Friday, August 31, 2012

No. 643 – Questions / Heaven Sent

Performer: INXS
Songwriter: Andrew Farriss
Original Release: Welcome to Wherever You Are
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

It seemed to me that INXS was on top of the world when this album came out, but it didn’t connect with me. I had already discovered Pearl Jam and the whole alt-rock Seattle scene, so maybe I had moved on.

Speaking of connecting, everyone has moments when something so surprisingly wonderful happens that it seems to defy explanation. These moments are the kind that happen only in the movies or on TV. You see them and think, “that would never happen in real life.” Well …

I remember the day clear as a bell. It was a Thursday in September 1992, and I went to the gym for a work out first thing in the evening after I woke up. I was invited to Dave’s for a dinner party that night. I was going to be the fifth wheel among Dave, Julie, John and his new wife. Actually, make that the sixth wheel, because Dave had just become a father the previous month. That was all right; it would be a cool, laid-back evening before I went in to work.

When I got home, I had a few messages on my answering machine. I can’t remember whether it was the first or second message—in fact, I think it was two due to uncertainty about having the right number on the first attempt—but as soon as I heard the voice, I stopped cold in my tracks, and my gym bag and jaw dropped to the floor.

It was Jenna. She called to say that she got my number from the Journal, was off work tonight and did I want to get together for a drink?

Now think of this: Not only was the hottest woman in Flint if not the world at that moment interested in me, she made the effort to call the Journal to get my home number and call ME to ask ME out. That just doesn’t happen in real life—only in the movies or on TV.

As an aside, you should know that newspapers DO NOT give out the home phone numbers of their employees. That’s standard policy, because there’s no way of knowing who the other person is on the line, and the nature of the business means that ticked-off folks trying might be trying to find you.

Well, the Sports department knew the deal between me and Jenna, so the part-timer that night assumed that delivering the sensitive piece of information was an exception to the policy. Or, perhaps he knew the absolute Hell I would have made his worthless life had I gotten into work that night only to find out … Wait a minute …  WHO called? And you DIDN’T give out my number? Do you not see that plate-glass window that I’m about to throw you through?

Anyway, after I picked up my jaw off the floor and did the Yes-Yes dance wildly across the living room area of my apartment, I called Dave to unfortunately—oh DARN—back out of attending his dinner party. Yes, I did that first, because I didn’t want to sound like the little boy who suddenly got everything he always wanted for Christmas when I called Jenna back.

I must have been successful, because she didn’t change her mind when we spoke. She said she lived up in Clio, which is way the heck north of Flint, and, of course, I was in Grand Blanc, way the heck south, so we decided to meet in the middle. Her choice was a divey looking bar on Dort Highway near to I-69 that a friend had told her about and I had passed by a thousand times. Sounds great. Of course, pizza at Chucky Cheese in the middle of a kids’ birthday party would’ve sounded good to me at that moment.

As soon as I hung up, aside from an elation that I couldn’t contain—and the need to shower again, of course (don’t know if I’m clean enough from the ol’ gym, you know)—I suddenly was slapped in the face by the reality of the situation. Remember, I was going to play it close to the vest while Jenna rebounded from her recent breakup. I didn’t want to push it, because if I did, it wouldn’t work out. I was thinking the long game here: We had to go slow.

Well, that plan had just been crumpled up and consigned to the trash can of Best Laid Plans. I instinctively knew that this was bad timing. But what was I going to say, no? Not a chance of that. No, the cards had been dealt, and now I had to play them as best as I could.

We met at the bar, and I don’t remember much about it except that it had a jive DJ in the dance area—think: Deadmau5 minus the mau5 head … and the  creativity, talent and cool factor. Jenna wasn’t interested in dancing, and before long, the music grated, so we left.

She might not have had to work that night, but I did, so we went to the Friday’s downtown, which I believe is now long gone, because it was quick and close to the Journal building—and I did want a little something to eat before work, since I hadn’t had anything yet that day. (One can’t live on elation alone.)

What I remember about being there—besides the fact that Jenna looked absolutely gorgeous—was that she ordered brie, which I had never had before; I picked up the check; and when we parted, she left me with the promise of a second date (U2 at the Silverdome the next week) and a kiss that had me floating on Cloud 9 all the way to work.

Heaven sent, indeed. Maybe this will work out after all …

Thursday, August 30, 2012

No. 644 – Take on Me

Performer: A-ha
Songwriters: Pal Waaktaar, Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket
Original Release: Hunting High and Low
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: None

I really was looking forward to Andy and Holly’s party in January 2003. In many ways, it was going to be my last blast before I dropped my bombshell that I was leaving The Dispatch and moving to Cleveland.

Andy and Holly had decided they wanted to hold an Eighties theme party at their place near German Village, so you were encouraged to dress up as an Eighties character or concept.

Well, I had underwear that was still from the Eighties at that point, so … just kidding. Actually, I did still have one piece of ’Eighties apparel for some reason, and I dug that out—suspenders. Yes, I had a pair of suspenders that I wore with my suit back then, because I hated belts. Besides I liked the old-school look. (I probably would have been a steampunk hipster if I were in my early 20s now.)

My costume idea came quickly. I’d go Eighties style suit, complete with tiebar (no one still wears those, right), and then have fake money hanging out of each pocket. My concept: greed. I suppose I could’ve gone the full Gordon Gekko, but I didn’t feel like slicking back my hair.

I showed up fashionably late, and the good bad Eighties MTV synth pop was blaring. Andy loaded up his iPod with all the standards, including this one, which—I must say, donning my Ebertesque tweed jacket—is, given the limitations of the technology at the time, one of MTV’s best videos.

Everyone liked my outfit. There were some characters and some good ideas. Chuck showed up but without a costume, the coward. At one point later in the evening, three people arrived who were dressed regularly. When Holly asked where their costume was, they all clasped hands and said they were Hands Across America. Very clever. I liked it, anyway.

Actually my favorite costume wasn’t really a costume at all. Molly, who was one of the Thurman regulars, and her boyfriend showed up after having rummaged a few secondhand stores in town and were basically dressed like basic California high schoolers from the mid to late 1980s. Aside from a two-tone aqua and purple shirt, Woody looked fairly normal.

But Molly had on high-waisted stonewashed jeans and a high-collar blouse with a jacket that had shoulder pads the size of a defensive tackle’s. She permed and teased up her hair and had the full ’80s makeup look happening. She didn’t resemble Beth, but I recognized the look, and it made me remember what I liked about it. And I definitely liked it.

I suppose fashion is not unlike musical choices—you tend to gravitate to the look that girls or women had when you first got laid. There is something about women dressed in basic garish over-the-top Eighties fashion that flips my switch.

