Saturday, August 31, 2013

No. 278 – Marathon

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Power Windows
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: A Show of Hands, 1989

As I mentioned, there was a period of time when I turned away from Rush. It seems difficult to believe now, even for me, but it’s true. It started with the Grace Under Pressure album, which, as it turned out, was when a lot of other people started to get turned off by Rush.

Scott and I bought Grace in Hawaii, and I couldn’t wait to hear it when we got home, but it left me cold. It wasn’t Geddy’s infatuation with the synthesizer run amok that did it. Instead, I remembered thinking that all the songs sounded the same. I put Grace Under Pressure away after one listen and never pulled it out again.

When Power Windows came out a year later, I saw The Big Money video on MTV first and thought, “it’s the same thing.” It sounded exactly just like everything on Grace, which sounded like everything on Signals. It all was derivative—and not as good. I didn’t even buy Power Windows.

My contempt reached such heights that when Hold Your Fire came out in 1987, I saw it in a record store somewhere and thought, “Wow, Rush is still together?” By now, I was listening to talk radio if I listened to radio at all, but I never heard any new Rush songs. Rush had fallen completely off my radar.

In 1989, I was shopping in Rolling Meadows—mostly to kill time, but sometimes with purpose after, say, a card show. Across the street from the Meadows Town Mall was a record store, the name of which I’ve long since forgotten. Prices were way higher than what I had been used to paying in Columbus, and I had almost no money between my car and my video-dating escapades. I also no longer had a record player, so I bought tapes when I bought music at all.

Anyway, I saw that Rush had yet ANOTHER album out—A Show of Hands. However, this was a live album filled mostly with songs from after Signals. In other words, it was a lot of stuff I either didn’t like or didn’t know. But it also had Subdivisions, which seemed to me to be the last great Rush song. Given that it also had Witch Hunt and Closer to the Heart, I knew there were at least three songs that I’d like on there. I threw the dice and bought the tape. If all else failed, I had a live version of Subdivisions.

I didn’t love A Show of Hands. It was no Exit … Stage Left. I mean, Rush didn’t do long songs anymore. The complexity of the new music seemed to be lacking compared with such opuses as 2112 and Xanadu. But … it had some good things on it. The first thing that jumped off the tape was this song. I liked the sound of Marathon and I liked its pairing after Subdivisions.

Unlike with Grace, A Show of Hands wasn’t a one and done. I listened to it quite a bit, and more things pulled me in, like Mystic Rhythms and The Manhattan Project. OK, Rush has my attention again.

After I moved to Flint and bought my CD player, I gave Rush another chance and bought Presto. A few months later, I was 10 rows from Alex Lifeson at Franklin County Stadium when Rush played Subdivisions and Marathon back to back, just like on A Show of Hands. The rest, as they say, is history.

Marathon, more than anything else, was the song that brought me back to Rush. I never since have strayed (and I LOVE Grace Under Pressure now, incidentally), and I’ve never looked back.

Friday, August 30, 2013

No. 279 – Ain’t No Sunshine

Performer: Bill Withers
Songwriter: Bill Withers
Original Release: Just As I Am
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: None.

Soon after the Engelhart Hall social in September 1986, when I met Don, Frank, Lisi and Amy, I joined them for my first taste of Chicago nightlife.

I had been to Chicago four times before this. The first time was with Dad to see an Ohio State game in 1980. After that I had been in 1982 to see a Cubs game with Dad and Scott, to have dinner at Lawry’s with Ed in 1983 and to see a Cubs game with my friend Jim in 1984. None of those times involved hitting bars. (I hadn’t turned 21 yet.) So this would be my first real time out in Chicago.

The plan was Gino’s East for dinner and then Rush and Division and the bars thereat. I knew Rush Street was infamous for its bar scene. I was a little apprehensive about what we’d encounter but game.

Gino’s East wasn’t my first encounter with deep-dish pizza, but it might as well have been. Pizza Hut had pan pizza since the early 1980s, and I think Korrie and I went to an Uno’s in Indianapolis (which was meh) once.

