Rich Wilhelm

Archive for April, 2016|Monthly archive page

Going Down to Alphabet Street: A Few Princely Thoughts

In 1980s, concerts, music, Music/Memory, Prince on April 24, 2016 at 12:42 pm

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My 18-year-old son, Jimmy, is an ’80’s skeptic. He simply doesn’t believe that the 1980s could have possibly been as great as many of us who lived through it say it was. In short, Jim doesn’t feel that the ’80s were “all that.”

I encourage this kind of thinking, probably because I remember what it was like, in the ’80s, to hear boomers endlessly crow about how the ’60s were so much better than the ’80s. Plus, it’s nice to have warm fuzzy memories of one’s youth, but nostalgia-mongering can close you down to whatever could be going on in your life right now.

So, when Jim disses the decade of Phil Collins, Alf and Hands Across America, I give him a pass to do so. But I will be adamant about one thing:

From a musical/cultural/wow-he’s-just-mindblowing standpoint, Prince was the greatest thing to come out of the ’80s. Or pretty much any decade you care to mention.

It’s hard for me to remember when I was first aware of Prince, though I’m thinking it was during the chart run of his breakthrough album, 1999 — though during the years 1980-1988, practically every album Prince made qualified as some kind of breakthrough. I do remember walking down Market Street in Center City Philadelphia, as a senior in high school. It was one of my first solo trips into the city and I heard Prince’s “Delirious”– has a song every so thoroughly lived up to the promise of its title? — spilling out of one of the downtown record stores I’d come to frequent in college. Hearing it at that moment wasn’t necessarily a huge moment in my life, but it’s also a moment that I never forgot, because it felt like walking by that store at that moment, hearing that song, was the absolute coolest thing I could be doing that day. And it was.

Of course, Purple Rain exploded all over the place in 1984. As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever seen the complete movie once, but it was a memorable experience  — at a drive-in just over the border in Delaware, with three or four friends. Purple Rain was shown that night along with Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact. A double feature for the ages.

I was very fortunate to be sitting in the mega-nosebleed seats at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on a Friday night when Prince and the Revolution, with opening act Sheila E, brought the Purple Rain tour to town. I am pretty certain that I was about as far away from the man and his band as I could possibly be but the concert was electrifying, as I noted in the November 29, 1984 edition of the Temple University News:

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Here’s what I wrote about the Purple Rain album in the review:

The Purple Rain album, which defies simple classifications like “rock” and “soul,” will probably become one of the most influential albums of the last 20 years.

20? Try 40. 60. Oh, hell college-age Rich, just call Purple Rain one of the most influential albums ever. It’ll sound like a huge overstatement, but you’ll be proven right.

What is truly amazing is that I saw Prince again in 1988, touring behind his infamous, and unreleased, Black Album, as well as the officially released Lovesexy album. The Purple Rain hype had long passed, but the ’88 concert was even better than the ’84 show, with Prince in full command of his immense musical powers that night. From a purely musical standpoint, it was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen.

I’ve tried to keep up with Prince’s musical journey but since the mid-’90s, the man has made it easy, releasing floods of new music and daring you to follow along with him. The albums weren’t always great but the genius would show up when you’d least expect it, if you were patient. A well-informed box set covering the best of Prince’s post-1995 work would be a really good thing. But then, with hundreds of hours of music locked away in the vaults of Prince’s Paisley Park, we all need to accept the fact that there’s always going to be Prince music that we will never hear.

A final note. I saw a meme floating around Facebook the other day. It read “151,600 people die each day and no one bats an eye. Prince dies and everyone freakin’ loses their minds.”

I think this is a flawed meme. First of all,  I’m fairly certain that the friends and family of many of those 151,600 people were certainly affected by the passing of their loved one. Second, I’m not sure everyone was freakin’ losing their minds, though maybe some fans were going a little crazy, trying to get through this thing called Prince’s death. Finally, the text of the meme was accompanied by a photo of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger’s tragic passing was certainly greeted with much public mourning as well, so I’m not sure if that photo choice was meant to be ironic or not.

As it happens, of the 151,600 people who died on April 21, 2016, the one whose name I knew was Prince. If marking Prince’s passing and acknowledging how his work touched me means I’m freakin’ losing my mind, so be it.

 

I Dream of Hall + Oates

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm

I had a dream about Daryl Hall and John Oates last night.

I was at a Daryl Hall solo concert. I think it was either in a large barn or a high school auditorium and I think it was a benefit show.

