’m sure the RIAA pocketed most of the money that should have gone to Steven Wilson & Co.

Sometime in the past 10 years, my buddy Doug mentioned Porcupine Tree as a group that fit my musical tastes towards long-winded, pretentious prog rock and that I should check them out. I promptly pushed it to the back of my mind as I had other things on my plate. But I didn’t forget it.

A few years ago, I was in something of a rut with my music. All my favorite bands had more or less stopped putting out anything, and I was looking for something new. I recalled Doug’s recommendation and went to the Napster of the Tens—YouTube.

I typed in Porcupine Tree—knowing nothing about them besides the name of the band—and a list of bootleg live videos popped up. One song in particular caught my attention—Arriving Somewhere, Not Here, because it was 12 minutes long. Well, if these guys are prog, it should stand to reason that I should sample the longest song first.

I liked it right away—enough to check it out again a few days later. I sampled a couple other tunes, and they were OK, but I liked Arriving Somewhere the best. I wanted to listen to it more—not just when I was sitting at my computer.

So, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I made an audio recording of the video and copied it—after some effort—to my iTunes library and then onto my workout iPod. Of course, to the RIAA, I had just STOLEN music—and therefore money from Porcupine Tree’s pocket.

But … not really. Look at the situation: I didn’t really know anything about the band. iTunes doesn’t sell individual tracks that are longer than 10 minutes, so if I wanted just the song, I had to buy the whole album. I wasn’t going to do that. And there was no “official” recording of the live version that I found anyway.

In other words, I stole nothing out of anyone’s pocket, because no one was selling what I wanted and therefore was going to get my money anyway. All my recording was was a tryout.

And a funny thing happened. I really got into the song and decided I wanted to hear more than was readily available online. I bought The Incident, which was the band’s latest album (2009). It’s good, not great, although it’s meant to be heard in one 55-minute chunk, so I should give it another shot.

But then I turned to the album that spawned Arriving Somewhere—Deadwing. It was no longer sound unheard, because I knew three songs and one that I really liked. I bought it, and you know the rest of the story.

The bottom line: I’ve bought two Porcupine Tree albums (spending $30) and will buy more, and I will go see them if they tour in this country again—money that goes directly to the artists themselves—all because I got something for free that the RIAA didn’t want me to have. You call it stealing? I call it taking advantage of the biggest idiots in the history of business.

And I’m confident I can prove that in court.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No. 813 – Talk to Me

Performer: Peter Frampton
Songwriter: Peter Frampton
Original Release: Frampton Comes Alive II
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None

Lightning doesn’t strike twice, after all.

When I saw that Frampton was going to release a sequel to his live opus in 1995, I was as curious as the next person who loved the original. The emcee, the same one as on the original Frampton Comes Alive, starts the second album with comments about lightning striking twice. Of course, as we know, it didn’t happen: This album missed the masses, who had long since moved on.

But the album, which basically brings us up to date from 1975—the oldest song is I’m In You—did produce a few gems. This song, which is Frampton’s immediate reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing, was one of them.

He played this song when Debbie and I saw him at the end of 1995. It was a Q-FM Secret Santa show at the Newport near OSU. Q-FM had those shows every year, and a portion of the door went to a charity to buy toys for poor kids. Q-FM typically also held an auction of rock memorabilia before the show.

I wanted to go early to see what kind of stuff was available, so we were there when the doors opened. We weren’t first in line, but we were in the first 10, which meant that we got seats in the upper area (bonus).

Debbie took the table and I went down to scout out potential purchases. But what I remember the most was the guy on stage just jamming it out on guitar. He was joking around with some of the Q-FM folks as they set up for the auction. He wasn’t really playing any songs, just testing this, that and the other thing. He had long, curly black hair and was wearing nondescript jeans and a blue shirt—obviously a guitar techie getting the sound right.

So, the order of the evening would be the auction after about 30 minutes, then the warm-up act, which was Gary Hoey, who was a guitar shredder of some repute but who never really made it big—like a poor man’s Yngwie Malmsteen. Then Frampton would come alive.

When the auction ended, the lights went down and Gary Hoey came out … wearing nondescript jeans and blue shirt and long curly hair. Yeah, it was the axman himself who was tuning up when the doors. I’d never seen a pro do that before, and I thought that was pretty funny. And I can’t say I’ve seen it since.