So I was raring to go when Punky Brewster showed up after midnight …

(To be continued)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No. 645 – Great Spirit

Performer: Robert Plant
Songwriters: Phil Johnstone, Kevin Scott MacMichael, Robert Plant
Original Release: Fate of Nations
Year: 1993
Definitive Version: None

After the pageantry at the first annual 500 barbecue had been properly executed—and don’t you love the chutzpah of someone who calls something the “first annual” as if it were automatic that it would happen again—there was only one thing left on the agenda: Have fun.

With a Bud in one hand, and tongs in another, Scott and I ran the grills, cooking an assortment of processed meats for the crowd. Finally it was our turn to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And it was time to better get to know the new galpal.

Scott had told me about Shani back in the winter, and he was pretty head over heels. As was always the case, as far as I was concerned, if Scott liked someone, then she was in good with me. But after the Alien Woman (so named because she had late-80s poofy bangs that emphasized a toothy smile that made her look like, well, the Alien queen), Shani was a huge breath of fresh air. Jin and I liked her right away.

I had one more task before the barbecue was over. It was the piece de resistance as far as race prep. I grilled a flank steak that I had marinated overnight, using my stepmom’s sure-fire teriyaki sauce recipe. After it was done, I cut it up to assemble the next morning in sandwiches that we could take into the track. The sandwiches went over like Jim Nabors singing Back Home Again and were afterward considered a permanent addition to the racetrack festivities.

At the barbecue’s conclusion, and we had all collapsed onto the sofa, it was apparent that the revelry and pageantry seemingly had been too much for the ladies in attendance. They went inside, desperately seeking the nap couches.

So that meant there was only one thing for Scott and I to do—head to the Muncie mall and the video arcade had the awesome Terminator 2 shoot-em-up video game, in which you could go as far as your quarters held out. Scott and I destroyed Skynet, went back into the past, made it all the way to the final platform where you try to knock the T-1000 into the molten lead … and failed. John Connor was killed, and mankind was thus lost. D’OH!

By the time we got back, an hour or so later, Jin and Shani had recovered from their bout of tiredness, and the various guests had cleaned up everything, which was nice of them. I don’t remember what we did the rest of the evening, but after the earlier events, it was all postscript anyway.

Scott and I agreed that the first annual 500 Barbecue WAS good enough to repeat the next year. What others had thought was irrelevant. WE had a blast. Now, what can we do to top this year’s pagentry?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No. 646 – King of the Mountain

Performer: Kate Bush
Songwriter: Kate Bush
Original Release: Aerial
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

Laurie has a huge circle of friends. If you took all of the friends I ever had and got them in the same room with Laurie’s posse, it might equal half of the number of people on the other side of the room.

But as is the case with such a large group, Laurie’s posse has become a bit more far-flung—some having moved out to the suburbs, others to other parts of the country and still others to around the world, for that matter. So, we don’t see some of them as much as we’d like.

One couple who we definitely used to spend more time with are Ann and Aaron. I met them early on in my courtship with Laurie—at a music-release party for another friend—and I got along with both of them right away. After I had been in Chicago for a while, we were invited out to their place in the western ’burbs for a dinner party.

Ann and Aaron are vegetarians, so Laurie took a veggie lasagna. Her lasagnas were well-known amongst the posse, but I hadn’t had one, so I was looking forward to trying it. I brought the wine.

We had a bunch of pupus for pre-dinner munching as Laurie put the lasagna in the oven. They had Aerial and said it was excellent but never played it. (I got it soon afterward sound-unheard anyway based on their recommendation.)

Finally, it was time to pull out the lasagna and cut into it … and we discovered it hadn’t set up. In fact, it was so loose that whenever anyone cut a chunk, the sauce filled in the hole. Laurie was pretty upset that it seemed to be a huge disaster (and a blow to her reputation for lasagnas), but it quickly was redeemed from a comedic standpoint. We dubbed it the Neverending Lasagna Pan—no matter how much you took, there never was any less—and that saved the evening. In truth it tasted pretty good even if it were a tad, shall we say, soupy.

A funnier thing happened after dinner. I learned that Ann was a major celebrity in a particular household in Cincinnati. One of my niece Leah’s favorite shows on Noggin was Jack’s Big Music Show, and one of her favorite episodes was about Prudence, the Music Genie, who was given the ability to yodel. Ann was Prudence, the Music Genie. No way!

We watched the episode, and I couldn’t wait to tell Scott that I knew Prudence, the Music Genie. As far as he was concerned at the time, that was almost as cool as if I had said I had had dinner with Geddy Lee. (I would doubt that Leah even remembers this now.)

We haven’t seen much of Ann and Aaron lately, unfortunately. Ann’s music career has been rolling along pretty good, and she’s been on the road a lot in the past two years. Like I said, far-flung.

Monday, August 27, 2012

No. 647 – Manhattan Project

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Power Windows
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: Presto Tour, 1990

After I rediscovered Rush in 1989, seeing them for the first time in 1990 forever cemented my love.

Early in the year, it was announced that Rush would play in Columbus for, if not the first time, the first time in a long time. As I’ve mentioned, Columbus during my prime concert-going years didn’t have a venue that was suitable for a big group.

Rush wasn’t big enough to try and pull off Ohio Stadium, like Pink Floyd did in 1988, but how about Cooper Stadium? I don’t recall many—if any—bands playing at the Clippers’ ballpark. It was a great idea. The park seated about 15,000 for baseball. That’s right in the, ahem, ballpark of your basic arena.

Scott got the tickets—I seem to recall that he might have done the overnight on the sidewalk again this time—and it turned into a family affair. In addition to me coming in from Flint, Jin was going to drive in from Chicago, and even Dad and Laura were going. Jin was beside herself: Can you imagine Dad at a Rush concert? Hey, why not?

By the time of the show in June, I was ready. I had bought Presto, the album Rush was touring to support, and was starting to get into it. I also was playing A Show of Hands quite a bit, too, so I was prepared for them playing lots of newer material and little of the older songs I loved from their previous two live albums. After all, the only “old” songs on Show of Hands were Witch Hunt and Closer to the Heart. I assumed that that was representative of where they were these days. Didn’t matter; I still was looking forward to it.

And Scott came through with excellent tickets: 10th row on the ground, maybe 50 feet from Alex. He got two groups, because he could get only four at a time. The second batch—in about the 20th row—were for Dad and Laura. Jin, Scott, a friend of Scott’s and I got the 10th-row seats.

We all assembled at Dad’s house before the show and headed on down, making sure to take the Nothing Stretch, like Scott and I used to for Clippers games years before. (We didn’t go 100 mph this time, however.)