Gino’s was a whole different ballgame. There were five of us, and we ordered a medium, so we basically had one piece each a few slices left over to divide. I ate two pieces, but I regretted it. I couldn’t believe how huge they were. More important, I couldn’t believe how unbelievably good it was.

I was converted in a single meal. Goodbye thin-crust pizza; hello, Chicago style. Gino’s East was the greatest pizza in the world, and it became a must-stop anytime anyone came to visit me thereafter.

After dinner, we all piled in a cab—another first for me—and rode up to the Viagra Triangle (not yet known as that, of course, considering Viagra hadn’t been invented yet). We went to all the places everyone knew from the various movies, mostly About Last Night—Mother’s, Smuggler’s, Eliot’s Nesst. It was this endless sea of bodies pressed against one another, all vying for the opportunity to pay $5 for a beer (outrageous at the time) or $7 for an upside-down margarita—and maybe meet someone.

At the time, I’d never really drank, so I might have had just one beer. Heck, I couldn’t afford any more than that, particularly because a couple of places charged cover fees, even though there was no live music. The crowds definitely put me off. You couldn’t move, and the whole thing seemed pointless: This was how you socialized in Chicago?

(What I learned not too much later was that Rush and Division is where the tourists go. The locals went to less expensive, way less crowded and far cooler places out of the line of fire.)

Overall, it had been a pretty good night. We were feeling pretty good, and I felt I was now part of the crew, which made me happy. We went to catch the L home at Division. While we waited, two buskers performed in the underground station—both black guys, fairly well dressed, on acoustic guitar.

They did this song, which I’m pretty sure I’d heard before but never really listened to, and it just blew me away. The buskers were very good, and as they sang, putting an even more dirgy spin on this dirgy song, I felt an arrow pierce my heart. It was instantaneous how I went from feeling happy to missing Beth intensely.

The five of us stood in silence as they played, and we made sure to drop a couple of bucks in the guitar case when the train came. I only can imagine what everyone else was thinking, but my guess was that it wasn’t too far from where I was. (Frank and Lisi also had long-distance paramours.)

I’ve been to that station many times since; I’ve been in various L stops dozens of times with street performers doing their thing. I’ve never heard anything like that performance of Ain’t No Sunshine, not even close.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

No. 280 – Hoochie Coochie Man

Performer: The Allman Brothers Band
Songwriter: Willie Dixon
Original Release: Idlewild South
Year: 1970
Definitive Version: Live at Great Woods, 1992.

I saw The Allman Brothers Band about a week ago, and it’s an interesting dynamic now—much different from when I saw them in 1996. Warren Haynes is now clearly the ringleader on stage instead of Gregg Allman. It would seem that that affected the setlist tremendously. 1996 was essentially a greatest-hits show; last week had a bunch of obscurities, covers and even a brand-new as-yet unrecorded song.

You also now can mark me among the disciples of Derek Trucks on slide guitar. I saw him five years ago as the warmup for Santana, and I couldn’t see or hear what all the fuss was about. Last week, I got it. Trucks has some serious tricks up his sleeve. Unfortunately, they didn’t do this song.

Anyway, after I broke up with Debbie, I decided to throw caution to the wind and embrace a darker side than I had before. You should know that that didn’t come without limits, of course. I mean this is me we’re talking about here. I wasn’t about to let go completely.

I already talked a bit about Dockside Dolls. That wasn’t the only dance establishment that I visited during that time—a time when the Great Woods version of Hoochie Coochie Man, featuring Haynes’ dirty slide guitar, was on heavy play. I checked out Solid Gold and Jessica’s and even Centerfolds, which was a shack out by the airport. None of the other places afforded the comfort—nor anything like the quality of women—that Dockside Dolls had.

And none of those places presented the opportunity to really embrace the wild side that being on High Street in Downtown Columbus one night in the summer of 2002 provided. That night I left my car at the parking garage under the late great City Center rather than move it around to The Dispatch building.