Even though it was a Hall solo show, John Oates was in the audience, sitting near me. This surprised me since it seems that even though Hall and Oates are the biggest selling duo of all time, they draw a very clear line between themselves when it comes to solo work.

I was hoping to get Hall and Oates to sign some of their albums and I think I handed some off to Daryl to sign. I guess this was during a break in his performance. I also handed one to John Oates, though when I saw what I handed him, I immediately realized that it was a Daryl Hall solo album, not a Hall and Oates album. [Note: what I saw in the dream was the stark cover of a David Byrne album called “Music from the Knee Plays” but it was my dream understanding that it was a Hall solo album.]

I was immediately aware that I had committed the faux pas of giving John Oates a Daryl Hall solo album to autograph. I started scrambling through my records and found a copy of the Hall and Oates album, Along the Red Ledge. I reached over to hand it to Oates, but he had already signed the Daryl Hall album and was handing it back to me with an enigmatic smile on his face.

I was crestfallen at the thought that I had possibly offended John Oates. I glanced at the signed Hall album, to see if I could find any clues to Oates’ reaction in his inscription to me. To my ever-building chagrin, Oates had written a note in a different language, possibly Esperanto, and I couldn’t read it. I had no way of knowing whether I had burned my bridge to John Oates. And by the look of Oates’ smile, he wasn’t going to tell me.

Later, after I had woken up, I walked past Chris’ room and heard “Kiss on My List” on the radio — it was the first music I heard after waking up from the dream. This made me want to listen to Hall and Oates on the way to work but, despite having a metric ton of Daryl and John’s records on vinyl, I’ve got nothing on CD.

“Don’t Go To The Malls!!” A Record Store Day Tribute to Sounds of Market

In 1980s, Friendship, memoir, Music/Memory, record collecting, Record Store Day, record stores, records on April 16, 2016 at 11:16 am

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Today is Record Store Day 2016. To celebrate, I may stop by Deep Groove Records, here in Phoenixville, to say hi to my friend Frank, who owns the store. But I thought I’d also reach back and republish the following entry from my old blog site. It is about Sounds of Market, one of the classic record stores in my life. Sounds of Market closed for good a few years ago, but this is how I felt about it after I visited in February 2008.

When Rick, Greg and I first met, it was all about the music. They were freshmen at college and I was going into my third year when we all wound up on the same dorm floor. Listening to music, talking about music, acquiring music and talking about acquiring music were the first bonds we shared as friends. As time went on other common interests would reveal themselves for the three of us, as well as various things that Rick and Greg would be into, or me and Greg or me and Rick, but at first, music was the driver of our early friendships.

Of course, back in the mid-1980s, the compact disc had just been introduced and no one yet connected the letters “M” and “P” and the number “3” to music. If you wanted to find music, you actually had to go to a record store and the record stores of center city Philadelphia played a great role in all of this music bonding that Rick, Greg and I shared. I had been acquianted with these stores since starting at Temple University and even a little bit earlier than that.

I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was a senior in high school, participating in a radio internship program at KYW, the leading newsradio station in the city. I walked down Market Street from KYW to the Penn Center train station that day and I was completely beguiled by the stores I passed along the way, stores with names like Funk-O-Mart. Exotic music, then often referred to as “urban,” spilled out of the doorways of these stores, but I’m not sure I was ready at that point to walk in and find out what was inside. This was music that sounded very intriguing to me, but I wasn’t yet certain if I was “allowed” to like it.

By the time I met Rick and Greg though, I had been visiting the center city record stores for awhile and I was quite happy to now have a couple of guys who were usually just as ready for a trip downtown as I was.

These trips would often take place on Friday afternoons, but also on Tuesdays, the day when new albums were released. The journey on the Broad Street subway line would usually take place after classes, though it may have occasionally happened that classes would be skipped if something particularly hot, like say Prince’s Parade album or the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work (which I believe Greg, a big Stones fan, bought on his birthday) or even Yes’ Big Generator or Heart’s Bad Animals albums, were set for release that day.

Our first stop once we hit the City Hall area would usually be the Sounds of Market store at 13th and Chestnut Street. Sounds of Market was a chain of three stores, another being at 11th and Ludlow and the third being…well, I can’t remember where the third one was, but I know it exisited. All of the Sounds of Market stores were run by people with vaguely Middle Eastern accents, though I don’t think I ever accurately determined the ethnicity of the folks running the stores. I do remember that at the 13th and Chestnut store, one of the managers would exhort all of us shoppers to buy more music and would warn us, “Don’t go to the malls” for our music buying needs.