It felt cool to walk down the aisle and out the gate onto the field. It was the first time I ever had been on a pro ballfield, although you only recognized it as such when you turned to look at the stands. Cooper Stadium at that time had artificial turf, and a gigantic tarp covered the field to prevent the drunks from spilling any of the contents of their beers—pre- or post-consumption.

The warmup act was Mr. Big, and I remember only that they sucked. Even a year before Kurt Cobain killed all the bands off with a single song, I had long tired of preening, spandex-laced hair metal. Mr. Big’s set thankfully was short, and then it was time to get Rush on stage.

I’ll never forget that the start of the show seemed haphazard. It was as if the opening choral synth of Force Ten started before the band and in particular Alex even was ready to go on stage. That probably had more to do with the fact that because the show was in June, it still was light out when Rush hit the stage.

It was so light, in fact, that the videos on the screens on either side of the stage couldn’t be seen. You could barely distinguish different lights on stage. Unlike most shows where they announce the band’s arrival by turning off all the lights, you couldn’t tell the difference here. But Rush was rocking; who needed a light show?

I warned Jin ahead of time of the likelihood that they would stick exclusively to newer material, so, of course, the second song out was Free Will. WOOOOOO!! They also did Red Barchetta early; I wasn’t expecting that at all.

By about the fifth song, it was finally dark enough that you could start to make out the videos, and when the band launched into Xanadu, which followed this song, and unleashed the lasers for the first time, you could definitely see them.

The show was one of the best I had seen up to that time, and when they finished their encore with a medley of 2112, La Villa Strangiato and In the Mood (um, yeah, you know that part about how they don’t play older songs any more? Yeah, Ignore that.), I turned and saw Dad and Laura had moved up about eight rows and Dad was applauding wildly. It turned out he loved the show as much as we did, which made Jin even more apoplectic.

In another month, I’ll be seeing them on their Clockwork Angels tour, and I’m looking as much forward to it as I was the first one. It’ll be the lucky 13th time I’ve seen them—I haven’t missed a tour in 22 years—which is more than twice as many times as I’ve seen anyone else (Pearl Jam, five times). And it all began with a single show in my hometown in 1990.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

No. 648 – The Seeker

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: Single
Year: 1970
Definitive Version: None

When The Who released their box set, Maximum R&B, in 1994, I was all over it. I specifically remember coming home, putting on the disc that had Tommy stuff on it (Disc 2) and cranking the volume all the way up on Sparks just to see how loud I could go and not shake the century-old rowhouse to its foundation. It was from this album that I got into like The Seeker, which seemed an appropriate time considering I was seeking validation of my love life from, well, pretty much anyone who would give it.

When Debbie and I crossed the line from being friends to being lovers, I knew this was going to cause problems. I wasn’t naïve, and I wasn’t being careless or thoughtless. I knew there likely would be objections and things would be uncomfortable for a while, but I believed that after everyone saw how good we were together, objections would dissipate.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t going to say anything until Dad and Laura came home from Torch Lake at the end of summer, because I thought it was important enough to tell them in person, not over the phone or in a letter. So I floated a trial balloon with Jin and Scott—my closest compadres—whom I would have told first regardless.

Jin could’ve cared less. She had been living away from Columbus for five years now and didn’t know Debbie much. For all practical purposes, she was judging it like a friend would: Hey, if you’re happy, go for it.

Scott, however, didn’t like it at all—and not just because of how Dad and Laura might react. He had lived with Dad and Laura from 1986 through college (I never did) and had interacted with Debbie as a family friend a few times. In hindsight, it was clear he had the best vantage point to judge how this would go over.

But he was uncomfortable with it on his own. He recognized that a dynamic had changed—Debbie was no longer just a benign family friend, she now was my girlfriend and all that that implied. I had been hopeful that Scott would react more positively, but even at the time, I conceded that he wasn’t wrong to feel the way he did. Just give me the benefit of the doubt; that’s all I ask.

As it would happen, I was planning to visit him about a week after I told him this news, and it would be a bit awkward if he were still peeved. Well in advance, he had bought tickets to the first Brickyard 400—the first non-500 race to be held on the hallowed Indianapolis Speedway. I was as curious as anyone, and Scott could get decent tickets (backstretch in the grandstand), so why not see what it was all about? After the race, Scott and I had planned to catch a baseball game—a morning-day doubleheader if you will. I would stay with him in Muncie.

Well, everything went fine. I remember almost nothing about the race itself except that it was a lot louder, longer and far more boring than the 500. (I’m just not a NASCAR fan.) Maybe I can’t be properly revved up for racing at the Speedway unless I’m hearing Jim Nabors immediately before the start, thank you. It was OK: Scott and I were there more for the history than the actual event.

From there, we drove to the late, great Bush Stadium, a glorious brick ballpark that had ivy growing on the outfield walls just like at Wrigley. I don’t remember much about that game either, except that at one point when the Indians’ mascot wandered through the stands late in the game, Scott jumped up for a photo op with the said mascot.

But what I remember most was how Scott asked out of the blue how it was going between Debbie and I. I hadn’t mentioned anything before then out of deference to his sensitivity. You really want to know? Yeah. So I told him, and from that moment on, he was cool about it.

This, I believed, was a good omen. Scott had gone from disapproval to acceptance—if not outright approval, which was fine—in less than two weeks. It would take Dad and Laura longer, of course, but it wouldn’t be too bad.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

No. 649 – Sea of Joy

Performer: Blind Faith
Songwriter: Steve Winwood
Original Release: Blind Faith
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: None

Of all the birds that Debbie and I invited into our backyard menagerie in 1998, when I was listening to Blind Faith a lot, our favorites without question were a pair of mallards.

The ducks began to visit in the spring. On the back of our property was an exit tunnel for a drainage stream that would flow over a creekbed to where I never learned. Debbie, I think, first spotted the ducks down by the creek.

Among our backyard feeders was a corncob feeder nailed to a tree close to the creek. On this, we would stick a dry ear of feed corn to try and prevent the squirrel thugs from stealing all the bird seed. The squirrels took to this additional offering, and being the pigs that they are, would drop about half of the kernels onto the ground. The ducks found those loose kernels and ate them. Now that they discovered a regular food source, they kept coming back.

We started to look for them—a male and female couple—regularly. Sure enough, at about the same time every day, they would come tromping up the creek until they reached the “headwaters” where they’d set up shop for their lunch and their afternoon naps—as long as I wasn’t out mowing the lawn, of course.