As I hiked over to drive home after 11, I encountered a woman walking toward me. As she drew closer I could see that she was dressed, well, not like a hooker exactly but nicer than I would have expected for that hour and that location. She had on a pair of tight jeans and cowboy boots and a windbreaker jacket. Beneath the jacket she had a bustier that showed off an ample amount of cleavage. Under the street lights, I could see that she was about three years past being hot.

She stopped me and asked whether there was a drugstore around. I said there wasn’t, and she said she needed to get something for a headache she was having. Throwing caution to the wind—and as a sufferer of brutal headaches myself, so empathetic—I said a gas station was close by and I could take her there if she wanted. She accepted and introduced herself as Sheila. I responded, “Doug.” (Yes, as in Bob and …)

Now had I felt as though I had something to lose, I never would have put myself in this position, but there I was, getting into my car with a complete stranger, who at any moment could’ve pulled a gun or a knife or who knows what. I didn’t care. I decided I was just going to take Sheila at face value and trust her.

As we drove to the nearby gas station, Sheila explained that she was in town for the weekend with her boyfriend. They were staying at the refurbished and now renamed Adam’s Mark hotel just up the street when she went looking for Advil. No problem; glad to help. Unfortunately, that gas station was closed for the night, which frankly was no surprise. Others were around.

We continued to chat, and I volunteered that I worked at the newspaper and collected baseball cards (don’t remember how THAT came up), which she said she did, too, or at she did when she was younger. We talked about that for a bit until we got to the next gas station—also closed. This one was right by a highway entrance ramp, and I was surprised this time. OK, I know one for sure that would be open, but it’s a bit of a drive down in German Village. She didn’t care.

So then Sheila asked me what I liked to do when I went out, and I said drink, shoot pool, you know, the usual stuff. She said she loved playing pool and would like to do that now if she wasn’t in so much pain.

I remembered the “boyfriend” at the hotel and wondered whether he existed. I decided that he did. Sheila definitely could have been a hooker—she had the look, the bod and the complete lack of fear of a strange man taking her off in his car—but if her game had been to hook me up, she definitely would have made her play long before now. Again, I decided she was telling the truth.

We made it to the German Village BP station, and it was open. Sheila went inside to get some aspirin—I think she bought Tylenol—and a beverage to wash it down. Mission accomplished, I drove her back to the Adam’s Mark. It was along this drive that Sheila told me what she did for a living—she ran a massage parlor in Los Angeles.

OK, so Sheila WAS a hooker … excuse me, a legitimate businesswoman (wink wink). So what was the deal? Her “boyfriend” came to Columbus on business and she accompanied him as part of her line of work?

I was dumbfounded, accent on the dumb, because I did nothing. I didn’t register as though I was shocked or excited or curious or anything. I just treated the news as though she told me she was a waitress, except I didn’t ask anything about her place of work. I also didn’t ask for a phone number.

Yes, this night—this moment—was probably out of the question. But I was heading to L.A. in a month or so for the annual Vegas run. I definitely could have looked up Sheila were I so inclined. Well, what was I going to do? Tell Jin I had to go out and meet this hooker—sorry, massage parlor owner—I met in Columbus? (Later when I told her this story, Jin in fact said I SHOULD have done just that.)

Instead, all Mr. Throwing Caution to the Wind did was pull up in front of the Adam’s Mark and watch Sheila walk away after she got out of my car, never to be seen again. As I drove home, the knowledge that I somehow let an opportunity slip between my fingers was all the evidence I needed to know that that really did just happen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No. 281 – Jingo

Performer: Santana
Songwriter: Babatunde Olatunji
Original Release: Santana
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: None.

Shortly after I started at my current job, I was given an assignment: Cover the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2007 for the magazine. The editor typically sent the associate editor but didn’t trust the current one and wanted to use me instead.

The assignment would consist of meeting with executives at various companies that we would cover over the next year and hearing about the new stuff they had. If I could set up an interview with a top executive, the editor said, that would be a feather in my cap. I started running the phones, and before long I lined up a one-on-one with the CEO of Philips North America.