He was right about that, of course. Sounds of Market had it all over Listening Booth or Sam Goody in terms of selection and (especially) price. Records were typically a few dollars cheaper and the promos that they sold (on the sly, I would guess) were even cheaper than that. I remember one day I went in and bought a new album that I didn’t even know was coming out, for $3.99. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew the artist so I figured for four bucks I’d give the album a shot. It was Graceland by Paul Simon.

With the price and selection, Sounds of Market encouraged adventurous listening. Rick and I once went downtown vowing to each buy five new albums by artists that we were only vaguely familiar with. I remember that we both bought The Sound of Music by the dBs (largely, in my case, at the instigation of my friend Ed’s stellar review of it). I bought a Fetchin’ Bones album and Rick bought Game Theory’s Lolita Nation that day as well.

Another time, on some kind of ridiculous whim that was fairly common to all of us in those days, Greg bought two huge hit albums of the era–Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA–simply because he disliked both artists and wanted to make fun of their ubiquity by buying into it. Or something like that. Somewhere around here I have a photo of Greg, sporting a Phil Collins album (the cover of which eventually became a scratch board for his and his wife Kim’s cat) and a smug expression on his face. Sure, the logic behind his purchases that day was twisted but the whole thing became an event and I’ll bet even today Greg might listen to “Sussudio” now and then, had he not given me his record collection on my 40th birthday. Speaking of which, here is the Phil Collins album cover in question (note the scratch marks; clearly it was Collins and not Mr. Ted Nugent who gave Greg and Kim’s cat “Cat Scratch Fever”):

This is the building that used to be Sounds of Market at 13th and Chestnut. It’s currently vacant [at least it was in February 2008]:

Once we were done shopping at 13th and Chestnut, we’d head up to the 11th and Ludlow location. At that time, audio equipment was sold in the front with the records in the back. The staff here was just as entertaining as at the other store. Once, while the very brilliant Prince b-side “Shockadelica” was playing, one of the regular clerks played an air guitar solo that eventually had the guy sliding across the floor on his knees. I wonder if that guy has discovered Guitar Hero; he’d be a natural at it. Incidentally, Prince b-sides, in all their flaming weirdness and glory, were the perfect soundtrack to the Sounds of Market experience.

And, of course, Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” would always sound just right at Sounds of Market.

The 11th and Ludlow Sounds of Market still exists and here it is, just this week [Note: that is to say in February 2008. And of course, in April 2016 SoM no longer exists.]:

The exterior looks pretty much the same way it did 20 years ago, but inside it’s a different story. The audio equipment is still upfront on the first floor, but the back section that used to house the music is now empty. You need to go up to the second floor to check out the hip-hop and rhythm and blues and world music sections, while the rock, folk, jazz and blues sections are all the way up on the third floor.

Obviously there is no vinyl to be found, but that’s not the only big difference. Everything now seems just a bit more sedate and sterile than it did when I was frequenting Sounds of Market. The music isn’t playing quite as loud as it did back then, the salesmen don’t exhort you to spend your cash and clearly no one on staff needs to wear kneepads in the event they are moved to slide across the floor while air-jamming to a Prince b-side. The selection is predictably fabulous and the prices are still cheaper than the malls (if there are indeed music stores at malls anymore), but only marginally so.

So, the store is still there, but for me anyway, the adventure is gone. I’m still looking for new interesting music and sometimes I even find it, but stores like Sounds of Market don’t have any role in that quest.

That’s OK though. I still have the music I picked up “back in the day” at Sounds of Market and, more importantly, I still have the friendships. Which is really what the Sounds of Market experience was all about anyway.

Plus I still have Greg’s copy of No Jacket Required, which will come in handy if we ever get a cat.

Singles Night

In pop music, record collecting, records, Uncategorized on April 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

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Last night was Singles Night at our house. It was kind of a big deal.

The occasion? My friend, singer/songwriter Cliff Hillis, released a brand new 45 r.p.m. single, “Love Not War” b/w “The Buddha’s Belly,” this week. Both excellent tunes and well worth hearing (go to Cliff’s website to learn more).

Cliff had a big to-do at a local café on Friday night to introduce the single. Sadly, I was too busy falling asleep to attend the show, which by all accounts was fantastic. However, I did drop by Cliff and his wife Beth’s place yesterday and picked up the single. And, while the idea of a 45 in this millennium might seem retro (speaking of which, check out Beth’s excellent website!), Cliff is, in his way, a thoroughly modern guy, since he’s including a download of his complete seven-song Love Not War e.p. with the 45. It’s the best of both worlds.