Debbie was hopeful that if we gave them the right encouragement, perhaps they would set up a nest on our property and even grace us with baby ducklings. As we all know, nothing’s cuter than baby ducks.

We knew the ducks liked the corn, so we began to pluck kernels from some of the ears and put them into a bowl. When we’d see them coming, we’d race out to put out the loose corn. Debbie decided a good spot would be on the sewer lid opening to the drainage tunnel, because it was in the open where she could see them clearly and get pics. It took awhile, but the ducks found those kernels, and thereafter when they’d come, they’d check over on the sewer lid as well as look under the tree for any food.

The ducks would spend most of the afternoon in our backyard before either tromping back down the creek the way they came or occasionally flying out. They arrived via their wings a few times, but mostly they walked to and from our backyard sanctuary.

They became regulars. Ducks, of course, generally aren’t people-shy, and as long as I kept my distance—while the male eyed me carefully—they didn’t fly off suddenly if they heard me coming around the corner. After a while, I used this familiarity to go get the bowl of corn and put it out in plain sight. After I’d back away, they’d make a beeline over to the sewer lid. Now they had a direct connection not only to the food but from where it was coming.

And they began to look for it. Debbie and I would see the ducks, take the corn out while running our fingers through the kernels, so they could hear them skritch across the metal bowl, and they came to know that sound. As soon as they heard it, they’d start to head over to the sewer lid—maintaining a respectful distance.

The distance shrank as the summer progressed. At first, they didn’t like it if you were just in the backyard. Then a 30-foot gap became acceptable. Then 15. It got so if they didn’t find food in the usual places right away, they would tromp up to the deck and look for us. They recognized by now that’s from where the corn producers came. If they heard the door open, they’d waddle off quickly—the male always farther away than the female—but soon follow along behind.

The gap between us continued to dwindle, and one weekend day when they came looking for food, I decided to see how far I could push things. They followed me to the sewer lid as Debbie watched. The female was maybe 10 feet from me as I put the food down in clear sight, and she continued to take a step, then another, anticipating my departure.

This time I didn’t depart. Instead I put some corn in my hand and held it out in front of me. The male wasn’t having any of it, but the female took a step closer, then another … then another …

She was now about 6 feet from me and she craned her neck forward a bit to take a closer look but stopped. OK, not today. I dropped the rest of the corn onto the sewer lid and by the time I had taken no more than three steps away, she went for the corn with the male rushing over to participate in the feast.

Debbie was beside herself when I got to the back door. I thought she was going to take some from your hand, she said. I didn’t think she would then, but I thought I was laying the groundwork for her eventually to feed out of my hand.

It turns out that was as close as I got. I don’t think I freaked them out completely, because we saw them after that, but soon after it started to get cold and they disappeared for the season. Unfortunately, although we continued to have ducks visit in subsequent years and feed them, we never saw that particular pair again.

And Debbie never did get that hoped-for nest, alas.

Friday, August 24, 2012

No. 650 – We Work the Black Seam

Performer: Sting
Songwriter: Sting
Original Release: The Dream of the Blue Turtles
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: Bring on the Night, 1986

Remember my admonishment at the start of the blog about songs that might elicit political commentary and how certain comments either with me or against me would be stricken from the record? Well, this is one of those songs. If, during an election year, you feel as though you can’t go without responding, please skip this post and come back tomorrow.

We all good now? OK. Even though I had a working knowledge of U.S. history and thus politics when I was growing up, I wasn’t really a political person until the late Eighties. Before then, I never paid much attention to news that wasn’t sports-related.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was going on for the most part; it was no interest to further engage in it. For example, when the Challenger blew up, I knew about it right away, but I didn’t watch any of the coverage on TV. I didn’t need to watch the disaster on an endless loop to get a sense of the tragedy. I got it, and I didn’t want to subject myself to it. Doing so only would make me upset. In retrospect, I can’t say my life was the poorer for my relative ignorance.

Of course, after you decide to pursue a career in journalism and get a job at a newspaper, the news is unavoidable. You literally can’t do your job, or at least, you can’t advance in your career past being a copy runner, if you aren’t aware of the news. And by the time I was getting into the game, jobs for copy runners were long gone.

Needless to say, my transformation from general optimist to skeptic and cynic was eye-opening. The Panglossian ideal I had held that this is the best of all possible worlds constantly was being exposed as fraudulent. The trigger on the switch really was the Iran-Contra affair.

I grew up, more or less, a Republican—not that either of my parents were hard core when it came to politics. In fact, most of the time they steadfastly refused to discuss it. In olden times, there were two things you never discussed in public company—politics and religion. Now we do both endlessly. How’s that working out for us in terms of our relationships with our fellow Americans and fellow men and women?

(A slight digression: Mom once mentioned off the cuff that she and my grandmother used to get into big political arguments during the 1960 election. I knew my Mom’s political bent and guessed at my grandmother’s, so I said, you fought because you (a 20-year-old) wanted Nixon and she (a 46-year-old) wanted Kennedy. I found that amusing. Mom said nothing but gave me a “damn you” look that confirmed my analysis.)

Anyway, after Reagan beat Carter in 1980, I bought into the message that it was a time of American renewal, and in 1984, I voted for Reagan even though in all candor I paid almost zero attention to actual policy.

Then came Iran-Contra, and as it unfurled, it became clear to me that even if Reagan didn’t have a direct hand in covering it up, a la Nixon, there was no way that Reagan wasn’t at least aware of what was going on. This to me was a clear violation of the ideals that he had come to embody, laying aside the larger issue of whether the Contras ought to be funded by selling arms to an enemy. I mean, if you can’t trust Reagan to abide by the law, who can you trust?

One of Reagan’s better lines, of course, was trust but verify. Iran-Contra seemed to indicate that he wasn’t trustworthy, and the more I started to look at other issues—the verification—the less trustworthy he became in my eyes, and the further I moved from the beliefs I held as a youth. During this time, I had discovered What’s Going On and was listening more to Sting, who began writing with a lot more social conscious, and the music resonated with me during my political awakening.

So, yeah, I’m politically Liberal now, with a capital L. I make no apologies for it. I know liberal has become a dirty word in today’s political climate, but that’s because weak individuals have allowed certain parties to define the term in ways to befit their self-interest. In short, no I’m not interested in confiscating all of your income in the form of taxes. I’m not a Communist.

One of Webster’s definitions of liberalism is “a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.” I believe in that. If you don’t, perhaps you should ask yourself why you don’t.

