Sunday, June 30, 2013

No. 340 – She Blinded Me with Science

Performer: Thomas Dolby
Songwriter: Thomas Dolby
Original Release: single
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: None

I’m not a musician, which is pretty ridiculous when you consider how much I love music. I took guitar lessons when I was 12, but I was a lazy ass and never practiced, so I never got any better and eventually gave it up. The most I do is sing. I was in choir for a year in junior high, but that’s beside the point.

Laurie is into karaoke; me not so much. I’d done it before—twice in Flint—but most of the time when I’m in such a situation, I never find a song I want to do and can do well enough to get up on stage and not make a complete fool of myself.

One night in February 2009, we were out with two other couples—actor friends of Laurie’s and their wives. We met up at a sports bar called Mullen’s invariably to eat wings and plays some darts, but it was a league night, and all the boards were full. So what to do after eating dinner?

One of the wives suggested a Korean karaoke place not far from where we were. What the heck’s Korean karaoke? Well, she said, it’s not like a typical karaoke bar; it’s fun. OK, why not?

When we got to the place, it became instantly clear that this would be a totally different experience. The host ushered us into a room that had a couple of couches, a huge coffee table and a big-screen TV on the wall. A couple of songbooks were on the coffee table along with a couple of microphones.

The deal was you rented the room by the hour and did the karaoke inside the room. The rest was like any karaoke situation: You pick the song, press the button, and it would come on over the PA with the words and some funky video on the TV. Every so often, someone came by to take drink orders or bring around a bowl of chips or pretzels.

Well, this was cool. There was no performance anxiety, because you weren’t singing in front of a bunch of judgmental strangers but your own crew. Having a second mic made it so if you wanted, you could sing a duet or do a little backup. Laurie jumped right into the fray, and one of her first songs had some good backup parts that weren’t on the TV but I knew cold, so I joined in from the comfort of my couch. It was much more fun than being on stage at a bar.

But I couldn’t find the right song. I mean there were a few songs that I could have done, but everyone was picking fun songs, so it had to be something “up.” Then I turned the page and saw this song. She Blinded Me With Science is on a karaoke playlist? We have a winner!

I punched the numbers in without telling anyone what I chose, and as soon as the groovy synth started, everyone clapped in approval. I brought the house down with my spot-on befuddled Thomas Dolby. The truth be told, however, I almost would have rather had someone else picked the song, so I could do the backup (“science!”) parts. Those are the most fun.

The time flew by that night. When we finally had had enough, it was almost 2 in the morning. We had been there for three hours, and it seemed impossible that it could have been even two. I did one more song that night, which I’ll mention at another time, and that so far has marked the end of my karaoke career.

I don’t have any great desire to get in front of a bunch of people and perhaps make a fool of myself, but if it ever came up again as an entertainment option, I definitely would go back to the Korean karaoke place. It’s still there; I used to drive by it all the time before my old gym closed early this year.

And I know what song I’d immediately choose. Anyone else want to sing lead this time?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

No. 341 – Beginnings

Performer: Jimi Hendrix
Songwriters: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: Woodstock 2 *
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: Live at Woodstock, 1999

* Titled Jam Back at the House, both originally and on the 1994 Woodstock release.

When I moved back to Columbus in 1994, as I mentioned, I couldn’t wait to partake in the monthly poker games with my old crew. I also couldn’t wait to host an event. Being a bachelor, I could host without any worries of waking up the spouse. Those usually were the best games, because we could stay up late, talk loud and the cigar smokers could indulge without reprimand.

My turn came in the winter. We set up my dining table in the kitchen, where we had the most room under the watchful eye of two pieces of art that I thought were emblematic of the event. One was a print of The Card Players, by Cezanne, which Debbie bought for me at the Barnes exhibit in Toronto in Fall 1994. The other, a gift of my sister, was Dogs Playing Poker.