I played both sides of Cliff’s single a few times yesterday, then declared that we’d be having a Singles Night. I rustled up a cool stack o’ wax from my vinyl collection and we listened to ’em one-by-one.

And that’s the beauty of the 45 r.p.m. single, which I seriously consider to be one of the most important cultural inventions of the 20th century. Introduced in 1949, singles became of the bedrock of popular music, allowing fans of many musical genres to grab their favorite songs in a convenient format, at a reasonable price. It’s no accident that rock’n’roll exploded within 10 years of the invention of the 45. Rock music, and all permutations thereof, owe their existence to the humble 45.

In addition to Cliff’s new tunes, we reached back to 1987 to hear “Radio Americana” by Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s (see: you could buy 45s in a dimestore. How cool was that?). This is one of my friend Ed Masley’s — aka Johnny Rhythm — great early tunes (and believe me, he’s been writing great tunes ever since, with his previous band, The Frampton Brothers, and his current combo, The Breakup Society). “Radio Americana” is a song about how corporate radio stifles the musical variety heard on the airwaves. While satellite radio may have alleviated that problem to a degree, a spin through terrestrial commercial radio — I (Heart) Radio, anyone? — will point to the notion that Ed’s song is as relevant as ever.

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Singles Night was great, but it was while drinking coffee this morning that I listened to what I believe is still the crowning achievement of the 45 as an artistic medium: “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles.

Artistically, of course, this Beatles single is a triumph: we are talking about artistic breakthroughs for both Lennon and McCartney. But, what is so thrilling to me about “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the conceptual beauty of the record. Two songs, both delving deeply into the childhood memories of the composer.

“Penny Lane”: stately, almost baroque, filled with physical detail, a catalogue of precise memories, Paul’s memories of the external world surrounding him a child. Above all, McCartneyesque.

“Strawberry Fields Forever”: swirling, psychedelic, almost no physical detail, a catalogue of internal feelings, John’s impressionistic reflections on the internal world of his childhood. Above all, Lennonesque.

Two songs, seemingly worlds apart from each other, brought together on the lowly 45 r.p.m. single, and making perfect, profound sense together. Pop music as art and memoir and, yes, as pop music, all at once.

Here’s our playlist from Singles Night. Hopefully we’ll do it again sometime soon.

“Radio Americana”/”Doin’ Time” — Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s

“Love Not War”/”The Buddha’s Belly” — Cliff Hillis

“Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” — The Beatles

“Narrator” — Hindu Love Gods

“Perdido” — Three Suns

“Cool Places” — Sparks and Jane Wiedlin

“Friends” — Whodini

“I Gotta Hole in My Heart That Goes All the Way to China” — Cyndi Lauper

“She’s Always in My Hair” — Prince

“The Big Hurt” — Miss Tony Fisher

“Kiss Me Deadly” — Lita Ford

“Rock the Boat” — The Hues Corporation

“Elenore” — The Turtles

“Eight Miles High” — Hüsker Dü

“Let The Music Play” — Shannon

“Make a Circuit with Me” — Polecats

“Harlem Nocturne” — Earl Bostic

 

 

 

I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink in Memory of the Great Merle Haggard

In country music, fatherhood, music, Music/Memory, Uncategorized on April 7, 2016 at 3:37 am

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It’s late on a Wednesday night, but there is just enough time for a quick shot in memory of the great Merle Haggard, who died today on his 79th birthday. Even though I need to get to bed soon, for now, I think I’ll just stay here for a few minutes and drink to Merle.

It’s not exactly a coincidence, but the song that immediately comes to mind when I think of Hag is called “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” from a 1980 album called Back to the Barrooms. Hag’s ’79 album was called 190 Proof. I sense a theme.

I love “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” because it is a quintessential country music about drinking. Merle opens with “I could be holding you tonight/I could quit doing wrong and start doing right,” but soon concludes “I think I’ll just stay here and drink.”

Classic. “Hard country” is what this type of kickass song was called in 1980 and the band behind Merle rocks it out. Total classic.

But it’s not simply that “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is a great song, one of dozens of stone cold classics written and recorded by Merle. Hell, during his Capitol years, Merle recorded songs that are better than this.

But “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is a Dad Song. If I were to make a list every few years of 10 songs that immediately remind me of my father, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” would make the list every damn time. Always near the top of the list.

Dad liked Haggard, of course, but he loved “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” I’m thinking we probably heard it often on WDSD out of Dover/Smyrna, Delaware — “50,000 WATTS OF POWER!” — but eventually Mom or I bought Dad Merle Haggard’s Greatest Hits, which covered his late ’70s/early ’80s tenure at MCA Records.