Hmm, maybe there’s still hope for that rose-colored optimist of days gone by after all.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

No. 651 – You Sure Love to Ball

Performer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriter: Marvin Gaye
Original Release: Let’s Get It On
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: None

For Labor Day weekend, Laurie and I usually visit Laurie’s uncle at his summer place in Michigan. The only time we didn’t was in 2007. That year, Laurie wanted to visit him at his winter home in North Carolina, which we scheduled for October, so Laurie thought there was no need to go to Michigan a month earlier, too.

So we stayed home, which was fine with me. We had moved into our new apartment in June, and we really hadn’t spent a lot of time there. I’m pretty sure that we had at least unpacked and gotten rid of most of the boxes that had been stacked up in the dining room and especially out on the back porch.

Laurie wanted to have a few friends over Friday night to kick off the Labor Day weekend as sort of a housewarming get-together. I put a range of music on the old CD player, including this album. (For the record, I think I also had The Gipsy Kings on there, Loreena McKennitt, Dire Straits and Yes. Like I said, a range.)

It turned out to be something of an impromptu party, because a couple of friends brought other friends, and when the smokers in the group wanted to go downstairs to the backyard, we connected with our neighbors from the apartment below. The next thing you know, they were up in our apartment, too.

The adult refreshments were flowing, and I think I went through three bottles of wine—not by myself but all told. Laurie put out a bunch of pupus, and we blew through all of those. By the time everyone left, it was after 3 in the morning. It had been a great little bash.

The next day I experienced a great little bash of my own—in my head. I woke up with wickedest hangovers I ever experienced—you know, one of those where you just try to find a position where your head feels like it won’t explode.

I honestly couldn’t figure out why I felt that way. I mean, I know why, but it didn’t add up. I ate a lot, so I had laid the proper base. And I had five glasses of wine. Granted they were Bordeaux glass pours, but that’s, what, a bottle, perhaps a little more over a span of seven hours? Perhaps I had more to drink than I thought I did, but I certainly have had more to drink than that before (and since) without the same dire consequences.

Whatever the cause, even though I did all the usual hangover helpers, like eat breakfast, down Advil and have a shower, which almost always work quickly, nothing helped. By mid-afternoon, the only thing I literally could do was sit on the couch in the living room—that apparently was the magic position—and watch Roger Federer play in the U.S. Open. Laurie was at rehearsal, and I was glad that I could just turn off my brain and watch like a zombie. 

Either the dozen or so Advil I had taken that day finally kicked in or I was lulled by the ponk … ponk … ponk rhythm of the tennis match punctuated by the occasional burst of staccato applause, but my zombie state eventually waned. By the time Laurie came home and we prepared to go out for dinner that night, I was back to normal. I even had wine with dinner.

Got to get right back on that horse, you know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

No. 652 – Never Can Say Goodbye

Performer: The Jackson 5
Songwriter: Clifton Davis
Original Release: single, Maybe Tomorrow
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None

Yeah, I have a Jackson 5 song on the list; what of it? I can’t remember exactly why—the lingering effects of Jukebox Saturday Night, I’m guessing—but I really got into this song just as I was about to leave gleaming Herald City for gritty Flint. That meant I would have to say goodbye to Sara, and that turned out to be a bigger deal than I had been expecting.

I was at the Daily Herald for almost exactly a year, and although all of the top copy editors—my direct bosses—left long before the end of that year, most of the rim went unchanged. The copy desk consisted mostly of women, most of whom were married with kids, so they weren’t moving on. Everyone got along pretty well, were friendly at work and got together for drinks afterward once in a while. It was, all in all, a pretty good crew.

I don’t remember how it started, but as fall 1989 got rolling, Sara and I started doing things outside of work. It started small; we’d have dinner together on our break, but it slowly began to progress. We went to see a movie together (Sea of Love, which was kind of a hot choice). It seemed like it was a just-friends situation, which was cool, because I’d never had a female friend before. But … she kept talking about doing more things together as the holidays drew close, and I started to wonder whether we might have something more in time.

However, a job at the Flint Journal soon appeared out of nowhere in October as a result of something I had done a few months earlier when I was a bit sour about the Daily Herald (story to come). I had no interest in moving at the time, but I quite simply couldn’t refuse the offer that was made.

After I turned in my two weeks’ notice, the copy desk made plans for my Fade. A Fade was what they called people’s going-away party where the whole copy desk would go out after work for drinks to bid you fare … well … and … bon … voy … age. (Saw Monty Python’s tribute to Whicker’s World the other night. YouTube it.)

That’s the typical Fade anyway. For various reasons, people couldn’t make it on the same night, so I had two fades. The first one was at the end of my last shift, as is proper. I had been given a nice going-away present by everyone at work—a bunch of good-luck notes on my final work calendar that I kept. Then the folks in paste-up got a hold of it and dolled it up with all sorts of goofy pictures taken from the newspaper and hand-written captions. I still have it in my work-treasures box somewhere in storage.

But I was disappointed when not one of them came to my Fade. In fact, it was almost entirely new-timers, who took me to a bar in Palatime, which stayed open till 5 but wasn’t quite the scene I had hoped.

Most of the people whom I really wanted to party with could make it only on the next night, so I drove up to Arlington Heights for the event. But it turned out that that somehow made it an unofficial fade, so it was kind of lame. Only a few people came to a bar down the street from the newspaper building, and everyone cut out after about an hour. When you’re gone, you’re gone, I guess.

The last person there was Sara, and as we walked back to our cars parked at the newspaper we chatted a bit about Flint and the apartment I had found the previous weekend. As we were about to wrap up, she said, “It’s too bad that you’re leaving …” And in a flash, I understood that I wasn’t the only one wondering whether there would be more in the future, and now there clearly wouldn’t be.

Talk about bittersweet. Had I known that she was interested in something beyond being friends, I would’ve turned down Flint before an offer even had been made. But it was too late. An opportunity was missed, and we said goodbye.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

No. 653 – Driving the Last Spike

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: We Can’t Dance
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

The inaugural Flint Bulldogs hockey team, as I’ve recounted, featured more characters than The Avengers and far worse hockey. If you recall, there was no hockey in The Avengers.

The Flint Bulldogs of 1991-92 probably were not the worst pro hockey team in history, but there was one weekend when they would’ve been on a very short list. They were Slap Shot bad, and the laughs were purely unintentional.

The Bulldogs’ season started bad and went quickly down the drain. Our favorite Dog, Jacques Mailhot, had been released after a particularly crazy brawl. You know it’s bad when the hired goon gets bounced from the team for overdoing it. And it turned out that Jacques was the heart of the team, because the Bulldogs fell apart after his expulsion, losing something like 11 games in a row. I had the misfortune to see them at their nadir during that run.