Because the game was at my place, I picked all the music (with an assist from Steve). One of the CDs was Woodstock, and I remember specifically hearing—and remarking—how crazy Hendrix’s final solo in this song was.

It ended up being quite a night, because it was the last poker game in which my buddy Mike participated. Mike had joined the poker party only just before I moved back, and I was surprised to see him. Unfortunately, he ended up being a huge loser and left early.

The game that killed him was a game called Guts. It’s a two-card game, low hand wins, and after you ante a minimal amount, the dealer would count 1 … 2 … 3. At 3, you either dropped your cards and were out for the hand or you held on to them and were in. You then could trade one card or hold on to what you had. If you win, you take the pot. If you lose, you match the pot, and if more than one person plays, the pot grows. The game ends when only one person is holding his cards. The first round was almost always an all-play to build the pot.

That night the pot grew exponentially. You might recall that at one time I held the winnings record at $29. The Guts pot that night was up to $20—a huge pot at the time. And at 1 … 2 … 3 … four, FOUR, people stayed in, which meant that one person would take $20 and three would put in $20, which was twice what the starting buy-in fee was. Mike was one of the four, and he was already down $20. He didn’t win. Now, he was down $40, and I could tell he was steaming. The pot was $60.

At that point, the game ended and we did something unprecedented and as far as I know never was repeated. We divided the pot in three and played three games of all-in Guts. I won the first hand, and I now was up like $25 for the night.

I told Mike if I won again, I’d give him the Jackson. Another guy won the second hand, and I had a great hand on the third game but lost by one card—like, a 2-5 to his 2-4—to a third person. At that point, without much word, Mike left, and, like I said, never joined us for another game.

I think it was more the idea of the losing than the actual amount, but dropping $50 in one night of “friendly” cards ultimately might have been a deal-breaker.

Friday, June 28, 2013

No. 342 – Face the Face

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: White City: A Novel (Pete Townshend)
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: Join Together, 1990

Better late than never. That’s the way I approached going to see The Who for the first time in 1989. Sure, it wasn’t going to be like it would have been before Keith Moon died or even when they were still something of a functioning band with Kenney Jones. But it still was The Who, and I finally was going to see them live. Better late than never.

Jin, Scott and I saw them in Cleveland, and for reasons that will be clear later, I’ll tell tell the second half of the story about seeing them for the first time first.

During the show, The Who played a couple songs from Pete Townshend solo albums. It didn’t surprise me, because, well, what else new did they have to offer? I don’t believe Pete would have toured just playing old songs, and I was right. They played Dig from Pete’s new solo album The Iron Man and my favorite Pete solo song (SPOILER ALERT) Rough Boys.

And they played this song, which at the time wasn’t one of my favorite songs. In fact, I didn’t like it at all, although I don’t remember why. When they launched into it, Jin shot me a look of What the Hell? I shrugged.

Then the big band—The Who had no fewer than six extra musicians on stage, like they were the Rolling Stones or something—erupted. John Entwistle dominated on bass, and by the end, Jin, Scott and I were boogeying as though this had been one of our favorite Who songs.

At about the same time that The Who converted me once and for all on this song, our seating arrangement—well, standing arrangement, because we never sat until the whole thing was over—changed a bit.

A couple dudes moved in next to us—the seating was fluid to say the least. They had prepared well for the show, and one of the guys started to become a little amorous with Jin, which she didn’t appreciate. She quickly resolved the situation by moving to the left and shoving two other college-age women next to the guy—a little forceful bait and switch if you will. Safely left alone, Jin went back to rocking out.

This was just fine with the handsy guy. As long as the woman had all the proper female parts, it didn’t matter who was the target of his advances.

The woman who had the misfortune of being placed next to him was just as disinterested, however, as my sister had been. Unfortunately for her, her friend had taken to another guy sitting in front of them, so she was stuck for the rest of the concert, which she just wanted to enjoy without any extra attention—like my sister.