I also had to set up my entire trip to Las Vegas. I knew I could spend only so much, so I went with Southwest Airlines for the flight and the Imperial Palace for the place to stay. I sold the IP on the fact that it was next to the Venetian, where a lot of events would be held, but let’s face it: I wanted to stay on the Strip.

I wanted Laurie to come, too. She could, as long as we paid for her, which to me went without saying. CES would start on a Monday, so Laurie and I left the previous Friday, so we’d have a couple days to spend on our own in Vegas. She never had really been, and I hadn’t been back since 2003. I couldn’t wait.

Our flight Friday night was out of Midway after work. The magazine also paid for transportation for me, so because I was leaving straight from work, I had a car service come and get me. It was just a Chrysler 300, but it was still cool, particularly because I had to call one of my authors and talk him through the revision process on his story. I felt like a big businessman, on the phone, talking shop, while having someone else fight the drizzly rain and traffic on the Tri-State as I headed out to my business flight.

The flight was fine until we descended into Vegas when we began bouncing. Laurie as joking about it, but I was scared to death, and she apologized when she realized how scared I really was.

It was late when we finally checked in at the IP, but I had my Vegas adrenaline flowing. I wanted to see if I could find an Austin Powers slot machine. The IP didn’t have one, so we hiked across the street to the Mirage, where Scott and I had found one years before. No luck this time, but it did have Risque Business.

For those who don’t know, Risque Business is a slot machine with a strip club theme—male and female dancers. The idea is to get three ATMs to get to the bonus game. Once there, you choose a dancer who does his/her thing as tippers fling dollars on the stage. If you pick the right tippers, the dancer keeps going. Scott and I played years before, and I got to the dancer’s top before losing out.

This slot was a quarter machine, and I popped in $20, playing the max number of lines. Laurie watched, not fully comprehending the idea of the game and whether I was winning or losing. (I was losing.)

I was down to my last spin and hit three ATMs. Sweet. I picked the brawny lumberjack … no, I picked the pussycat babe. More important, I picked good tippers. The pussycat babe dropped her cufflinks, then her coat, then one glove, then another, then her top and then … her bottom. YES! I went all the way.

I should preface this by saying you don’t actually see anything, which seems a bit odd. You’re in a casino, where no one under the age of 18 is allowed. This is family entertainment? Show the dancers naked! It was kind of a gyp.

No matter, I still had one more bonus dance where I pick a single tipper. There was this one character that I picked a lot and he seemed to be working for me, so I gave him the solo dance. Finally, the bonus game was over, and the credit counter began to spin.

I had a pretty good idea of how much I won. Laurie didn’t. I cashed out, and I showed the credit slip to Laurie: It was for $195—the most I ever won in a single game at Vegas. That’ll pay for our Bellagio buffet dinner tomorrow night. She couldn’t believe it. Welcome to Vegas.

We had a great time pre-show. In January, if you can believe it, it gets cold enough that the pools are closed. Laurie was expecting to get in some pooling, and I suppose I was, too, so we were fairly disappointed. So we did the usual Vegas things. We went to the Flaming-o for the breakfast buffet and did the aforementioned Bellagio buffet, which has my single favorite food: the Chilean sea bass, which is sweet, flaky and tender. I must have had about eight pieces.

Paul and Jin showed up on Sunday. (Paul wanted to attend CES.) They stayed at Excalibur, so we met up at Nine Fine Irishmen in New York New York for some fish and chips and Guinness per Paul’s request. I had a bit of CES work to do earlier in the evening, but the big event—press conference day—was the next day.

Press conference day is just what it sounds like: Every big company has an hour-long confab, always beginning with LG at 8 a.m., where they roll out new products and try to wow everyone. There was just one problem: Everyone in the press knew that the Wow factor was happening later that week in California. Apple, which doesn’t attend CES, was going to announce its new supersecret product. The hot money was on a cellphone.

Being a newbie, it took me a while to figure out what the veterans knew well: Rudeness is encouraged at CES press conference day. By that I mean no one stays to the end of each press conference. If you do, you end up at the back of the huge line to the next press conference and possibly have to stand the entire time. By Samsung’s confab at 2, I had it down pretty well.