Bill, who covered the team, asked me if I wanted to go on another weekend road trip in February 1992—a longer one where the team would hit St. Thomas, Brantford and finally Detroit. Dave couldn’t go, but I was game. In retrospect, it was quite the tour of Canadian card shops, mediocre restaurants and horrid hockey.

The first stop was St. Thomas on Friday night, and it was always good to hit that beloved barn. I kept my coat on, and the Bulldogs might as well have never left the team bus. They lost, like, 8-3.

The next day, we drove to Brantford, the birthplace of the Great One, which, of course, is on the outskirts of the Toronto-Hamilton metroplex, but not before making a stop in London, where Bill’s favorite card shop was located. The thing I remember most about that store was it had almost all hockey cards, and the prices were way more than I was willing to pay.

By the time we got to Brantford, it was too close to game time to get anything substantial to eat for dinner but plenty of time to hit a couple more stores close to the Brantford Civic Centre (pronounced SAHN-tre) before game time. The Civic Centre is a much higher class arena than the one in St. Thomas—or even Fraser for that matter. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs also found the arena and soiled the ice with their play.

By this time, all the activity—and a lack of sleep from trying to adjust from the graveyard shift to a normal schedule—caught up to me, and I nodded off near the end of the game. It’s just as well when you consider that the Dogs were embarrassed 12-1. (If you don’t know hockey, that would be like losing a baseball game 40-0.) About the last thing I saw were two Bulldogs players skate into each other as the hometown fans mocked the ice follies. One hoser taunted, “You guys are playing like a bunch of sucks.” Even the opposing team’s fans wanted a better brand of hockey than what they were getting.

But I soon was awakened by an on-ice scrap right in front of me, or as Bill would later describe it: “I look down to see Will blowing z’s in the corner when all of a sudden ... ‘Oh? What’s this? A fight?’” Yes, a good cha-cha between two guys not hurting anyone but themselves doth perk up one’s attention. I mean, it’s not as if there were anything else worth watching aside from the inside of my eye lids.

I don’t remember much about the Detroit game other than Dave joined us for that one, we had a pregame meal at Frank’s Place next door and the Bulldogs—go figure—lost again. I seem to recall that at least they showed up, unlike the debacle in Brantford, and the score was close, and I don’t remember falling asleep this time.

Monday, August 20, 2012

No. 654 – Venus Isle / Battle We Have Won

Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriter: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Venus Isle
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

After Vs. was released in 1993, I looked forward to no other album more than whatever Eric Johnson’s next album was going to be. Little did I know that I would have to wait another 3 years for its arrival. The good news was that when it finally did come out, I had just the thing for a new album—a long drive.

As I mentioned a while back, when I organized the vacation that Debbie and I would take in 1996 to New England (she had done all the plotting for our California trip the year before), I knew it had to be a driving trip. That’s because I hate to fly, but more important, it was because we needed a car for everywhere we were going.

When I had made my trek to Cooperstown in 1990, one of my favorite parts was the drive along US 20 from Buffalo, and I thought we should take the same route this time. Unfortunately, my timing wasn’t as good, because Fall decided to start a week or so after we were there, so the trees for the most part were still green. Still, it was a nice way to start the trip.

We, meaning I, drove to the outskirts of Buffalo the first night. The next morning we got up fairly early to make the winding, hilly drive to Cooperstown after having breakfast at a restaurant where the outstanding feature was a weathered shrine to the Buffalo Bills in one of the windows. Our agenda was only to get to Cooperstown as soon as we did. There was no reason to get there any sooner.

That allowed for things like stopping a few times as we passed through the Finger Lakes district, which, in many ways, can be considered the western border of New England. It’s quaint, old and scenic. Because I timed our travels—or tried to—to the Fall, we actually were traveling off-season to an extent, so everything was less crowded.

We stayed in the Finger Lakes for dinner, although I can’t remember anything about where we stopped, and proceeded on our merry way with some regret that we couldn’t stay longer. It seemed like an area ripe for further exploration, but even though we had a loose schedule, we still had a schedule. We had a hotel reservation in Cooperstown, so we had to keep moving. Maybe next time.

We arrived at our hotel at night, and although I said it was in Cooperstown, it really was outside of town closer to Ostego Lake, the Lake Glimmerglass of James Fenimore Cooper.

It was an old-school strip hotel along the side of the road, but the rooms had been upgraded a bit. It had an indoor pool (not open after Labor Day as we found out after we got there) and a free breakfast (eh). But the rates were decent, and what the heck, we were a 3-mile drive from Baseball Valhalla, where we would spend the next day.

We did a little shopping in town before heading to the Hall of Fame. Debbie bought me a sweet 1951 Bowman Lou Boudreau that matched one of the images on my baseball-card posters at home. I actually bought, believe it or not, a Yankees cap. (And if you’re going to buy a Yankees cap, where else would you buy it BUT Cooperstown?) It wasn’t just any Yankees cap, however, but one of those eight-panel caps of the type that The Bambino wore. Everytime I had seen one of them on sale, the dealer was asking for at least 25 percent more than your typical cap, but in Cooperstown, I found it for the same price—$20. Sold.

I was pleased to see not only the Hall but also the town was almost exactly the same as it had been when I was first there six years before, down to the same stores in the same places, with the main exception of the Burberry five-and-dime being gone. Even better was being in Cooperstown with another person this time, so I ended up with photos that actually meant something to someone else.

Finally, it was time to move on. Our next stop was Boston. And that seems like a good stopping point for this here tale of adventure, until next time …

Sunday, August 19, 2012

No. 655 – Miracles

Performer: Jefferson Starship
Songwriter: Marty Balin
Original Release: Red Octopus
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: None

The highlight of our final whole-family vacation to Florida in 1976 was the side trip to Disney World. We had gone to Disney World the past two Florida vacations, but this was different, because we were going for more than one day. Even better, we were going to stay at the Contemporary Resort, which at the time was the epitome of ’70s futuristic cool.

Unfortunately, we didn’t stay in the main building where the monorails filed through the open lobby but in one of the outer arms, but we still had full hotel privileges, and, of course, we could come and go to the Magic Kingdom as we pleased. There was no time restraint. If we wanted to go for a couple hours to ride a few rides, then come back and go swimming, we could do that.

It turns out that was a good thing, because pretty much everyone got sick at one point. I recall that I spent most of the first afternoon there in bed, but Jin and Scott had it far worse than I did. They were out of commission for more than a day.

It was nice in the sense that we didn’t have to have the whole family together to go to the park, but it also forced us to spend more time at the hotel to check in if anyone needed anything, because either Mom or Dad had to take care of Jin and Scott, who were 7 and 4, respectively. The good news here was a massive game room that had pinball and Tank was available, and I wiled away a few hours there.