This woman had a fall-back option available: She could have come back one row and been with me, because I had extra room for some reason. I doubt she would have left her friend, even had I invited her, but she did look back a couple of times as the concert progressed. I seemed to be just this guy rocking out to The Who; I was nonthreatening.

At the end of Won’t Get Fooled Again, which was the last song of the regular set, she turned around to give me a high five. She did it again at the end of Twist and Shout, which was the last song of the night, and instead of slapping hands, we clasped them—two Who fans in their glory. The moment ended, and she and her friend left almost the second the lights came on.

At that point, Jin, Scott and I finally sat in the seats that weren’t the ones that were on our tickets, and I realized I was beyond parched. I was in fact hoarse from having hollered the entire night. On the drive home to Columbus, the priority became to stop at a Burger King—not to get any food or even a pot, but to get what later became immortalized as a BFW, which of course is a big effing water.

It wasn’t the best concert I had seen up to that point, I suppose, but what did it matter? I finally saw The Who—better later than never.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

No. 343 – I Don’t Care Anymore

Performer: Phil Collins
Songwriters: Phil Collins
Original Release: Hello, I Must Be Going!
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: RKO Captured Live, 1983

Not a day went by when I didn’t feel stress while I was at the Fiji house. College was supposed to be fun: You’re away from home; you’re learning new things, meeting new people and having new experiences. I hated it, and my grades suffered.

At mid-term break in October I first floated the idea—safely at home—of leaving the Fiji house. Actually, it was more leaving Wabash completely. Beth was all in favor of it, but Dad strongly suggested making a smaller move first and seeing how I felt about Wabash in a different environment.

In retrospect, I went into my fraternity experience unprepared. Oh, sure, I’d heard all the stories that Dad used to tell about Hell Week and being a pledge at Delta Tau Delta at DePauw, but, you know, that was the Sixties, pre-Vietnam. That crap couldn’t still go on any more, could it?

I was pretty na├»ve. True, the corporal punishment, the boarding, was gone, but everything else was fair game. Before long, I was so afraid of having my rules ripped or being yelled at in a lineup in the basement that I did things that frankly are hard to believe, but that’s how cowed I was.

For example, The Who were making what was being billed as their farewell tour in 1982. One of the seniors, who was a huge music fan and a pretty cool guy, asked if I wanted to go—a group from the house was going to the show in Indianapolis. Of course, I wanted to go, but the concert was on a weeknight, and I had study table after dinner. I was so afraid of being punished for breaking some silly fraternity rule that I passed on potentially the only time I’d ever get to see The Who live.

If I had gone into the Fiji house with a different attitude, I suppose I might have survived my pledgehood, but the attitude that was needed wasn’t possible at that point in my life. After the past six years at Upper Arlington, I wasn’t interested in being made to feel like crap any more. I made it two months, but I had another three before I’d be made an active member of the fraternity and the hazing would stop. That seemed like a lifetime.

I tried talking to a few people at Wabash about it, including my pledge father, but I didn’t get what I wanted—needed, really—to hear. What I needed to hear was hang in there, it’s no big deal. THIS ISN’T REAL. It’ll get better. Instead, all I heard made me more despondent.

The final straw was Homecoming weekend. Each house built a float to display in front, which meant the pledges. Like with most things about our pledge class, we were divided between those who were slackers and those who worked hard on the float. Guess which group I was in?

Wabash was playing Wheaton at Homecoming, so the obvious theme was Cream of Wheaton. We’d build a Wabash football player sitting at a table eating a bowl of Cream of Wheaton—complete with a moving arm.

The float was a huge project, way more work than anyone anticipated, and it led to some late nights the final week as we struggled to finish on time. The final Friday night was an all-nighter, and apparently, at one point at about 4 in the morning, I conked out on a couch so hard that when a couple guys moved the couch to get it out of the way to start moving the float upstairs, I never stirred.

I remember waking up, and no one—and nothing—was down in the basement. Oh, crap! I got upstairs just as the final assembly was taking place. It was an incredible feeling of pride to see it all put together.