Dad’s been gone for nearly 13 years and now the Hag is gone too. But the music — and the memories of Dad loving the music — will be with me for the rest of my life. And every time I hear “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” I’ll drink a shot for Dad, and for Haggard.

Funny thing is, I don’t think I’m alone. I’ll bet a lot of folks had — or if they’re lucky, have — dads who loved/love Merle Haggard. My boys sure as hell do.

 

 

 

Too Much Thyme on My Hands

In fatherhood, journal, journal keeping, marriage, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity on April 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

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Earlier this week, Donna and I made two dinners in a row that featured fresh basil. As often happens when I’m dealing with herbs and spices, my mind drifted to an essay I wrote quite a few years ago called “Too Much Thyme on My Hands.” It was about spice racks and about having too much/not enough thyme/time on one’s hands.

Plus, it gave me permission to craft sentences that involved multi-level spice/Styx lyrics puns. Now, that’s high concept.

I had to search hard on my old blog website, but I finally found “Too Much Thyme on My Hands” back among my February 2009 entries. I am posting it below, since time and what I do — and could do — with it has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

For now, I am posting this exactly as I wrote it. “I’m just going to leave this here,” as people seem to be fond of saying on social media these days. I will note, though, that the 11-year-old and 6-year-old I mention are now 18 and 13, headed off to college and high school in the fall. That’s what time does, you know.

As for me, the fact that I originally wrote the following piece seven years ago says everything I need to know right now about the acceleration of time.

I don’t really subscribe to the whole “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” philosophy. I think it’s way too simplistic. But one thing I do know: generally speaking, men dig spice racks; women, not so much.

I vaguely remember when Donna and I got married and set up housekeeping in 1992. I mentioned the inherent coolness of having a spice rack in our kitchen. Donna was decidedly noncommittal on the issue. As it turned out, Donna thought that the idea of a specific rack for spices, to be displayed on a kitchen wall, was kind of silly.

Since that time, most men I’ve spoken to on the spice rack issue have admitted to their enjoyment of the concept, while most women have expressed opinions similar to Donna’s. There are exceptions, of course, in much the same way as there are women who actually enjoy progressive rock band Rush, despite the oft-told-tale that Rush is very strictly “a guy thing.” (In fact, it was a Rush concert review in which I first encountered the phrase “sausage party” to describe a group consisting entirely of men.)

Anyway, I bring all this up because today Donna and I cleaned out a cupboard in our kitchen. The cupboard contains a lazy susan which had gotten overrun through the years with all manner of grocery products, including quite a few little plastic jars of various spices. When we did our cleanout today, Donna and I established a few policies in order to be consistent in what got discarded and what did not. We determined that any spices that were opened but did not contain any discernible “sell by” or “use by” date would be thrown away, in order to most successfully achieve the goal of cleaning out this little corner of our kitchen as much as possible.

While doing this cleanout, we found at least three (and maybe four) opened, but undated, containers of thyme. Clearly, we had too much thyme on our hands, though it was a mystery to us how we actually accumulated all this thyme. However, adhering to our pre-established policy, which we believed to be sound, and not knowing when the next time we’d use thyme would be, we ditched all the thyme. Now, we have no thyme in our house.

When you think about it, is it any wonder we had too much thyme on our hands? I mean, when I think about my life over the last five or ten years, I think about how we’ve often gotten so caught up in getting from the beginning to the end of any particular day that it’s become easy, very easy, to lose track of both the thyme, and the time, that we really have.

The result of all this, it seems, has been this unbelievable acceleration of time, in which Donna and I have suddenly been homeowners for more than ten years, and we’ve got kids who are 11 and six years old. And, of course, we take a peek in our cupboard and discover at least three, and maybe four, separate containers of thyme.

I believe this is what noted singer/songwriter David Byrne was referring to when he wrote,”Well, how did I get here?” in the Talking Heads song, “Once In A Lifetime.” Interestingly, Byrne was much younger when he wrote that than I am now, but he was clearly onto something.

So. How to deal with the loss of all that thyme? And time? First of all, it’s a good idea to reflect on the notion that the time I’ve spent being married to Donna and raising Jimmy and Chris with her hasn’t been lost at all. It has been time very well spent. Also, I’ve realized that the time I have left from this moment (spent with the amazing music of Thomas Dolby, a glass [or two] of wine, a pen and a notebook) onward is to be savored, much like thyme, used in a particularly good recipe, is meant to be savored. Of course, we no longer have any thyme in our kitchen, but we can pick some up at the supermarket the next time we need it. That is the huge difference between thyme and time.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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