As the stay progressed, however, everyone started to get a little stir crazy, and at one point, Mom and Dad had one of their bigger fights before their divorce. It was obvious that we needed to do something else.

Bay Lake, where Disney’s funky nighttime water show took place, surrounds the Contemporary Resort. One afternoon, Dad and I went down to the lake and rented motorboats that couldn’t have been much longer than I was tall. They had one side-by-side seat, and Dad rented two—one for each of us.

Now think of that: I wasn’t yet 12, and Disney was letting me take a motorboat out on the water by myself—with no helmet. I think we had to wear a safety vest, which was no big deal, but we didn’t have to sign any release form or anything regarding liability. Different times.

After many summers at Torch Lake where I had driven the old Lyman motorboat, I knew the basic rules of water safety, so that wasn’t an issue. We just jumped in and took off, opening the throttle all the way almost as soon as we left the dock. We spent the afternoon bombing around Bay Lake, jumping waves and having a blast.

That was my favorite part of the trip to Disney World by a mile. I mean, you can go through the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain (the new ride that year) only so many times before it all becomes the same. In fact, being out in those boats is one of my favorite memories of all of my Florida trips and of being with Dad while I was a kid.

I’m not sure, but either the boats had radios in them or they pumped music out into the lake over loudspeakers, because I would sweat that I was heard top 40 while we were out on the lake (Games People Play by The Spinners seems to particularly stand out). Whatever, I would be willing to bet we did NOT hear this song, though.

When we went to Florida that year, this song still was on the radio. But it always bothered me that of the two versions of this song, radio always played the shorter version. I think I heard the full, twice-as-long version once in the car late at night.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized why this was the case (and why I’m certain we didn’t hear it that day in the motorboats). You probably know this, but until I heard all the words on the uncut version as an adult, I wasn’t aware what a dirty song this is—particularly for top-40 AM radio in 1975-76.

Back then, I had no understanding of what Marty Balin was saying as long as he didn’t use the naughty words I was forbidden from saying except on the school playground. Nowadays, given the death of subtlety and suggestion in light of how pretty much every rap song drops multiple f-bombs, most people probably would shrug when hearing Balin’s homage to glorious sex.

Like I said, different times.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

No. 656 – Tea in the Sahara

Performer: The Police
Songwriter: Sting
Original Release: Synchronicity
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: Live!, 1995

I associate The Police with being at Northwestern. As I mentioned, a bootleg of The Police’s Synchronicity MTV concert was the first tape I played upon arrival. In the spring of 1987, when I should have been taking the magazine-publishing class but instead was taking sports reporting, this song was on a tape I listened to a lot in the wake of my breakup with Beth.

Although I was pretty miserable overall, school was going great, and, as I mentioned, a lot of that had to do with covering New Trier baseball for most of the spring.

When I drove to the school—it’s long since moved to a massive campus west of the old location—to introduce myself to the coach, I told him that I would cover the team’s practices as well as games, and he gave me free rein.

I don’t recall meeting any players that first day (I do remember that it was pouring, so there was no practice, just sprints and pick-up basketball in New Trier’s dungeonous gym), but it wasn’t long after that that they began to take notice of the creepy older guy who hung out behind the batting cage.

Now, in the bigs, the players are used to having creepy older guys hanging out behind the batting cage, but this was a new experience for high-school kids. For the most part, high-school kids LOVE the idea of talking to the press, but I had to prove myself first.

When we covered a team for class, we had three weekly assignments—a game story, a news story and a feature. My first New Trier feature would be about David Norman. Norman was all about baseball. He had played since being a little kid but unlike, say, me, he played round the calendar and took it very seriously, even going so far as to play indoors in the winter at a nearby batting cage to work on his swing. In his junior year, he started to fill out and had a huge year at the plate. Now a senior, even more was expected of him.

I introduced myself to him and told him I was going to be talking to other people about him for a feature story. When I was done chatting with the others, I would interview him. He seemed a bit apprehensive but agreed. The story turned out great; I got an A on it, which seemed like the first time I had seen that letter on anything since Wabash.

But the kicker was what happened next. Other students and instructors at Northwestern had mentioned that area newspapers presented a free-lancing opportunity, so when you wrote something that went beyond a basic story, you should submit it and see what happens.

At the time, there were two neighborhood weeklies in the North Suburbs—the Pioneer Press and the News-Voice. I submitted my Norman story to both. I never heard from the Press, but the News-Voice bit. They said they would pay me $50, which is a pittance for a 1,500-word story, but I was overjoyed. It was the first time I had been paid to write anything by an independent source. My career as a sportswriter was off and running!

When the players saw the article and thought they, too, might be the subject of future features, well, let’s just say, I was no longer the creepy older guy who hung behind the batting cage. Now I was the creepy older guy who hung out behind the batting cage who could make them some publicity. That’s all the difference in the world.

Friday, August 17, 2012

No. 657 – Blue Sky

Performer: The Allman Brothers Band
Songwriter: Dickey Betts
Original Release: Eat a Peach
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: An Evening with The Allman Brothers Band, First Set, 1992

The magazine-publishing class was the last thing I needed to graduate from Northwestern, for two reasons. First, I needed the credits; and second, and more important, it was my core class—my “major” in journalism, if you will.

At Medill, before it became a p.r. school, you either went into a newspaper or a magazine focus. Typically, if you went newspaper, you took hard-core reporting classes, where you would cover, for example, City Hall at the downtown Chicago office. For magazine, you took magazine writing and publishing and then one hard-news reporting class.

After my experience in Medill Boot Camp, it was obvious I would take the magazine track. Magazine publishing, as I think I mentioned, was offered only in the spring or fall quarters. I originally was going to take magazine publishing in the spring after my required hard-news class—business, which seemed less daily-oriented—and then take magazine writing in the summer to finish up.

But when Medill announced that it would offer its first sports-reporting class in the spring, well, I had to take that. That, of course, necessitated taking magazine publishing the next fall, taking off the summer quarter and finding an internship or a job. I didn’t need magazine writing to graduate.

Magazine publishing is exactly what it sounds like: In the span of a nine-week quarter, you create a magazine from scratch. You develop the concept, market-test the idea, create a prototype that includes articles and advertising and then sell it to a magazine company.

The first order of business—it was the first day of class, but it might well have been the second—was to fill all the necessary “job” positions, in editorial, art, research and advertising. You got up in front of the class and presented your credentials, as did other candidates, and then leave the room while the class voted. Because of my background at Wabash and YMCA, I decided to try for publisher. It was a bit of a reach, but why not?