The final press conference, as it is every year, is Sony at the Convention Center, at 4:15. It was my first experience with the tram from the Venetian and also the Convention Center itself, which is massive. Based on my schedule for the next day, I knew I was in for it.

I got back to the IP at about 6, and my timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Close to the elevators that led up to the room Laurie and I shared was the Mai Tai bar. The day before, Laurie and I met Don, the take-no-spit, seen-it-all-twice bartender who made mai tai’s with much extra love. The bar had a happy hour, where you got a 2-for-1 on drinks, but you had to have the two drinks at once.

As I came walking through the IP with my suit on and carrying my briefcase, I saw Laurie coming out of the mai tai bar holding two drinks—undoubtedly to put in the supertall Paris sipper that she had acquired the day before. Recognizing a perfect opportunity wihen I had it, I just walked right up and took one of the drinks out of her hands. “Thanks. How did you know this was just what I wanted?” Laurie laughed in surprise.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

No. 282 – I Want to Make the World Turn Around

Performer: The Steve Miller Band
Songwriter: Steve Miller
Original Release: Living in the 20th Century
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: None.

In Fall 1986, my radio-listening habits changed forever when I found Steve and Garry. Before, I listened to radio for the music. After, I listened for anything but the music, although I suppose I did listen to music radio after I moved back to Columbus—mostly because there was no more personality radio.

That isn’t to say that I never listened to music on the radio; it just wasn’t specifically for that reason. As I mentioned, I got into a lot of songs through Steve and Garry and the rest of the personalities on the Loop. This song was one of them.

When I listened to the radio, I didn’t want to listen to the same songs over and over. Led Zeppelin had more than four songs, you know. If I wanted to listen to music, I’d just pop in one of my tapes. When I listened to the radio, I wanted to be entertained and maybe informed.

Steve and Garry made radio entertaining. It all started during the flooding of the Des Plaines River soon after I began at Northwestern. It rained solid for about three weeks and flooded the western suburbs. As I drove out west in search of a story for my Boot Camp class, I turned on the radio.

I had remembered Steve and Garry from my drive into the city, so I dialed them in on the Loop. They were mocking one of the local weathermen, cranking up the volume on their teletype sound effect. It was funny, and I remember at one point, Frank, who was in the car with me, said, “They can’t say that on the air, can they?” They could and did.

But the thing that really got me into Steve and Garry was the Bears. As I mentioned, I was a huge Bears fan by the time I hit Chicago, and I listened to every game. Of course, in 1986, my guy from Ohio State, Mike Tomczak, took over for the injured Jim McMahon as quarterback for the Bears, and the same thing started to happen to Tomczak as happened at Ohio State.

A little back story: I loved Tomczak, or T-zak as he became known in Chicago, because he was the anti-Art Schlichter. Everyone in Columbus loved Art Schlichter—everyone, that is, except me. My friend Jim interviewed Schlichter for the high-school newspaper, because Schlichter was pursuing Jim’s older sister, and Jim said he was a real d-bag—unnecessarily arrogant and snide. (Of course, we all know how Schlichter’s story ended—my assessment was vindicated.)

Tomczak was the opposite—quiet, unassuming, humble—but because he was the first quarterback to follow Schlichter, OSU fans held him to an impossible standard. Maybe he wasn’t as good while at college, but he was plenty good enough to get the job done.

Now the same thing was happening in Chicago. The fans and the media hated Tomczak, because he wasn’t Jim McMahon. No one was Jim McMahon, whom I also loved. Well, that wasn’t universally true: Steve and Garry loved Tomczak and had him on the show a lot. Hey, that’s cool. We both like the same guy. Then I began to notice they had a lot of other Bears on, Tom Thayer, Jay Hilgenberg, Gary Fencik, Otis Wilson. Well, if the Bears like these guys …

It got so every time Steve and Garry had a Bear player on, I would stick a tape into the boombox and record for myself but also Scott. Before long, I let the tape run, even after the Bears were gone. Soon, I was tuning in just to hear Steve and Garry. I was hooked.