As it happened, Dad and Laura stopped by that day to see how I was doing before they headed to Bloomington for the Ohio State-Indiana game. I wasn’t doing well, and I spoke with the Dean of Students about my situation before watching a little of the football game. At halftime, it was announced that our float took third prize, which was disappointing considering the effort, but you can’t win them all.

You can’t really have a functioning fraternity house with a huge float blocking the front door, so there was never any question that all that work would be smashed to bits the next day. I actually was looking forward to tearing down the float as a good release of pent-up hostility. However, when I got up about 8 to start my morning chores, the float already had been demolished. I had been on cleanup duty for the Saturday night party until about 2, and it was intact then. What the hell happened?

Apparently a few upper-classmen took it upon themselves to get liquored up and destroy the float at about 4 or 5 in the morning. I remember looking out at the splintered wood, which we had to clean up, feeling neither anger nor dismay. Instead, I just felt disgust. Really? We spend all that time working hard on this thing, and you don’t even give us the pleasure of tearing it apart ourselves?

I depledged and moved out of the Fiji house that week.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

No. 344 – Mystery

Performer: Blind Horse
Songwriters: Unknown
Original Release: As far as I know, this song never has been released officially.
Year: XX
Definitive Version: None

On the one hand, this has to be the most obscure song that’s on this here list. Besides the fact that it never has been released officially, it’s only been in the past year that I even learned the name of the band that plays it—I think.

Blind Horse probably isn’t the only rock band that doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page, but it has to be among the few. I’m constantly amazed by how much information is on there when it comes to rock music in general. Word is they were a very short-lived Seattle spinoff of Pearl Jam precursor Mother Love Bone.

On the other hand, any Pearl Jam aficianado knows this song and probably knows it well—maybe even well enough to provide a more definitive history than I was able to cull online. I would bet if you polled the general public at large, you would find more people know this song than a couple others on my list.

The reason for that is the reason why I know this song in the first place. Shortly after I joined The Dispatch while I worked Saturdays, I hiked to Vets Memorial at lunchtime to attend a record convention. It was mostly CDs, and bootlegs at that, and in 1994, guess which band had more bootlegs than any other two? Hint: It wasn’t Moby Grape.

Amid row after row of Pearl Jam bootleg CDs, I found one called The Five Musketeers. The CD was exactly what I was looking for—a collection of songs that Pearl Jam had released as B sides on various singles but not on either Ten or Vs., such as Wash and Dirty Frank.

There were about 10 “new” Pearl Jam songs on there, and because that wasn’t enough to fill a whole CD, the bootlegger added Eddie Vedder’s performance with The Doors at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1993 that sounded as though it had been recorded from an adjacent bathroom.

Two other songs were on there—one a version of Hold Your Head Up by Argent that apparently had been recorded by Mother Love Bone. The other song was this one.

Mystery, spelled Mistery on the CD, was listed as a Pearl Jam song, and it certainly has a Pearl Jam flavor. It’s grungy and a bit spacey, not unlike Breath, say, but the voice resembled EV only in passing. Maybe it was a bad day or an early recording or something.

I tried looking it up in the resources of the time, and nothing was listed. I think I read that it was Pearl Jam playing but Shawn Smith, the lead singer of Stone Gossard’s side project, Brad, on vocals. That seemed to make sense, and the bootlegger, whoever it was and not knowing any better, just grabbed it up and threw it onto this CD.

For years, this was the only song in my iTunes library that didn’t have an artist name typed in—living up to its name. When it was time to look up the background for this song for this here blog, I found enough shards of information to affix the Blind Horse name to it.

If you look, you’ll find this song on many lyric sites listed as a Pearl Jam song. The only thing I’m certain about is that that’s incorrect. I’m not ready to say “Case closed” on this song, but it does appear that one mystery is mostly solv-ed. Many more continue.