I didn’t get it, nor did I get editor or any of the associate editorship positions. I also didn’t get anything on the copy desk even though I submitted as part of my record that I had the highest grade in the entire school in copyediting. And I didn’t get the position as head of the research department.

This was past the point of being embarrassing. By now, I had been in front of the class six times—in a suit, no less. I now felt a kinship with the last kid picked for kickball. Finally, the class took pity on me and elected me to a research associate position. I got a round of applause. At least it wasn’t advertising.

I worked with another guy, named Mike, I think; my old junior-high associate, Rick, was in charge. Our task was to create and conduct focus groups on the magazine concept—Exit Chicago, which covered weekend travel in and around Chicago—and then create and generate a random phone survey.

And I thought losing six elections was humiliating. That was nothing compared to being hung up on repeatedly. Each person in the class was required to get 20 complete surveys. The survey took about five minutes to complete, and those were the longest five minutes of my life. Every second, it seemed, I was anticipating the dreaded click on the other end of the line.

If you got someone who didn’t hang up on you immediately, we had one question that typically was the trip, because it sounded the most like a sales question. It was something along the lines of, “if such a magazine as Exit Chicago existed, would you be willing to pay X for it?” If they answered that question, however, they always finished the survey.

Like you, I have no patience for sales calls at home, but since my experience at Northwestern, I ALWAYS take the time to answer survey questions. I once was on the other end of the line once, and it’s no fun.

Anyway, Mike and I had to generate the results after collecting everyone’s surveys. We got together at his place one night to pore over the data. He was an Allman Brothers fan and put on Eat a Peach, which I had never heard before.

I was feeling good that night. Our primary responsibility for the magazine project essentially was done, so we could move to other departments where help was needed and concentrate on writing our stories. I was planning to head to Frankenmuth, Mich., to do a feature on Bronner’s Christmas store, and, oh yeah, advertising sales calls were coming up.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

No. 658 – Off the Record

Performer: My Morning Jacket
Songwriters: Jim James, Tom Blankenship, Patrick Hallahan
Original Release: Z
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

When Laurie and I saw Pearl Jam for the first time in May 2006, the warm-up act was My Morning Jacket. Laurie knew them due to still listening to radio, but that was my first exposure to the band. In fact, Laurie was almost as excited to see My Morning Jacket as she was to see Pearl Jam. I didn’t understand that at the time, but now … well, I don’t necessarily disagree.

The show was at the United Center, and it was the first concert where I tried to buy tickets in three years. Unfortunately, I had no luck with the tickets, even though I was unemployed when they went on sale, so I could be online as soon as they were available. Pearl Jam might not be as big as they used to be, but they’re still a tough ticket. It could have been worse, I suppose: We were in the first row of the upper bowl, which means we didn’t have anyone in front of us.

We met downtown before the show and went to the Billy Goat Tavern—neither the original, nor the one under Michigan Avenue that was made famous by SNL—for cheezborgers and cheeps.

My Morning Jacket was all right. They had a nice psychedelic yet southern-fried feel to them, but the thing that stood out about their show was their somewhat bizarre light show. It wasn’t what they did as what they didn’t: Jim James, the main man, of course, wasn’t illuminated.

It was something I’d never experienced—the not only never had a spotlight on him, bet he also never had a light of any kind. He looked like a faceless silhouette on stage. At the time, James had a gigantic mane, and I started saying to Laurie, “Sasquatch, on lead vocals.” After that, whenever we heard them on the radio, we took to calling them My Morning Sasquatch.

But then a funny thing happened—I started to like them. The reason was this song, or, more specifically, the second half of this song. The first half, of course, is a pretty straightforward rock song, but then it fades into a very ethereal jam totally different from the first half. It soon got so whenever I heard this song on the radio, I couldn’t wait to hear the second half of the song.

Yet … because radio does in fact suck and it’s all about making money to the exclusion of all else, it was a coin toss as to whether we’d hear the entire song on the radio or an edit that faded just as it was about to get good. So it was really great when they’d play the whole thing.

After awhile, I had to get the album, Z, for this song, and I liked it pretty much all the way through. It was interesting to me that—more than a year later—I had gotten into a band that I had seen in concert but which made no real impression on me at the time other than as a bit of a joke. Fortunately, I got another chance to see them again (and I’ll see them a third time in a week), and ... they changed their lighting.

No more Sasquatch loose on stage. Darn.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

No. 659 – All My Life

Performer: Foo Fighters
Songwriters: Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Nate Mendel, Chris Shiflett
Original Release: One By One
Year: 2002
Definitive Version: None

When Chuck started at The Dispatch in 1999, he was like any new employee—everything was good, no complaints whatsoever. I had been the same way when I started, too. It didn’t take long for him to see how things went at the Big D. Unlike me, however, he navigated the straits much more successfully than I did. Still, he had to have a release valve, and that became the parking lot under the late, great City Center.

When I started at The Dispatch in 1994, City Center was a crowded, thriving downtown mall. It’s now an open-air downtown park, which, coincidentally, is what the space was before the mall was built in the late Eighties. In between, it transformed to a ghost mall that had boarded-up stores upstairs and empty walkways below.

But while I was there, night-time Dispatch employees, who didn’t have parking access on the back lot, could park underneath City Center for 3 hours for $2. Then, when the street meters went off at 6, you could drive your car over in front of The Dispatch. It worked out great, actually. I’d get to work after 3 to take advantage of the timing; then, around 6, I’d take my dinner break and get something at the mall to eat and move my car.

I can’t remember the details as to why, but over the years, the night-time parking situation changed. It finally got to the point where by 2002 it made as much sense to just drive the car out of the parking lot, take a quick lap around an adjacent building and drive back into the entrance, because in a bid to hang on to shoppers who weren’t coming any more, City Center had free parking after 6.

At the end of the night, particularly on Mondays when just Chuck and I ran the show, we’d walk together over to City Center and typically spend another half-hour or so having a “current-events” discussion about this or that or just generally recalibrating before heading home.

One time we were talking music, and Chuck said he needed something new to have in his CD player. One by One recently had been released, and I suggested the Foos. He knew of them by name but didn’t know much about them, so the next day I brought him this album to copy to his iPod.

About a week later, we were doing our Friday night thing at the Thurman Café, and Chuck went up to put money in the juke before our table placed our food and drinks order. Chuck strolled over and said, hey, guess what they have on the juke? As soon as he said it, the chunky guitar at the start of this song fires up. The chorus starts blasting and Chuck fires the Secret Devil Sign and headbangs a bit. I LOVE THIS SONG, he announced to no one in particular but certainly for my benefit.

He had told me earlier that he really liked the album, but this was independent confirmation. Ah yes, another convert.